Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules Paperback – May 20 2011
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“If you’re coupled upor want to beyou’ve got to read this.” (Glamour)
“Haag’s well-researched provocative study will get you thinking.” (People, "Great Summer Reads")
“The perfect book club choice.;. . . Free of the inflammatory politics and cultural baggage that usually accompanies the topic.;. . . It does make you reflect on modern mating habits. It’s fun.” (USA Today)
“[A] fun, interesting read.” (TODAY)
“Pamela Haag takes a fresh look at the state of our legal unions.” (More)
“Fascinating. . . . Couldn’t be more timely or relevant.” (Huffington Post)
“Provocative.” (The Times (London))
“Throughout her initial analysis she is spot-on. . . . [with a] sharp, erudite style . . . Haag has her capable finger on the pulse of the American marriage.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“A startlingly honest and surprisingly funny account of marital discontent…. Avoiding comfortable bromides and rejecting the usual clichés, Haag reports on how married people really live these days…. This is one of the few books around with something new to say about the travails of modern love and coupledom.” (Laura Kipnis, author of Against Love: A Polemic and How to Become a Scandal)
“Brilliant. . . . Marriage Confidential is both laugh-out-loud funny and gasp-out-loud shocking, and nothing less than a Feminine Mystique for our time. Mark my words, your marriage will change after reading this book.” (Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher)
“In this timely and thought-provoking analysis of modern coupledom, Pamela Haag paints a vivid tableau of the ‘semi-happy’ couple. Written with wit and aplomb, this page turner will instigate an insurrection against our marital complacency.” (Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity)
“The personal is political after all. This first big history of the marriages of the post-feminist generation tells a riveting story of how socially empowered women-including many who opted out-and their mates are still struggling to find happiness in their personal lives.” (Linda Hirshman, author of Get to Work: . . . And Get a Life, Before It's Too Late)
“[Haag] doesn’t shy away from controversy in discussing how some marriage ‘rebels’ try to breathe new life into their relationships. A candid and thought-provoking read.” (Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage)
“[Haag] wittily and meticulously explores what sets apart those who suffer quietly in their semi-happy marriages from those who take action-whether that action is working to improve the situation, splitting up, retreating to a man cave or having an affair.” (BookPage)
“Marriage Confidential is so rare, such a pleasantly charming pearl of great price . . . You learn something, but you hardly notice because you’re having such a good time.;. . . Flat-out brilliant.” (Washington Post Book World)
“A fascinating journey through the evolution of marriage.” (Date Night Magazine)
“I read it voraciously. . . . [Haag] is thoughtful, engaging, unconventional, and amusing.” (Bella DePaulo, Psychology Today)
“The chances are, this book describes your marriage. . . . It’s also an entertaining read.” (Mail on Sunday (UK))
From the Back Cover
Pamela Haag has written the generational "big book" on modern marriage, a mesmerizing, sometimes salacious look at the semi-happy ambivalence lurking just below the surface of many marriages today. The spouses may rarely fight—they may maintain a sincere affection for each other—but one or both may harbor a melancholy sense that something important is missing.
Remarkably, this side of the marriage story hasn't been told or analyzed—until now.
Meticulously researched and injected with insightful firsthand accounts and welcome doses of humor, Marriage Confidential articulates for a generation that grew up believing they would "have it all" why they have ended up disenchanted. Haag introduces us to contemporary marriages where spouses act more like life partners than lovers; children occupy an uncontested position at the center of the marital relationship; and even the romantic staples of sexual fidelity and passion are assailed from all sides—so much so that spouses can end up having affairs online almost by accident.
Blending tales from the front lines of matrimony with cultural history, surveys, and research covert-ops (such as joining an online affair-finding site and posting a personal ad in the New York Review of Books), Haag paints a detailed picture of the state of marriage today. And to show what's possible as well as what's melancholy in our post-romantic age, Haag seeks out marriages with a twist—rebels who are quietly brainstorming and evolving the scripts around career, money, social life, child rearing, and sex.
Provocative but sympathetic, forward-thinking and bold, here, at last, is a manifesto for living large in marriage.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In "Marriage Confidential," Ms. Haag argues that modern couples are increasingly susceptible to a malaise she calls "marriage melancholy." Husband and wife profess their love for each other and are committed to their children. To their families and friends, their marriage is a happy one. However, in private, both spouses are besieged by feelings of doubts, of "something not being quite right," and of sadness. Unable to pinpoint the root of their discontent, they settle into a low stress, low-conflict, semi-happy marriage.
