Sunday, August 19, 2007

Unhappily Ever After

The New York Times has an article today about the trend of new television shows to portray marriage in a rather dim light. After reading it, I’m almost tempted to turn on the TV. I’m not a TV snob; I just don’t watch it often. I’ve never seen an episode of ER, pre-or-post George. The Tribe has not spoken to me. Ever since Katie Couric left the Today Show I stopped watching, which used to be a tea-and-toast indulgence before I left for work. Sometimes I’ll catch a home improvement thing on BBC America. Last year I was addicted to Bravo’s Project Runway and thought Santino should have won even if he was abrasive…and they made a dress out of plants…how cool was that? But I’m too antsy to sit still. Now, mind you, I can lie down on a bed with a book for days.

But getting back to the article. The author Alessandra Stanley cites Scott Baio is Single…and 45, Mad Men, Californication and Tell Me You Love Me as being particularly gimlet-eyed when it comes to commitment, marriage and sex. And the latter is the problem---TV shows seem to indicate if you’re married, you’re not getting any. This is an old construct, from the twin beds of Ricky and Lucy to sad-sack Raymond begging Debra. They all must have had sex at some point though; there’s Little Ricky and the three baby Barones running around. But kids are big lust-killers. As a character from one of the above shows says, buying Cheerios isn’t hot.

There’s a reason romance novels end when they do. Real life tends to be less glossy, more messy. Alpha heroes may morph into Betas, or even Psi-chos. It’s hard to be insouciant when you’re scrubbing the toilet and wondering what to defrost. Partnership in real life requires constant compromise and balance, particularly for women. We’re expected to be domestic and dynamic in our jobs. Dirty in bed. Guys feel the pressure too.

Here’s Ms. Stanley’s chipper closing paragraph:

You’re born alone and die alone. Framed by silence, secrets and solitude, these modern relationships suggest you also love alone. It’s depressing to look too closely at the inner workings of any marriage. Viewers are advised to keep in mind that wedlock is a little like Churchill’s definition of democracy: an institution that is the worst, except for all the others.

Who are your favorite TV, book or movie married couples? Please tell me there actually is a Happily Ever After!


BernardL said...

Having met and been friends with many married couples over the years while raising kids with sports, band, Boy-scouts, and school activities, I can say I’ve never met any of the married couples TV churns out. According to TV, we men are all either feminized wimps, or moronic beer swilling jackasses; while the women are all-knowing oracles of knowledge, suffering with a smile the cretin they’re married to. I don’t know any ‘Raymonds’, ‘King of Queens’, or ‘Home Improvement’ husbands. Luckily, I’ve never met ‘Roseanne’ or any other TV fables Hollywood thinks of as wives. Real married couples who stay together are battling best friends, who with persistence, end up after many years fitting together like a well crafted jigsaw puzzle. I’ve been married for over three decades. I’ve learned a couple of things in that time: sex doesn’t end with marriage, and Hollywood doesn’t know crap about Men and Women. :) Couples who get married, raise kids, and persevere through rough times without giving up, do live happily ever after.

Gillian Layne said...

Oh, Emerson and Amelia, of the Elizabeth Peters variety.

And Sherlock and Mary Russell. Both brilliant, both brilliantly happy, together and apart. But always, always at their best together.

Yum--puts me in the mood to read their books (again).

Keira Soleore said...

Literary fiction rarely has HEAs. TV and Hollywood used to have cheesy HEAs (Leave it to Beaver), and now they're going the other way. They'll show whatever will make them money. Fiction is an illusion of reality, not reality.

I loved Meryl Streep's dialogue in that story where she's dying of cancer and her daughter moves back home to help her parents. Can't remember the name, though the dialogues and images are fresh in my mind. But that's a HEA.

I'm another Bravo reality TV fan: Project Runway, Top Chef, etc.

Bernard: I loved what you had to say. Thank you for that.

RevMelinda said...

I second Holmes and Russell, and Emerson and Amelia! Also all those lovely (and dangerously similar) Cynster men and their wives? With each new Cynster book we get to see all the other couples happily billing and cooing (several times a day, with no discernible decrease in interest or stamina).

Leonie and Justin? Libby and Dr. Cook?

What about Dr. Quinn and Sully? They finally got married and were happy for a couple of seasons and a couple of movies, too.

