Divorce Porn — When All The Gory Details Aren't (Thank God) About You

Cover of "Eat, Pray, Love"
Cover of Eat, Pray, Love

Interesting essay by Amy Sohn in June Elle:

While the single-gal chick lit of the late ’90s, with its brand names and glitzy nightlife, can be seen as the fictional flowering of the Clinton-era economic boom, one way to look at divorce porn is as a product of the recent financial downturn. Bridget Jones’s Diary may have flown off the shelves when the Dow was up, and we thought nothing of dropping $400 on Christian Louboutins. These days, we consign the mules, bake casseroles, and read about loss. Recent months have seen a parallel trend of “layoff lit,” books about people who lost money, jobs, or both: The Bag Lady Papers by Alexandra Penney, a Bernie Madoff victim; Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas & Found Happiness, by former House & Garden editor Dominique Browning; and Janelle Brown’s novel This Is Where We Live, about an L.A. couple about to lose their home. (Divorce porn is for people who like their loss narratives served hot.)

Divorce porn’s Citizen Kane was Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia, which hung out on the New York Times paperback nonfiction bestseller list for 57 weeks. Gilbert’s literal and metaphorical “journey”—embarked upon after a crippling divorce in her early thirties—provided endless fodder for book group discussions and set publishers on a tear to find Elizabeth Gilbert 2.0, a bright female voice who could tell a difficult, personal, and ultimately uplifting true tale.

They found several. Four divorce pornoirs have hit the Times hardcover bestseller list in the past year: Julie Metz’s Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal, Isabel Gillies’ Happens Every Day: An All- Too-True Story, Elizabeth Edwards’ Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, and Jenny Sanford’s Staying True. Morrison’s Falling Apart in One Piece was published in March to a big publicity push and so far is selling briskly, by Simon & Schuster and Redbook, of which she is editor- in-chief.

Who among us, married or engaged, hasn’t fantasized about being single once more? But most of us won’t pull the trigger, so we can peek between our fingers, in horrified fascination, at the implosion of others’ marriages and the aftermath.

I wrote an essay after my marriage ended, which won me a National Magazine Award in Canada; the night I won, I told the audience, truthfully, I wanted to thank my ex-husband, “without whom it would not have been possible.” I meant it.

The one decent thing about being a writer, and going through awful experiences is that you know it’s going to make a terrific story later, and preferably one with a decent check attached. We get good at retailing our demons.

When things get really bad, and they have, I repeat my mantra: “It’s all material!”

I didn’t write about my divorce because I was so ashamed that my husband of barely two years (seven together) had so coolly walked out on me for — oh, yeah — his “best friend”, a woman he worked with (and is still married to.) I had left behind a country, career, friends and family in Canada to follow him to his native United States, so I was pretty deeply invested in the ongoing success of that union. (Sometimes writing about my life really is too painful and personal.)

I think one of the reasons divorce porn is so attractive is also that marriage is often so private. We never really know all the accommodations our friends are making with/for their spouse and/or kids, what insanity or inanity or cheapness or infidelity they are swallowing to keep it all together. Or , when we whine, or listen to others, we simply don’t believe it’s really that bad or, as the saying goes, can’t handle the truth. My ex was a doctor, and no one could believe that this smart, handsome, gentle guy was…different…at home with me.

And reading about someone else’s divorce is so much simpler than the real thing. Unless you’re loaded and had a great pre-nup, ending a marriage is often expensive and filled with drama. Sort of like going to the opera, without the sur-titles or intermission.

I’m not rushing out to read these books because, having lived through one divorce, I don’t have a huge appetite to read about theirs.

How about you?

What Sandra Bullock And I Have In Common — 'Runaway Husbands'

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 07:  Sandra Bullock...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

It sure isn’t an Oscar!

The challenge is, when hubby bolts, you’re supposed to feel humiliated. Well, you do. That’s true. But he made the choice.

We both faced the nasty reality of a “runaway husband”, the subject of a new book by marriage therapist Vikki Stark, whose own husband ran out on her after 21 years.