Based on research literature on marriage, information glimpsed out of online discussions and groups, the results of two surveys, interviews, personal experiences resulting from her going "undercover" and on reflections of her own marriage, Ms. Haag uncovers the reasons of today's marital dissatisfaction in the "Have-It-All/Do-It-All" syndrome, the unrealistic expectations of parenthood perfection and online cheating. The first two factors have contributed to the spouses' disassociation with their identities as adults with intimate needs. The third one undermines (and denies) the last pillar of traditional marriage: monogamy. Curiously, Ms. Hagg seems to see monogamy as the obstacle toward marital fulfillment today. Those who are in melancholic marriages could avoid the financial and emotional costs of divorce and escape their passionless marriages if they felt they were not bound by their vows of fidelity.
The solutions explored by Ms. Haag in her book include swinging (spouse-swapping) and open marriage where both spouses agree to have lovers on the side. Wisely, Ms. Haag agrees that both alternatives are not suitable for everybody as there are complicated rules and protocols to follow as well as no guarantees that one spouse may not end up leaving the other for his/her lover eventually. Besides, according to Karen Salmanson, "some research suggests that open marriage has a 92% failure rate." But for Ms. Haag, polyamory may still be the way to the future for marriage.
Obviously, "Marriage Confidential" is not for people with strong religious beliefs or for those who see marriage as an exclusive commitment between two people. Personally, I found the book intellectually interesting but disappointed that it did not even consider other possibilities to ease dissatisfaction within the marriage or even explore the efforts to prevent it from happening in the first place (e.g. marriage preparation training). After reading Ms. Haag's book, I indulged for a moment in imagining a time when couples will have an option to check out the alternative that suits their values and lifestyles the best on the marriage license: starter, open, collaborative, co-parental, latest trend-- and still, somewhere on that list, it will still be there: traditional. Marriage is a choice and so is faithfulness.
Note: "Do Open Marriages Work?" by Karen Salmansohn. March 23, 2010. Oprah.com
It is very difficult to absorb the subject matter of this book due to the distraction caused by Haag's strange choice of words, confusing, unclear prose and inaccurate writing. The text is hopped up with pseudo-intellectual vocabulary, often used inappropriately, which does nothing more than confuse the reader. Sample words: jeremiad and charivari - both of which are used incorrectly. Why use "transmogrify" when you could use "transform"? If such word choices are intended to impress the reader, in actuality they undermine the book's substance by making it less accessible, annoying this reader.
Here's a sample sentence: "Emily loves to play `family,' and in this game, she ventriloquizes her parents' marriage with what sounds like chilling concision."
Emily is not "ventriloquizing," but parodying, mimicking or imitating her parents' marriage dialogue. Further, "concision" seems irrelevant in this sentence, although "accuracy" would be appropriate.
Haag describes the term "bromance" as being included in the "Oxford English Dictionary. This dictionary defines "bromance" as "a close but nonsexual relationship between two men." Webster's is consistent with Oxford, defining "bromance" as a close but nonsexual friendship between men." Haag's next sentence defines "bromances" as "crushes" among avowedly heterosexual men, directly conflicting with the use of the term as defined by Oxford.
The chapter about the marriages that tolerate affairs begins with: "For a secret demimonde of marriages, the affair is not at all impossible, or forbidden - but it is a treaty arrived at through private collusion." If Haag is to claim any objectivity in her analysis, "demimonde" certainly casts a negative connotation on this segment of alternative marriages (overlooking the redundancy of "secret" used with "demimonde").
I question Haag's scholarship when I see statements like the following: "[T]he Bible Belt has the highest divorce rate in the country today, while Massachusetts has the lowest." This statistical statement has no reference or note indicating either its date or source. The Wall Street Journal reported on August 13, 2010 that, indeed, Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate of 1.8 per 1,000 people, but Nevada has the highest at 6.6. Although Arkansas has the second highest divorce rate and would qualify a being one of the southern Bible Belt states, Wyoming, Idaho, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Alaska follow in the list of highest divorce rates. Wikipedia describes the Bible Belt as referring to states "in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism is a significant part of the culture and Christian church attendance across the denominations is extremely high." Traditionally, this is the South. Although West Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Oklahoma might qualify as Bible Belt, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska would not. The Wall Street Journal article was based on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau as of July 1, 2009, described as the latest data.