How about some comic couples like Mr and Mrs Olson from Little House on the Prairie (TV) and Mr and Mrs Bennett from P&P? Or Jeannie and Major Nelson?

RevMelinda said...

Or Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey?

Keira Soleore said...

Melinda, I would agree with you about Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey, but Mr. and Mrs. Bennet seem more like a disillusioned pair making the best of being yoked together for life with indifference, humor, and nagging as their only resort.

Certainly, Sully and Dr. Quinn as well as the Scarlet Pimpernel pair. That is a romantic tale with so many romantic plot points. Then there's Princess Bride, of course.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Wow! Thoughtful posts from you all, particularly Bernard...who once again I must thank for the male point of view (I don't let my husband comment here, LOL!). TV sitcoms seem to be particularly cruel to couples.

For all of you who mentioned those "returning couples" in a book series, where they drop in to add to the word count, I somehow never buy that they are still as lovey-dovey as they seem. I am jaded.:)

As for my own positive role models:probably Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett in the original Father of the Bride...the remake w/Keaton and Martin isn't off the mark either. I like Nick and Nora as a marriaed couple too as long as we're talking b & w movies! Thanks, Bernard, Gillian,Keira and RevM!

Beverley Kendall said...

I have to say my favorite married couple is the sad-sack Raymond and Debra Barone! I absolutely love that show and their interaction. Ideal? No way, but I love them all the same. Humor can be a wonderful thing in any relationship.

Terri Osburn said...

I'm quite cynical about HEA's in real life. Mostly because I don't see it first hand very often. But in October my parents will celebrate their 40th anniversary so I guess I do have a front row seat for a real one.

I also agree with Bernard that Hollywood doesn't know a thing about men and women. However, I do like that they don't always wrap everything up in a nice, neat bow either. Sometimes, life is messy and hard and it ends badly. Kudos to someone for realizing that.

And Maggie - I can honestly say the little I've been lucky enough to learn of your marriage gives me great hope that HEA's are more common than my experience would show.

Anonymous said...

Maggie - I totally disagree with Hollywood. And Romance Novels end where they end.

Is life messy? Nah - just real. It's the spin we put on our own lives that makes it good or bad. I I read romance not just for the stories, but for the hope factor, and to remind me that my life is GOOD. I watch TV to be entertained and to laugh - I don't believe any of it for a second.

My marriage has lasted over 27 years and neither of us has been jailed for abuse- neither of us would tolerate it from the other. We love each other and we create it every day. I'm happy to have the man I love to grow old with, warts and ALL. There is a HEA, if we create it.

Hellie Sinclair said...

You're my favorite married couple, Maggie. You and your hubby have the best story; and my friend Pam and her husband have been together forever--and they're adorable, even if occasionally a little bland.

I don't know of any movie or TV couples I would recommend off hand. But having happily married couples aren't exactly what makes a good story, is it? The mundane details but no real conflict other than "why didn't you take out the trash when I asked you for the FIFTH time?"--not exactly a big character arc there.

Ericka Scott said...

My parents...they've been married over 50years and just recently my father has succumbed to Altzheimers. But watching the tenderness in my mother's care of him is heart-rending. It's definitely NOT a HEA ending...but it's real life.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Oh, Ericka. I feel for your family. Your parents are real-life role models.

Bev, I think the Barones are pretty realistic, too. I've known a few Maries in my time, right down to the clothes!

Terrio and Hellion, wait til I tell John what you wrote! It should make the meatloaf taste better tonight!

Maria, so true...we can't wait around for the fairy godmother, but take responsibility for our lives and relationships.Kudos to you and your husband!

Janga said...

From sit-com heaven: I always liked Cliff and Clair Huxtable's relationship. They gave a good sense of a couple who liked each other, talked to one another, fought on the same team, and still found one another hot even after all those kids.

In RL, I have plenty of evidence among family members and friends that long-term happiness is real. I went to an anniversary party this week-end for friends who were celebrating fifty-seven years together. The husband said in his remarks that if he had his choice of all the people he had ever known to spend time with, he would choose Jenny (his wife), that after fifty-seven years he still found her the most interesting person he knew. That may not be the stuff of romance novel declarations, but I think finding your partner interesting after nearly six decades together may have more to do with being happy together than do pretty words and romantic gestures. Though there is nothing wrong with those either. Jenny's anniversary gifts from her DH included roses and diamonds. :)

On the other hand, I don't think length of marriage is always an indicator of happiness. I have known some couples who seem to stay together only to make one another miserable.

irisheyes said...

