18 October 2012

Heartburn by Nora Ephron was one of the first books I impulsively bought in London. Buying three books at a bookshop went way over my weekly budget, but the excitement of having new books in my hands with their smooth pretty covers (in different editions!) just ran over me all the way to the counter (or the till, as they say). I picked this because it seemed like a light read. In the book, Nora Ephron finds herself in the middle of a wife’s worst nightmare- while seven months pregnant, she discovers that her husband is in love with another woman- and turns it into one hell of a witty, funnily indignant, and honest story. She also managed, at the same time, to articulate one of my worst fears:

“You picked him,” Vera said, “because his neuroses meshed perfectly with yours.” I love Vera, truly I do, but doesn’t anything happen to you that you don’t intend? “You picked him because you know it wouldn’t work out.” “You picked him because you knew his neuroses meshed perfectly with yours.” “You picked him because you knew he’d deprive you the way your mother or your father did.” That’s what they’re always telling you, one way or another, but the truth is that no matter whom you pick, your neuroses mesh perfectly and horribly; the truth is that no matter whom you pick, he deprives you the way your mother or your father did. “You picked the one person on earth you could have problems with.” “You picked the one person on earth you shouldn’t be involved with.” There’s nothing brilliant about that – that’s life. Every time you turn around you get involved with the one person on earth you shouldn’t get involved with. Robert Browning’s shrink probably said it to him. “So, Robert, it’s very interesting, no? Of all the women in London, you pick this hopeless invalid who had a crush on her father.” Let’s face it: everyone is the person on earth you shouldn’t get involved with.

And what is all this about picking, anyway? Who’s picking? When I was in college, I had a list of what I wanted in a husband. A long list. I wanted a registered Democrat, a bridge player, a linguist with particular fluency in French, a subscriber to The New Republic, a tennis player. I wanted a man who wasn’t bald, who wasn’t fat, who wasn’t covered with too much body hair. I wanted a man with long legs and a small ass and laugh wrinkles around the eyes. Then I grew up and settled for a low-grade lunatic who kept hamsters. At first I thought he was charming and eccentric. And then I didn’t. Then I wanted to kill him. Every time he got on a plane, I would wear to the funeral and flirting at the funeral, and how soon I could start dating after the funeral.

Is this inevitable, this moment when everything leads to irritation, when you become furious that he smokes, or that he coughs in the morning, or that he sheds crumbs, or that he exaggerates, or that he drives like a maniac, or that he says “Between you and I?” You fall in love with someone, and part of what you love about him are the differences between you; and when you get married and the differences start to drive you crazy. You fall in love with someone and you say to yourself, oh, well, I never really cared about politics, bridge, French and tennis; and then you get married and it starts to drive you crazy that you’re married to someone who doesn’t even know who’s running for President. This is the moment when any therapist will tell you that your problem is fear of intimacy; that you’re connecting to your mother, or holding on to your father. But it seems to me that what’s happening is far more basic; it seems to me that it’s just about impossible to live with someone else.

And soon there’s nothing left of the marriage but the moments of irritation, followed by apologies, followed by the moments of irritation, followed by the apologies; and all this is interspersed with decision about which chair goes in the den and whose dinner party are we going to tonight. In the end, what’s left is a social arrangement. You are a couple. You go places together. And then you break up, and then the moving man tell you yours wasn’t so bad. But it was. Even when you end a marriage you want to end, it’s awful.

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