email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecoming AnnaBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
Wendy Swallow writes about her life, how married, had two boys, then soon separated, and eventually divorced. She is ten years younger than her moody, creative, and highly educated husband, Ron. Ron was susceptible to depression and had a hard time dealing with his anger -- at one point she says she wondered whether he was manic depressive -- and she felt that in some ways he was never able to fully share a life with her. She was nearly always unhappy in her marriage with him, but she stayed in the marriage for enough time to have her two boys, hoping that they could work things out. Eventually, with the help of many self-help books, books on divorce, and talks with her friends and her therapist, she decided she could no longer bear to remain in the marriage.
She describes the difficult process of the separation, worrying about the welfare of her children, who were three and five around the time she moved out, the troubles of finding and dealing with lawyers, the negotiations with her husband, and the shock she experienced about the process despite her research and knowing other divorced people. She had initially expected that she would get sole custody and that she would be the one to stay in the family home, but it soon became clear that she would have to jointly share custody and it turned out that she was the one to move out into a different home. She describes the feelings of failure she had about herself, the dread of being judged as a failure by friends and family, and the fear she had that she was hurting her children by seeking divorce. She tells of the difficulties of being a single parent, and how she manages to work with Ron to do what is best for their boys. She explains the dismal dating scene she experienced and how it is nearly impossible for her to find a man who meets her expectations -- all the good ones are married. This memoir gives a fairly clear picture of what she has had to deal with, and why, despite it all, she still believes she made the right decision.
While many features of her life will be familiar to other people who have considered or gone through a divorce (and she says that nearly all her married friends have confessed to her that the idea has at least crossed their minds at some point), her story is in other ways atypical. She was a successful journalist, working at the Washington Post, before she became a journalism professor at American University. She is highly educated, articulate and she has a great deal of support from her friends and family. One of the most distinctive aspects of her story is her success at maintaining a dialog with her husband through the divorce -- while it was painful, neither she nor Ron engaged in bitter fighting and they did not try to manipulate their children against each other. Both of them stayed living in the same area, and although they were not rich by contemporary standards, they were both able to afford their own mortgages, and they did not have a massive drop in their quality of living. They did not end up spending over a hundred thousand dollars on lawyers -- and they are able to talk with each other without fighting all the time. Their boys do not seem to be having more problems than their friends and peers with married parents.
So this book could be an inspiration to people considering divorce. Swallow is clear how much she still envies people with successful marriages, and she is certainly not preaching the benefits of splitting up. She says that many married men seem to view her with suspicion, as if she might be a destabilizing influence on their marriages. However, her message is only that divorce does not have to be an unmitigated disaster, and that people who need to divorce can work to escape the pitfalls that so many experience.
Swallow tells her story well. Although her prose does not shine, she does write clearly and the book is an easy read. She acknowledges that her version of events may not be shared by her ex-husband or indeed her children eventually, but she makes an effort to be balanced and fair. Yet, it would be very interesting to know exactly where Ron would disagree with her, and what information he would include that she leaves out. It is noticeable that she says nothing about their sex life -- which is not surprising given that the book is likely to be read by her colleagues, students, family and friends, as well as her children in a few years -- but of course it's often an important part of a marriage. She says nothing about her patterns of relationships in high school and college, and she does not reflect much on how she could have avoided a doomed marriage. She does say that she tends to avoid conflict, and one could speculate that if she had been more assertive, or had chosen a partner with whom she felt more equal, she might have been able to sort out some problems. On the other hand, she also seems very able to express her own views, and given that she succeeded in the rather tough world of journalism, so it is quite possible that she is not as pacifist as she makes out.
It's very likely that different readers will bring their own interpretations to Swallow's story. After all, most of us have some very personal connection with divorce, and it's an issue that provokes strong emotional reaction. My own parents separated with I was twelve, and it was an unpleasant divorce. My father moved to a different city, and I saw him on occasional weekends and during some holidays. Both parents remarried within a few years, although neither of the new marriages was successful in the long run. Such details don't really convey much of the texture of the experience -- in order to do that, I'd have to say far more about the lives of both my parents, their personalities and their approaches to relationships, as well as the day-to-day events that led to the end of the marriage. Of course, I don't know many of the relevant episodes, and my parents certainly are not keen on reflecting on the end of their marriage. As a child of divorce, I can speculate about the effects it had on me, but it is just about impossible to really know how different I would have been if my parents had been able to make a success of their marriage. Knowing the two of them, it is laughable to try to imagine how they could have managed to work it out -- indeed, it is mind-boggling to imagine why they thought they could have made a successful marriage in the first place. With divorce so prevalent in western society today, it does not make much sense to claim victimhood as a child of divorce these days, and there are many other factors that go to build one's confidence in oneself and one's ability to have successful relationships. As a married adult, I find that one of the main effects of my parents' divorce that still lingers is a desire to succeed where my parents failed, combined with a worry that their examples doom me to always feeling that I will never be able to be sure that my marriage will be secure. It's not clear to me that the divorce made my life harder than it would have been, although I fit the profile of children of divorce set out by Judith Wallerstein in her study of the subject. The stresses I experienced while growing up may have exacerbated my tendency towards depression, although it's clear that at least one side of my family is prone to depression and alcoholism even when divorce does not occur. I don't know with any certainty what effect my parents' divorce had on me, but I certainly have thought of myself as a child of divorce for most of my life.
My point is that even with the uncertainty of the effects of divorce, it very likely does at least give one an interpretation of one's life, a lens through which to examine one's emotional reactions and relationships. Swallow's memoir of the break up of her marriage adds to our understanding of divorce and our ways of talking about it, although some people may be somewhat suspicious of her version of the events. It is at least a potentially uplifting story that anyone with an interest in divorce will find compelling reading. It might even help some people to go through a divorce in a way that minimizes the damage to their children.
© 2001 Christian Perring