Another awesome blog Maggie!

I’m not sure whether Hollywood depicts marriage and/or family accurately. I guess what Bernard stated is pretty true, the husbands, wives, kids, etc. are all kind of caricatures. It makes for very funny TV, but I do also think that every so often there is a little ring of truth in all the hilarity. I do not think that Hollywood is very supportive of monogamous, committed relationships, though.

I also believe there are real life HEAs. I’m living one. It definitely isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. And I suppose Bernard said it best when he said - Real married couples who stay together are battling best friends, who with persistence, end up after many years fitting together like a well crafted jigsaw puzzle. I love the way you put that, Bernard. That is exactly how I feel about me and the DH. We are complete opposites who very rarely see eye to eye, but the bottom line is that we truly like being together, we stimulate each other intellectually, emotionally and physically :), and staying together and being happy together is a priority with us!

We actually had a discussion about HEAs lying in bed together the other night. (No TMI - I promise!) We were discussing how we keep growing together instead of apart. How being together is getting to be more fun and knowing each other as well as we do is giving us both an enhanced sense of security and intimacy. We also learned very early in our relationship (through a little bit of therapy) how to support our differences and learn from each other, instead of changing the other person into what we want or need - that's a Biggie!

I’ve also been a witness to several bad endings and relationships where someone should have put every one involved out of their misery long ago. One couple got married because she got pregnant, the second couple wanted to have sex (good Catholics) so they got married, the third couple got together because her biological clock was ticking, and the fourth because he was the first and only to ask and she didn’t want to be alone. None, IMHO, were best friends or even friendly first (one couple fought constantly) or thought about spending the rest of their lives with their soul mate.

My uneducated opinion is that most HEAs happen when people are best friends first, are comfortable, happy and secure with who they are, and comfortable, happy and secure with who their spouse is.

irisheyes said...

Sorry for the long post:(

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Irish, post away and never apologize! I love what contributions you all make here...I always have something new to think about (and Bernard really is our hero here, isn't he? ;) ).

I wonder why there aren't more positive married couples shown in the media...maybe it's like soap operas when the long-time lovers get married; it all turns "boring" and then the baby has to be kidnapped/switched at birth or the dead wife returns. Happiness isn't riveting enough. As writers all we're encouraged to do is build tension and separate.

I think Janga is right on the money about the Huxtables. And I think Bill Cosby was deliberately creating a loving committed couple (maybe idealized but so what) that African Americans could aspire well as people of any color. The family depicted on that show meant a lot to a lot of people. My family watched it faithfully.

It is so wonderful to hear from you all about real-life couples making those milestones, not out of habit but out of joy.

Terri Osburn said...

Irish - I love and agree with everything you said. But there was one funny thing that stuck out for me.

I tease my mother because when I asked how my dad proposed once she couldn't remember. She had to think back really hard then remembered. My dad wanted to go all the way and she said not unless you marry me. He gave in, so did she and a year later they were married.

My mother was also a good Catholic girl. But 40 years later, marrying so they could have sex sort of worked out. LOL!

Tessa Dare said...

Wow! What a great blog and great conversation. I'm with Terri and Hellion - you and Mr. R. are at the top of my list for inspiration!

Personally, I don't know that I agree that kids kill desire... they certainly kill easy opportunities, but that makes things more interesting, in my experience!


Hellie Sinclair said...

*LOL* Tessa's comment makes me think of Jeff Foxworthy's joke about trying to have sex when you have kids in the house. You put them in bed and start down the hall, stripping as fast as you can...then "Daddy?" "Oh, going...start without me...."

Of course, a LOT funnier when he says it.

irisheyes said...

Yeah, Ter, I know two other couples that got married because "they had to" and they are going strong. One 25 years and the other 19. That's why I don't think you can ever point to just one thing being the cause of a break-up any more than you can always blame just one half of the couple (although there are always exceptions for the A #1 a$$ or first class B$tch!). I love your Mom and Dad's story - that's a classic!

Tess I agree with the interesting ways to get around kids. My problem has always been that the kids pretty much beat the hell out of me before the DH walks in the door and I have nothing left for him. LOL

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Tessa, there's never TMI! But I can definitely see Terrio's and Irish's point. It's not that desire disappears, but you're damned if you can figure out when and where to do it!