That’s how Meryl dealt with it in Heartburn (1986) aided and abetted by the inestimable Steven Hill under the always potent direction of Mike Nichols. But just like we all can’t marry Liza Minnelli we all can’t marry swans. Needless to say we gays and lesbians do our best without the “morality” of the church or (with a few select exceptions) the legal recognition of the state. How do we do it? Any number of ways. My Significant Boyfriend of 39 years (and counting) claims the formula is simple: “No matching outfits. No poodles.” But that would be of no help to the terminally blinkered heterosexuals of the New York Times Sunday Magazine :
“Monogamy is one of the most basic concepts of modern marriage. It is also its most confounding. In psychoanalytic thought, the template for monogamy is forged in infancy, a baby with its mother.”
Well as I’m sure we all know by now psychoanalysis says a lot of strange things. The “Viennese quack” (as Nabokov called him) might well have reflected the life experiences of members of his class, place and time, but there’s little reason to grant his apercus anything apporaching “universality.” As for Jacques Lacan, the less said of that magisterially mannered, nattily dressed womanizer the better. I much prefer his former brother-in-law.
But back to the NYT’s upper-crust “Dr. Phil” session.
“Marriage is considered to be a mainline back to this relationship, its direct heir. But there is a crucial problem: as infants we are monogamous with our mothers, but our mothers are not monogamous with us. That first monogamy — that template — is much less pure than we allow. “So when we think about monogamy, we think about it as though we are still children and not adults as well,” Adam Phillips notes.”
Only when we want to fuck our mothers we do.
“This was true for us. On our wedding day, Dan and I performed that elaborate charade: I walked down the aisle with my father. I left him to join my husband. We all shed what we told ourselves were tears of joy. Dan and I promised to forsake all others, and sexually we had. But we had not shed all attachments, naturally, and as we waded further into our project the question of allegiances became more pressing. Was our monogamy from the child’s or the mother’s perspective? Did my love for Dan — must my love for Dan — always come first?”
It’s your wedding day and already you’re turning your life into a round of three-dimensional chess? Doesn’t sound like you’re up to marriage at all, dear.
“This all came pouring out last summer in the worst fight of our marriage. At the time, we were at my parents’ house, an hour northeast of San Francisco. More than food, more than child-rearing, we fought about weekends — in particular, how many summer weekends to spend up there. I liked the place: out of the fog, free grandparental day care; the kids could swim. Dan loathed it, describing the locale as “that totally sterile golf community in which your mother feeds our kids popsicles for breakfast and I’m forbidden to cook.”
Quel horreur ! Just think of how lucky most people are not to be forced to retreat to lush surroundings an hour northeast of San Francisco.
“For the past few years I dismissed Dan’s complaints by saying, “Fine, don’t go.” I told myself this was justified, if not altruistic: I was taking our girls; Dan could do what he wanted with his free time. But underneath lay a tangle of subtext. Dan wished he spent even more time with his own parents, who were quite private. I felt an outsize obligation toward mine, because they moved to the Bay Area to be closer to us. We’d had some skilled conversations, which helped a bit, as I now knew those weekends with his in-laws made Dan feel alienated and left out of our family decision-making. Yet at root we fought because the issue rubbed a weak point in our marriage, in our monogamy: I didn’t want to see my devotion to my parents as an infidelity to Dan. To him, it was.”
Then it’s clear that he and you are truly — massively — fucked-up. Infidelity these days means this dude —
The parents of the once-golden-now-tarnished couple are beside the point. As they would be for anyone with half a brain. But back to your “template.”
“That June weekend my folks weren’t home, we’d gone up with friends, but Dan hated the place more than ever. Saturday morning I woke up early, went for a run and came back to find Dan on a small AstroTurf putting green with the girls, ranting about how he hated all the houses that looked the same, with tinted windows blocking the natural light; the golf course that obliterated the landscape and all the jerks that played golf on it. The next day was Father’s Day. I took the girls to do errands with what I thought were the best of intentions, but I was so angered by Dan’s relentless crabbiness that I failed to buy a gift.”
