June 2011

Today’s marriage minefields

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Much like Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking The Feminine Mystique unveiled “the problem that had no name” in 1963, Marriage Confidential tackles a modern-day social dilemma: the semi-happy marriage.

I don’t agree with everything author Pamela Haag posits, but I do admire her honest, wonderfully nonjudgmental examination of marriage in the 21st century. Her husband (who is either a saint or crazy for agreeing to let his wife unwrap their union for all the world to see) is apparently fine with Haag admitting right up front that she can’t tell whether her own marriage is woeful or sublime. “Marriage . . . has its own CNN-style ticker at the bottom of the screen, scrolling a fractured mental subtext of unarticulated grievances, deferred fulfillments, and lost ecstasy,” she writes.

But this book, thankfully, is not Haag indulging in navel-gazing about her own marriage. Rather, she wittily and meticulously explores what sets apart those who suffer quietly in their semi-happy marriages from those who take action—whether that action is working to improve the situation, splitting up, retreating to a man cave or having an affair. On this last point, Haag finds that the Internet has changed infidelity—she calls it “the accidental cheater in the age of Facebook and Google.” Who hasn’t peeked at an old flame’s profile photo on Facebook? But sometimes it goes further: “Facebook blurs the bright line between the illicit and the merely nostalgic and delivers temptation to your door,” she writes. “It slides the marital affair right into normal, online everyday socializing.”

So what is a married couple to do? Just when you’re starting to feel desperately pessimistic about the future of marriage, Haag concludes that it’s not a lost cause. Couples just need to worry less about convention and focus on what works for them. Ol’ Blue Eyes may have called marriage “an institute you can’t disparage,” but as Haag finds, it may just be one you can re-imagine.

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Marriage Confidential

Marriage Confidential

ISBN 9780061719288

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