I was with my ex for five years before we married, and our marriage barely made it past our second anniversary. He was re-married to his second wife (whom he’s still with) within the year. She’s even in my wedding pictures, his “best friend” (cue Psycho music here) from work.

I’ll spare you the grim details, but it was hell. He was gone a lot — a doctor, officially overnight “on call” at the hospital or, helping her with her young baby as a single mother, at her home. I relied on his income 100 percent, which left me unwilling to push back as hard as I needed to, let alone move out or kick him out.

For those of you whose hubbies have strayed, or you fear they might:

1) Do your due diligence before you marry. Seriously. I had plenty of reason to worry about my ex-husband when I met his family. His mother was so miserable in her marriage she told me all about it. His older brother had already bailed on two wives, each with a young child. Not a good sign! I loved my ex deeply, felt sure we’d figure it all out — and still demanded a pre-nup to seal the deal, just in case.

2) Pre-nup. If you are entering a marriage, like Bullock and many other women with assets, protect yourself. Make sure your finances, if entwined, won’t drag you into court for decades. Know his FICO score. Know what he earns, saves and invests. I was sufficiently alarmed by my ex’es family misery I wanted a pre-nuptial agreement to protect myself, having left my country, family, friends and a thriving career to marry him. As a nosy, mistrustful reporter, I went and interviewed a divorce attorney — $350/hour in 1992 — to find out my legal rights should my marriage end, especially if it ended quickly. I would, he said, have gotten nothing — after putting my career on hold and marrying someone making a lot of dough. My ex had to write me a five-figure check once he’d left, and that was before alimony kicked in. Divorce is expensive, so I calculated in: moving costs, lawyers’ fees, therapy fees and a month or two to get back on my feet.

3) Protect your assets. These include your professional skills, the one thing many women let atrophy if they stay home and mother their kids exclusively.

4) Keep your friendships strong. I was extremely isolated when my husband walked out, June 15, 1994,  a Wednesday night. Yes, I remember. I had very few friends, had quit my job and my family of origin was far away in Canada. I didn’t eat for a week (looked great, though!) and only the kindness of a compassionate, elderly neighbor I barely knew put food in my mouth after she took me into her apartment and made me a sandwich and made me eat it.

5) Keep your professional network, even sporadically, alive. There’s no excuse now. Between Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, you can, and must, maintain some professional networks, even if you’re convinced your marriage is made in heaven and can’t possibly (hello, Titanic?) fail. Should you suddenly need income, and you will if your husband bails, a few colleagues or clients who’ll come through for you quickly is essential.

I knew my marriage faced challenges — I begged my maid-of-honor, just as we walked up the stairs to the church, “Just be my friend if this doesn’t work out.” She did and she is, celebrating her own 20th. wedding anniversary this year. Every marriage faces challenges, whether you’re clutching an Oscar or struggling with infertility or unemployment or illness or you hate his mother or he hates your sister.

The brave, loving husbands are honest enough to say, clearly and without screaming — and before bedding a skank, or a whole bunch of them — “This isn’t working for me. We need to talk.”

And we need to listen.

Making Adultery Pay — Jenny Sanford Cashes In On Mark's Deceit

Cry, baby, cry. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

There’s even a TV series now about a wronged political wife, The Good Wife, starring Julianna Margulies. Now Jenny Sanford, independently wealthy — how handy is that? — is writing a memoir about her lying dog of a husband, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Why do we care?

When you’ve got bags of your own money and can kick your adulterer quite literally to the curb, how much do you have in common with your readers?

Millions of women are “forgiving” if not forgetting their hound-dog husbands these days — as they have for decades — because one or both is stuck in a crappy recession, can’t keep or find a job paying enough money to allow them to separate, and/or may own a house that’s underwater and they can’t refinance. So the lying loser wearing their ring is still in the house. For many women right now, divorce is simply too damn complicated and expensive an option. Very few, like Jenny Sanford, have a whole extra beach house where they can go sit and commune with their thoughts, a big New York City publisher awaiting their manuscript.

Silda Spitzer kept a lid on it, and more power to her for doing so.

Spare us.