So you married a jerk. Cue Joe Cocker.
“The final insult came Sunday afternoon as we packed to go home. I informed Dan that I told my mother that she could bring the girls back up the following weekend. Dan erupted in rage. “Those are my actual children. Why do you insist on treating me like I’m some potted plant? I, too, get to decide what happens in this family. Do I need to tell you to tell your mother, ‘O.K., Mom, I’m not allowed to make any plans for our children without getting permission from my husband?’ Do I need to be telling you, ‘I’m sorry, little girl, I make the plans in this family, and I’ll tell you what to tell your mother about where my children are going?’ ”
“I stiffened and said, “Of course not.”
“How far are you going to let this go?” Dan kept screaming. “Are you willing to get divorced so you can keep spending weekends with your mom?”
This was the first time in our marriage either of us had ever invoked divorce.
The following Thursday, as we entered Holly’s office, I still felt certain she would side with me: Dan needed to get over his holier-than-thou Berkeley hang-ups. Sure, golf communities are snobbish, but family is much more important.”
And in our ever-so-famously “classless society” we always let class issues skate — even when they’re biting us in the ass.
“Especially my family, right now — my parents had moved from Massachusetts to California to be near their grandchildren, for God’s sake. And besides, I dealt more with the kids, and I let Dan run amok in the kitchen. So I got this.
Holly, who’d thrown out her back and was reclining in a lawn chair in front of the couch she used for psychoanalytic clients, did not think much of my reasoning. “It sounds like you’ve created these little enclaves of rationalizations: ‘I give on all these other fronts, so I’m entitled not to give on this one.’ ”
She was right. I felt entitled.
“But that does pose a problem — for Dan. Because he feels he’s really not taken into account.”
Dan brightened. “Just as you were talking there, I was having all these fears come up again. I have a real fear of being an appendage in that family, and that Liz’s real family is her and her mother, and I was just a sperm donor. That it would be really fine if I disappeared. Nothing much would change.” “
So get off the fucking lawn chair and get yourself a life, bitch!
“Really?” I asked. I knew some of the ways I betrayed Dan with the girls. As they grew older we found ourselves forming cross-generation allegiances. Hannah, our elder, and I would wish Dan wasn’t so chronically messy and emotionally florid. Audrey, our younger, would promise to be Dan’s perfect companion; she would do the things I wouldn’t do: climb huge overhanging rock crags, eat whole fried smelt. But I understood less well why there was a conflict with my parents. I often spent 21 hours a day with Dan. When my mother called, I frequently didn’t answer the phone.”
Phones can be tricky. And kids know a lot more than you would suspect.
Now that’s REAL infidelity. Not the tinkertoy stuff you’ve worked yourself up into a sweat over. For at heart your problem has nothing to do with “Monogamy” at all.
“I could not believe Dan thought my primary relationship was with my mother. I needed to know if he felt that way generally or just on these weekends. Dan declared the distinction moot: any rupture in our monogamy weakened the whole. I wondered if improving my marriage had to mean cutting myself off from the world? I wanted to gain strength from my marriage — that was increasingly clear. In many ways I did. Dan had faith in me, and that helped me have faith in myself. But clearly I owed Dan a debt of constancy and consideration. Our marriage needed to be a place to gain strength for him too.
Near the end of our session, Holly asked what I thought would happen if I let go of my rationalizations, if I accepted a fuller monogamy. I said I would feel vulnerable, “like a beating heart with no rib cage.”
“So there’s a feeling that if you take Dan into account, he’s going to take it all away, or you’re going to have to give yourself over to him?”
“Yes,” I said. “I imagine I’m going to be squashed.”
Holly sat up in her lawn chair. “We’re going to have to stop for the day.”
Isn’t that just like a shrink? Cutting it off just when things finally get rolling. But what’s really going on here dear? Gone is The Romance That Was So Divine, that’s what. Too bad you let lawn chairs rule your life. Too bad you let theraputic charlatans make you mistake love of your parents for betrayal of your spouse.
Too bad you don’t know how to love!
Sing us out Adam