Searching for Air

Tony Curtis and his then-wife Janet Leigh made a movie in 1953 called  “Houdini”, what would now be called a bio-pic about the life of Harry Houdini.

(For those too young to remember, Harry Houdini gained fame 100 years ago for seemingly impossible feats of escaping imprisonment. An escapologist who defied the strictures of safes, straightjackets and handcuffs, he was the original David Blaine.)

As a kid, I was horrified by a sequence in the movie in which Houdini was to be securely chained, trussed and locked in a box, and then placed – midwinter – into the Detroit River. The idea was for him to defy the confinement, the water and the ice. The trick went awry when the box went out of control and fell into the river prematurely, forcing him to find air trapped under the ice to survive…after he’d escaped his bonds.

I had lunch yesterday with an acquaintance who was metaphorically searching for air under the ice. A guy in his forties, he’d created a mess in that most ordinary way: he’d lost his attraction to his wife and tomcatted on her.

He didn’t couch it in that way, mind you. The story emerged over a few months, beginning with “we’re having problems”, transitioning to “I’m just not attracted to her any more” and finally “there’s another woman involved”. This is the story played out in many marriages, a story in which the transgressor spends a lot of energy justifying their actions.

+ it’s not my fault

+ he/she’s put on weight

+ I don’t love her any more

The seeds of this shallow response to life are sown way beforehand. I know this guy, and no-one ever explained to him that when  you choose a woman, marry her, and then have two children with her, your priorities shift away from your own desires to the responsibility of raising those children.

Did I mention they have two children under age 8?

Until those urchins are 18, his attraction to her is peripheral: that changed the instant she conceived.

So he’s been tossed out of the marital house and his life is tilting towards the extremely messy, hence the gasping for air metaphor. Of infinitely more importance is that hose kids will be maturing without the benefit of a father’s male energy to balance their mother’s and the consequent model of a sound marriage to emulate in their own lives.

We keep finding ways to make the same mistakes in the same way.

What is coupling success? Podcast #67

First SightFailure is a state we all recognize as an uncomfortable, vaguely distasteful, sigh-inducing and ultimately inevitable piece of life’s puzzle.

But what does success look like? Is there an easy standard against which we can measure ourselves, or do we have to collect a bag of nuances to proclaim triumph? Kregg and I talk our way to a successful conclusion.


Boldly galloping through the culture – western culture, at least – gaining currency is the idea that marriage is over. Singlehood is now explained as anything from the choice of sophisticates to the best way of finding happiness, thereby making it the default choice of more or less anyone who either can’t be bothered to marry or doesn’t know how.

The jump that this horse always neatly trots around is why it is that we’ve begun to turn our back on marriage; balked at the jump if you like. Proponents of universal singlehood assume that divorce is inevitable for a large number of married people and that this is only likely to worsen. The evidence provided is that divorce rate of anywhere from 40% to 60%, numbers that do not differentiate between first, second or third marriages, age, the presence of children and so on. It’s a big number, so it must be right. Right?

But the true number is irrelevant because it reflects a marital culture based on the behaviour of amateurs. Over sixty years or so, society has created a vision of marriage based on false premises, ideas that best serve advertisers, media and specific political operatives. The false premises include, but are not limited to:

  • marriage can be successful at any age
  • marriage is based on love
  • marriage is based on feelings
  • marriage is the end of the dating process, not the beginning of something
  • marriage is not about getting what you want
  • individual difficulties can be worked out inside marriage
  • initial compatibility can overcome later problems

…and so on.

We are amateurs at marriage because we have the arrogance to think we know what marriage is all about, like it’s a genetically transmitted skill. We give it about as much thought as buying a new car or creating an Instagram account, and oftentimes a whole lot less. Critical thinking almost never pops into our deliberation, and why would it: Love conquers all.

So because they (ie: the abovementioned sponsors) judge marriage based on the decisions and subsequent divorces of shallow-thinking instant gratifiers, the wisdom becomes that remaining single is better.

It’s the same idea as expecting Olympic-quality performances from athletes who train with a tv remote in their hands. Let’s not ditch marriage because the participants are lazy, dopey, poorly advised, misguided, misanthropic, selfish, desperate or easily fooled. We are the problem, not marriage.