Alisa Bowman — who (full disclosure) is a friend of mine — has written a smart, timely, tough-minded book about saving her marriage called Project Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters.
Bowman, who also blogs at a site with the same name, bills her book as the “first marital improvement book written from the perspective of a recovering divorce daydreamer.” In fact, she had also taken up frequently fantasizing about her husband’s imminent death, which she’s pretty sure she would survive quite handily after throwing him a really great funeral.
One night, at dinner with a friend, Bowman confesses her marriage is hopeless. She and her husband argue, they no longer take pleasure in each other or have sex, they simmer with suspicion and hostility. Instead of offering automatic throw-the-bum-out sympathy and the name of a good divorce lawyer, Bowman’s friend asks whether she has done everything possible to salvage her marriage. “Promise me you will try everything,” she insisted. “He probably just needs you to tell him what you want. Men are clueless. Never forget that.”
Bowman promises. It’s fascinating to watch the transformation of this self-admitted driven, workaholic writer to a driven workaholic wife determined to move heaven and earth and the floorboards of her house to save her marriage. Or maybe it’s not so much a transformation as a transfer of energy and focus. Bowman immerses herself in marital self-help books, she begins to talk with her husband about their problems, she makes her marriage and keeping her family together the greatest priority of her life.
Since Alisa Bowman’s writing the book and controlling the narrative, it’s tempting to give her most of the credit for saving her union. But one person can never save a marriage. Her husband, however clueless and often clumsy, loves her and wants to stay married. Together, they move forward and backward and sideways, both of them straining to appreciate and love each other better. Think of a three-legged race — awkward till you learn to adjust yourself to the other person’s pace and direction, then awkward again when you forget what you’ve just learned.
Along the way, Bowman is funny and starkly honest and doesn’t spare herself from her own lacerating observations. The book — and the marriage — are a bumpy ride. Like any other marriage, theirs is a work still in progress.
Bowman’s book reminds me of why I’m always so bored by the long, glowing wedding stories in The New York Times and why I can’t get enough of the 10-, 15- or 25-years later stories that occasionally run in the same section to catch readers up with the lives of the pairs who pledged their troths in the newspaper pages.
The wedding is one kind of story: sumptuous, fleeting, expensive, frothy. The marriage is something else entirely — messy, complicated, convoluted, rich, gritty. Angels sing and hound dogs bark, hearts break and — ideally — are healed, intimacy is forged by sparks from that same early electricity and from tens of thousands of tiny moments that feature spilled liquids, incontinent animals and children, and knowing glances and belly laughs no one else in this world but the two of you will ever understand.
I’m glad Alisa Bowman had a friend who challenged her to exhaust every possibility before she divorced. I’m glad her husband was willing to do his share. And I’m glad she wrote this book. A good marriage is worth it — but you both have to want it badly and you have to be lucky. Project Happily Ever After gives you one couple’s story of two people who learned just that.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite, holiday-appropriate posts about marriage, another anniversary!