When TLC Book Tours originally e-mailed, asking me to review Pamela Haag‘s Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age, I had a brief flashback to ten-year old Liz. I was reading some book about something (based on my knowledge of my reading material at the time, probably a romance between an Old West cowboy and a country school marm. With horses.), and my mom asked, “Is it good?” I remember carefully responding, “I… don’t know,” and then spending the next few days pondering how I should have answered. Whether or not I said the book was “good” felt like a monumental decision. And besides, what does “good” mean? Good plot? Characterization? Use of literary device? Historical accuracy? TELL ME. (Yep, these were the things I thought about at ten years old.)
Despite my adolescent hang-ups, reawakened by this task, I would call Marriage Confidential a Good Book, but not a book with which I found myself agreeing very much. Less of a book that had my head nodding. More of a book that made me think about some stuff and throw it across the room and yell angry things at my husband from the bedroom.
I enjoy books that pull things apart by looking around at what’s happening, taking it in, and then trying to figure out the facts and statistics that are represented by experience. Haag uses this method in dissecting marriage, but with what I interpreted as less success. Using case studies and anecdotes seems like a good way to test other facts and findings, but there’s something about marriage that seems too complicated and nuanced for that. Sure, your friends are divorced, Pamela, but is it because of their “type” of marriage? Or is it because they suck at being married? In reading descriptions of the different types of marriage and the ways in which they fail, I ached for Haag to introduce us to her Successfully Married Friends, but they didn’t seem to make it to the party. It seems all sorts of things kill our marriages, depriving us of worthwhile careers, hobbies, and even sexual passion.
Of course, I needed to continually readjust my lens. It’s difficult to approach a book about marriage objectively when one is already committed to the deed. Particularly when the book begins by describing children as a sort of nail in the marital coffin (I have pretty clear vested interests in believing that marriage can be wonderful and kiddos only multiply the goodness). That said, I sat up with added interest when Haag described a couple who had (gulp) formed a business, working from home together. Of course, this signaled the doom of their sexual interest in one another, their individualized hobbies, and, subsequently, their marriage.
Though I disagreed with the majority of the points made within the book, I enjoyed the read. Mainstay marital discussions concerning the validity and longevity of “best friend” marriages, the question of “Having It All,” and the possible sexual avenues couples take to ensure their married happiness all continue to be relevant, important discussions. However, Haag’s core question seems to miss the mark. I felt she kept pressing to find out, “Why doesn’t marriage make us happy?” with the negative assumption built right in. In the end, Haag mentions that in her mind, this book is a defense of traditional marriage. Can you believe it? In fact, I agreed with the entirety of the Epilogue. “Yes, Pamela! This is what I’ve been trying to tell you the whole time!” Which makes me wonder where she and I lost each other along the way. Somehow, in my reading, I felt Haag tearing marriage apart as I sputtered in defense of a loving, well-rounded relationship. And here, that’s what she was arguing for, too.
I know some of you have read Marriage Confidential. What did you think?