Does a Wife Interfere with Her Own Happiness? by Anne Fielding
Seminar: May 4,
Independence & Dependence
Not One Makes for Unhappiness
In The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion
describes herself in two ways, and in both she’s
representative--on the one hand as intensely interested in holding on
independence. “I … had trouble thinking of myself as a wife,” she
“For a long time after we were married I had trouble [wearing] the
ring.” She also
says importantly that over the years she had used her writing to hide:
developed a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought…behind
increasingly impenetrable polish,” she writes.
On the other hand,
Ms. Didion writes of how dependent she and her
husband were on each other for the nearly forty years they were
despite what others might think, were not competitive:
did not discuss with John. Because we
were both writers and both worked at home, our days were filled with
of each other’s voices. I did not
always think he was right nor did he always think I was right but…
There was no
separation between our…interests in any given situation.
separation between our interests” is really impossible. Two of the big
opposites on which marriage is based are separateness and togetherness,
his lecture “Aesthetic Realism and People,” Eli Siegel explained:
can exist very much
while people are together….People feel apart even at the same table or
same bed….We get aware of the separation that has been all the time if
dies or goes away….Only through knowledge, seeing the other person from
can the separation be met….
How much did Ms.
feel she saw him “from within?” How much did she feel he did? That
painful separation between them can be seen in what she writes later:
She also admits she
to hear things her husband was troubled by: “Everything he had done, he
was worthless,” she writes. “I… tried to dismiss it.” Though she writes
with regret she doesn’t see what the dismissing came from, and it would
life good if she did. “Do you think there’s a desire in a woman,” we
Meadows in a consultation, “to feel the outside world, including what a
is concerned about, is an interference with herself? And is it
think so,” she said.
imagined we knew
everything the other thought, even when we did not necessarily want to
but in fact, I have come to see we knew not the smallest fraction of
was to know.
Is Closeness Used For the World & People or Against Them?
gives details of trips she and her husband took, restaurants where they
of their swimming together, we don’t really get a sense of who he was
self, how he felt about happenings in the world, how he saw other
agree with what a reviewer, Edward Lewine, observed critically, that in
book, her husband emerges “as a tragic presence rather than as a man….”
Didion sees him, as wives have for centuries, chiefly in relation to
herself. She does show she feels
guilty, but her self-critical thoughts are not welcomed; in fact, she
they’re unbearable. “Would I need to relive every mistake?” she asks
feel she’s angry, not just sad. “Would I…need to remember the long
from dinner…and how many nights…one or the other of us had said the
thing? Or stopped speaking?” The answer is: if you saw the
Didion, it would free you.
What makes a husband
or wife say “the wrong thing” or “stop
speaking”? What went on during those dinners that made for the quarrels
silences as they drove home? Did they
respect how the other had been with or talked about people? Were
they in any way an exclusive, superior,
even mocking team against others—and then punished each other for it?
“It is a
tendency of humanity,” Mr. Siegel said to me and Sheldon when we told
quarrel we’d had after a party,
people have, consciously or unconsciously shut the rest of the world
out. It’s their greatest victory and their
greatest defeat. The last stronghold of anti-world feeling, is one’s
taught us—and it’s knowledge women and men need desperately—that the
mistake in marriage is always the lack in both persons of good will,
energetic and happy desire to know and strengthen the best in
other-and to criticize the worst. And
if we want to be separate from the world and despise it, we don’t have
will, and we’ll never be happy.
This is what we were
teaching Eliza Meadows—who told us that she
and her husband, Andrew, often stopped speaking or said “the wrong
thing.” For example:
Andy wanted to
play catch in the yard, and I wanted
to sit; but
we played and I broke a nail—I could have enjoyed myself much
After we played…he came up and mussed my hair.
He was being playful, but he was angry, too, he was trying to tell me
TAW. What do you
think he was angry about?
I’m not sure,
but he often
calls me “Fifty-fifty”—doing something only fifty percent.
Do you think
he feels you’re protecting something in
that you’re saying: “You’re not going to have me completely—I’ve given
as much as I like”? Do you give the appearance, ‘World, don’t come too
me, don’t affect me too much, I will remain cool.’?”
When you play
world comes to you and goes away from you, and there’s a certain form.
exciting relation of nearness and distance, point and expansion,
separation. Aesthetic Realism says
we’re trying to put opposites together. We’re talking about your
the world, and whether it’s beautiful or not. Does your husband
have a legitimate objection to the
way you see things
coming to you and going from you? Is
there too much of a fingertip approach?
He does, yes.
If you have a
ball thrown at you and you don’t try
to catch it,
is it like having a person’s hopes come to you and you're not
what I’ve done.
TAW. The whole basis
Aesthetic Realism way of seeing marriage, is that its purpose is to
world, to have good will for another person and to find out what that
you think your husband looks at you and asks: “Does my wife care enough
reality and does she want me to care for it?”
is a question
I believe Ms. Didion’s husband had, and if she knew it, it would