When relationships crumble, it is usually the woman who opens her heart and the man who wails "I don't know how I feel", so when a man -- a man! -- pours out his broken heart, both women and men are bound to take notice.
"Falling: The Story Of One Marriage" (Random House) by John Taylor, is an account of his marriage and how it failed. It details how they met, where they spent their holidays, what he said to his mistress's therapist (only in New York).Twelve years ago, Taylor and "sweet, elusive" Maureen, also a journalist, got married, moved to Brooklyn and had a child. The brownstones in their area were full of other young couples with children; life seemed good. But eleven-and-a-half years later, Taylor and his wife separated, and by the time they did so, so had every one of those couples. Divorce, he says, struck the neighborhood like some kind of natural disaster.
What's wrong with marriage today? Taylor asks, and contrasts the leaden boredom of the Victorian marriage with the fraught tensions of the modern one. But we never do find out what really went wrong with this one, because Taylor himself isn't sure. He feels that he and Maureen weren't clear enough about their intentions. He knows that something went awry during the first two years after their daughter was born, but he can't put his finger on what, precisely.
There are pointers: Maureen gave up her job to look after their daughter and he thought she was happy to do so, but later he discovers that she bitterly resented staying at home while his career took off (ironically, he took over her job when she left it); their conversations always degenerated into bouts of complaining, he says, so they gradually stopped talking. She does return to work part-time for a while but this withholding of feelings "initiated the deceptiveness that eventually penetrated the very heart of the marriage".
Though he puts no energy into the marriage, the idea of divorce, and especially living without his daughter, terrifies Taylor. When Maureen tells him that separation is inevitable (in over 70 percent of cases, it's the woman who files for divorce, and very often, says family lawyer Michael Horton, men aren't ready for it), he gets panic attacks and tells her he can't go through with it. It takes weeks for him to accept that he has to leave.
Adrienne Burgess, author of "Fatherhood Reclaimed" and doyenne of the British men's movement, says Taylor's plight is one many men will relate to. These days, she says, when women marry and have children they "realize that they have to keep a toe in the marketplace" - a kind of insurance policy against the devastation of divorce.
Men, however, do not realize that they need to be involved with their children right from the beginning; instead, they spend their time at work. As a result, "the breadwinner is funding his own alienation from his child," she says. "Only when the marriage breaks down do they realize what a con it all is."
John Taylor, like many men in his situation, had simply got used to putting up with the relationship's lifelessness. The fact that Maureen has Parkinson's disease allowed him to justify his constant affairs. It was his duty to stay with her, he felt, but why should he be faithful when there was no love? But to his surprise, Maureen is more than capable of taking care of herself.
"My wife, with fewer options than I had outside our marriage, felt more urgently than I did the need to free herself from its confines. She was stronger than I was, I realized. She had greater inner resources."
Divorce is much more emotionally punishing for men, says Gail Sheehy, author of the forthcoming "Passages In Men's Lives" (Simon & Schuster), "because they really don't know how to nurture themselves. They internalize this view of themselves as beleaguered but responsible husbands who have tremendous deprivation in their intimate lives, but who nonetheless live up to the Stoic role of the good breadwinner. So Taylor felt he was doing the right thing, but once that traditional role was taken from him, he was devastated."
But things get even worse for Taylor. To his dismay, Maureen negotiates a lifetime maintenance settlement. As the full horror of what's happening dawns on him, he realizes, "I was going to be forced to take on an appalling financial burden from which I myself would receive no enjoyment or benefit". Maureen is not sympathetic. Earn more money, she advises. Write a book.
It is telling that the episode with the lawyer is the most dramatic. Money does have a way of galvanizing the emotions, says Tim Lott, who wrote an account of his own marriage breakdown, "The Separated," in Granta magazine. "Breaking up a marriage is a matter of enormous courage. It's a terrifying decision to lose so much." After all, the woman gets the house, an income and the kids, while the man, by now a lonely, impoverished, unattractive creature, ends up in a cramped apartment. In fact, such divorce settlements are neither inevitable, nor unfair to men. "Men form new families more frequently than women," explains lawyer Wendy Mantel, "after divorce, most people's standards of living suffer, but men rebuild their positions more easily."
Try saying that to Taylor, or to Lott, or to many other men in the middle of negotiating a settlement. "Many men," says Lott, "are very bitter about this lifelong commitment, in a post-feminist age, that they're expected to make to their ex-wives. Surely we've gone past the original template of the man unable to nurture children, abandoning the woman and running off with a bimbo, and the woman as helpless without the maintenance check coming through the door every week."
Taylor thinks Maureen could have returned to work if she had really wanted to, that she made a free choice. But to the mediator she presents her unemployment "as evidence of a sacrifice that had robbed her of a career and required that I support her for the rest of her life". Still, when Maureen protests that her job has been to raise their daughter, and that she's a pretty special kid as a result, he agrees and knuckles under.
The first months after separation are full of despair and bewilderment for Taylor, but in the end he feels that separation brings out the best in both of them. He and Maureen are more open with each other. But his grief at the loss of his family doesn't go away. "It was always meant to be the three of us . . . I thought I had escaped being punished for adultery. But this ache of regret, this bereavement, this sense that I had exiled myself forever from the two people on earth with whom, I truly belonged - this was, I realized, the punishment."