I’m deep into finishing a first draft of my new novel, working title Ex:Urbia. Julia Davenport is telling the story. The character is coming out of something quite powerful, deep down in my gut. This is a multi-fabricked story of love, the question of mental illness, struggling with personal demons, and the search for The Big Question. It’s also a story about the poetic effect of outer suburbia on life in America…not really your standard derogatory set of symbols and metaphors, more what it means to live out there at the edge of things.
I’m posting this little report here for a couple of reasons. The first is to note that I recently got wind of another divorce in the loose-knit tribe I’m a part of. I won’t go into details, but this news broke my heart. It would break yours too. Both people in this couple are such amazingly loving, accomplished, and dynamic individuals. Being around them as a couple was always exciting and life-affirming. True, they were each extremely intense individuals and neither suffered fools gladly, but they loved each other without reserve and had each other’s backs all the time. They also did what all great couples do: they were loving parents, both as individuals and as a team.
Why is that important? If you don’t know, then you’re very young and just starting out in life. For the rest of us, well, such news is common, isn’t it? But it still probably breaks your heart much of the time. This news makes 21 couples I admire and love stumbling into the pain and complexity of mature love. Some make it, some don’t. What scares me most is that there are so many other pairs in my tribe who may be struggling too, who have decided to “stick it out,” but haven’t dealt with the issues they need to upfront. I’m here to tell you whatever challenges your marriage faces, if you truly deal with those challenges with strength and humility, you can figure things out. If you don’t deal with them, you will never escape the ticking of that timer you hear every morning and every night. I know you know what I’m talking about. Deal with it. Don’t fuck with love!
The second thing I wanted to report on is that I’ve recently been following the writings of Rachel Clark who blogs on marriage and divorce for Psychology Today. She got divorced after a long-term marriage awhile back, thought she wanted to move on, but came to realize that life can play tricks on you. She writes, “we learned we’d succumbed to a culturally universal urge to flee our marriage; an urge that, in reality, had almost nothing to do with the marriage itself.” I highly recommend going to Rachel’s blog and checking out her posts. It’s called Marry, Divorce, Reconcile (yup, just click on the highlight and you’ll be there).
The two things in life that puzzle the hell out of me are what happens to that person you know and love when they become mentally ill? And, what happens to that amazing love that moves you to throw down with someone and decide to get married?
I’ll never be able to answer that first question. I watched my mother struggle with mental illness for 48 years and when she was in the throes of full-blown-crazy that person I loved so much had just vanished. That mystery will never be resolved.
But love is different. Love is not a gift you bestow on someone or some tender little emotional convenience. It’s a real thing that you create as a team and that is made and remade every day. And it’s part of a bigger, realer kind of love that you grow over time into connections with dozens or even hundreds of people.
I say it’s real, but it’s not like a dime you pick up on the sidewalk or a computer you purchase at BestBuy. The emotional bond between people, all kinds of emotional bonds, are real because they’re emotional connections, but they’re not things you can perceive with your senses. They’re psychological and, as such, they’re ephemeral. And they depend on communication.
The communication thing is key. I know you know this, but do you really KNOW it? I’m gonna guess at least once a month you completely forget it.
A good example of what I’m talking about, that communication thing, can be found in Rachel Clark’s early essays on all of this:
With that, I’ll close this report. I just wrote a very difficult section of Ex:Urbia and feel like I’ve come up for air today. But rest assured, I’ll be back underwater swimming through the ex-urban landscape tomorrow. Love is good. Love is huge! But it requires intelligence and a lot of talking (I also think anyone with any marital issues should look at how much alcohol they consume).
Real Love isn’t what you read about in romance novels. Nope. Not at all. It’s a lot more complicated, and a lot more messy.
But real love, in real life, is also a lot better than that romance crap. And if you do it right, you really do have a chance at living happily ever after…at least for a while.