Adding to the frustration with this book, although "Marriage Confidential" has 38 pages of notes at the end of the book, the notes reference pages with no corresponding numbers to the notes on the referenced pages. Consequently, you have no idea, as you are reading the book, that there are notes at the back that discuss particular issues in more detail.
Discussing the content of "Marriage Confidential" requires another review. Since the writing makes the content so inaccessible, we needn't go there.
This is the worst book I have read in a long time, in several senses of the word "worst." In fact, the only thing that kept me reading to the end was that I wanted to be able to write a complete review detailing everything that is wrong with it. Starting with the actual writing itself, there were two problems right off the bat. First, as other reviewers have noted, the ridiculously stilted language, which would be one problem on its own, but the fact that Haag misuses words, sometimes to the point of outright malapropisms, is another yet. Also it is clear before you are even half way through the first chapter that Haag is not certain about what kind of book she is writing. Hard nonfiction, with the research to back up her assertions? If that was the goal, the book fails miserably, as the research presented is thin indeed. Creative nonfiction, a kind of meditation on the current state of marriage? As such this book also fails, as the writing is too superficial and glib to be called "creative." She muddies the water further by dragging in her own marriage and her poor husband John, who is thanked in foreward and acknowledgements alike, but apparently is also a fine example of a disappointing, dull, passionless husband. This was a bad idea as it spoiled Haag herself as a sympathetic narrator; I spent the rest of the book feeling vaguely mortified for her husband and child, who also gets dragged in as evidence of kids-as-marriage-killers.
If you share Haag's perspective on what life ought to be, you might find this book more appealling. To give you an idea of her bias, she defines being grounded (as in rooted in a stable place) as a negative early in the book. She uses the cliche "(noun) in a grey flannel suit" at least three times in various contexts to describe the horrors of having an average, steady life. She sneers at the idea of "life partners" and marital egalitarianism, but also sneers at "Christian marriages" and their traditionalism. Haag uses the word "stability" as a negative descriptor. She repeatedly uses the term "low conflict low stress" with regard to marriage as though it were a bad thing. In general she seems to believe, not unlike the typical adolescent, that life ought to be one adventure after another, passionate and ever-changing. She believes spouses ought to entertain each other, and that others in your life are essentially dead weight unless they make you "feel alive." If you're thinking "whatever THAT means" then you and I are more alike than you and Haag. If you want to read this book anyhow, you will have to push past her air of snotty incredulity at the miserable lives we mediocre dullards tolerate.
As is typical with these "I did research! I read my journal and talked to some friends!" Eastern seaboard, upper middle class elite "lifestyle trend" books, generalizations are made over and over again that have little to no relevance to actual, average Americans. She wants to know if people tend to marry within their same ethnicity, class, etc, and instead of citing actual sociological work that has been done on this question, she spends some time surveying the wedding announcements in the New York Times. Surprisingly, she discovers that wealthy white elites tend to marry other wealthy white elites! It didn't occur to her that perhaps mums and dads wouldn't spend the fee to announce a marriage between Muffy and the local plumber, and that her sample was hilariously limited and biased. Haag assumes that parenting is always done as it is by the most neurotic of the Park Slope set, using words such as "competitive" and "narcissistic prison." She bemoans the isolation of the suburbs and its apparent toll on marriages by giving the example of some friends who have an actual English-style pub built into the basement of their McMansion. Oh yeah, she's got her fingers on the pulse of the average American household, which pulls in around $45,000 per year.
Her attitude towards children is bizarre and depressing. One is tempted to take her aside and ask if there's something she needs to talk about, she is so hopelessly down about marriages with children. She intones "have kids will divorce" again and again as though it were a given in her social circle (and thus the world). She claims that the world has become so child-centric it's strangling out marriages, all because some parents she knows don't take date nights and other friend felt like a "eunuch Barbie" while newly postpartum. She is certain that children wreck marriages, but at the same time she seems to have taken on both marriage and parenthood in an attempt to right childhood wrongs of her own, and she assumes that's why everyone else these days does it too. She quotes some Swedish person as saying that traditional family life is "a fossil" in Sweden, something they study as an artifact. What she doesn't mention is that in Sweden, traditional marriage and family is very much alive among the African immigrant community...and that their population is growing while the native population stagnates, making those progressive Swedes into *literal* fossils while the traditional Somalis flourish!
