I recently finished Tom Perrotta’s “Little Children”, his semi-satirical examination of American Suburbia. Two of the characters, both married with pre-school kids, become involved, and in a fit of desperation resolve to leave their respective spouses to be together. Plot spoiler, I suppose, but not surprising (at least to me), they don’t. One of the participants comes to the realization that it’s not a “new” life he needs with his lover, but how wonderfully she fits into his existing, messed up one. Their happiness, he understands, comes from providing each other with an escape and remedy from their current life’s drudgeries and diffculties. Therefore, he couldn’t imagine they would find greater happiness, or indeed ANY happiness, chucking their present circumstances to create a situation where they could be together without boundaries.
This caused me to consider how often this simple truth escapes the majority of folks who find themselves in these circumstances. How many times do people leave their marriage to be with the “other” partner, only to find themselves divorced again within three to five years?? How often do people fall into another relationship almost immediately after extracting themselves from their prior, mistake it for the real thing, and end up miserable after the newness wears off?
Too many to count.
The error so many make during these strange transitional circumstances is associating their contentment/happiness with the “other/new” partner instead of realizing their primary relationship is incomplete, and this secondary person is actually just serving to fill the holes. Once the primary relationship is terminated, the secondary partner’s inadequacies become painfully visible. Unfortunately this can take years and a marriage certificate to reveal itself.
I’ll give a pragmatic example. Say A. is married to a college educated professional whose occupation affords them a decent house, 20+ thousand dollar cars, vacations and the flexibility for A to be employed or not. Let’s also say the stability A’s spouse provides translates into some terribly conventional personality traits that A’s “edgier” proclivities eventually find distant, boring and intolerable. It only makes sense then, that A. would seek a secondary partner (SP) who can provide emotion, excitement and fun. A. wouldn’t be concerned about the secondary partner’s tax return, suitability for parenthood, or intellectual equality.
But what about when A. and the spouse decide to split? A. now has responsibility for every aspect of life, and must reprioritize.
Skip ahead a bit.
While well-intentioned, SP’s lack of ambition falls short of charming, and the always meager paycheck seems insulting. SP’s “casual” fashion sense is inappropriate for A’s business social functions (now that A has a profession which pays the majority of the bills), and SP’s conversational skills and knowledge fall short at family holidays. Unconsciously A. tries to change SP, who first cooperates but eventually becomes resentful. A. begins to wonder why this life no fits, when it seemed so perfect before. How did these discrepancies in their goals, values and lifestyles escape notice?
To be as simplistic as possible – a piece of furniture suited for a Victorian house will be horribly wrong in a Frank Lloyd Wright. Sometimes it’s all about context.
I realize folks rebuff the idea of people as items of use, but this practicality doesn’t preclude loving and learning. It only counters the idea of emotions equating infinity. It’s unfortunate so many refuse to apply the lesson.