New show recommendation: Divorce on HBO, starring Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) and Thomas Haden Church (Sideways).
Now, yes, I know I write a lot about divorce. Here’s why: it’s the biggest way in which society has done me wrong. Society and pop culture makes us all terrified of it, like ending a marriage will lead to ruin and solitude. That fear kept me in a situation I should have gotten out of sooner than I did. No, my kids don’t hate me (or him), no, they haven’t suffered academically, no, I’m not a bag lady. Yes, there was a rough patch there, but ending a marriage filled with animosity probably added 20 years to my life.
Anyway, so that’s why I’m always looking for fair representations of it in pop culture. In the same way that movies do us a disservice by showing EVERY birth story as a woman’s water breaking and then 20 seconds later, she’s screaming in pain until the epidural, so EVERY divorce story highlights the down side of ending a marriage. The very word sounds like a curse. But here’s the thing: relief from a bad situation – even if the bad situation doesn’t involve anything more than growing incompatibility or lack of affection – is… relief. Big time relief. Like getting an operation to stop the advance of a disease.
The show: Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church are living lives of quiet desperation, the passive aggressive coexistence of two people who don’t love each other, and don’t even like each other much anymore. His humming makes her want to strangle him. She hogs the bathroom, seemingly just to annoy him. They go to a party and see more middle-aged wreckage around them, a couple (one half of which is played by a great Molly Shannon) breaks into a spectacular fight. (It ends with Molly Shannon’s character whipping out a gun).
The shock of the night makes SJP’s character ask THC’s character for a divorce, in what is obviously the culmination of years of dissatisfaction. He’s stunned. He seems like he wants to work it out. But we find out they’ve been to therapy before, and the whole thing has been on a downward slide for years. Then, we find out other things. It seems there’s no going back. And, judging from what I’ve seen, it’s a good thing. I kinda wish I could call up each of the characters and let them know it’s all going to be just fine. Just be brave.
I’ve only watched the first episode, so I can’t say for sure, but so far what I’ve seen correctly portrays the ambivalence and fear of the process of deciding to split up a household. It’s sensitive and funny. It’s worth a viewing.
I write so much about divorce, my friends joke I’m an advocate for it. I’m really not. I am a sappy romantic, and I love stories of happily ever after. I wish every couple could stay together forever, because, yes, I’ve bought in hook, line and sinker to our society’s depiction of that as the only satisfactory outcome. If there is a way to fix a relationship, to bring back physical heat and mutual respect, all avenues should be exhausted to do that. But, once they are, it is time to acknowledge that and move on. And it’s time for our popular culture to catch up with that reality.