Haag's claim that children and child-centrism are taking over the world also begs the question, if so why are so many kids--yes, even in America, yes in your city--going hungry? Going to substandard schools? At risk for violence? Dying of disease and injury? Well those things don't happen in Haag's elite social circle so for the purposes of her book, they just don't happen at all!
Meanwhile, we get to hear endless, painful anecdotes of how all the good old bros don't REALLY want to be fathers, and how women can essentially only "find themselves" by divorcing and going after a "bad boy." The misery that is rampant in Haag's sample is not caused by their marriages (though in some cases the marriage may make matters worse) but she fails to notice this. Mostly, the discontent is caused by competitiveness and the belief that everything should be novel and entertaining. It is by this means that divorce becomes socially contageous, too, as man after man in a group decides his wife is an oppressive ***** and woman after woman decides she needs to "find herself" by taking off somewhere and the social glue among friends increasingly consists of griping about how terrible your spouses are.
Haag's solution to all this is...well it's not clear. She proposes polyamory, or at least turning the other cheek while your spouse cheats on you. She seems to suggest that wives have a duty to provide sexual entertainment of an ever-revolving sort, or else...the details are fuzzy, here. She considers the topic of swinging, and how it differs from polyamory. She ends with the suggestion that one "live marriage as if you're always on vacation" and to "imagine your first child is actually your second." Well alright then! Are you worried about the effects that 10% unemployment, stagnant wages, chronic overwork, diminishing retirement savings and insurance coverage, and a toxic media culture might have on marriages and families? Too bad. Let them eat cake!
This book is a terrible read, not even entertaining as a trainwreck, and the ideas it promotes are unclearly argued, not supported by evidence, and frankly a little bit dangerous. But then again, I think "stability" is a good word when we're talking about family life.
Another discord was that there were two paragraphs that spoke about, what I am assuming is the "Christian" marriage and how it totally seemed to not have the issues with children, etc. that the other types of marriages (secular, intellectual) seemed to be teaming with. And the author dismisses this entire lifestyle as being too evangelistic for her to embrace. It was like hitting a really loud minor chord in an otherwise very well put together composition. Instead of delving into WHY these marriages seem to not be afflicted by the general malaise of our society, they were utterly dismissed!
I didn't really find that there were any more people re-writing the rules or living incredible creative alternatives - as the title claimed. People make due. They have for centuries. I think they are just more willing to talk about it now - see my second sentence above - it's okay to dialogue very loudly and very publicly. THAT is really what has shifted in our culture, not so much the rule re-writing as the endless complaining and navel gazing documentation (tweeting about getting a soy venti latte comes to mind).
Perhaps a little less ME time and a little more doing for others and lots less complaining would make most marriages a lot happier. I left off feeling pretty sorry for her husband. Having some empathy, one might realize that perhaps, he didn't really want this all shared?
Ms. Haag is asking questions, not providing answers. And that is why I love her book, and believe it should be moved to the top of many - if not most - book club lists. If Oprah still had a show, it would no doubt be on hers.
There is no shortage of books claiming to cure whatever ails your union. It seems everyone with a B.A. in...well, anything...fancies him or herself as a marriage expert for having done little more than get married. To my knowledge, Haag is one of the few historians/writers/women/men/marriage experts (S. Coontz being one other I can think of) brave enough to point out the obvious but unspoken: In many marriages, isn't it possible the problem is more a lack of culturally acceptable options than a mismatch of individuals? One size is simply not fitting all, so why are we so adamantly opposed to expanding the selection? We continue blaming individuals for a situation (i.e., divorce) affecting over 50% of married people. To build on her metaphor, where else in life - other than with Xerox machines - would we blame individuals for something that doesn't work over 50% of the time? And even then: "No, it's not that the Xerox machine has broken down for the 12th time this month. It's that you were printing wrong. Well, you, and Bob in Accounting, and Sharon in Legal, and the CEO, and the Xerox repair guy, and...." Ridiculous, right? So when will we accept that the machine is not working well for most people, and move on to open and honest discussions about what we might be done about it?!
These are questions I've been asking, ten years into my low-conflict, low-stress, "just fine" marriage of equals, and with each chapter I found myself wondering if maybe she has been sitting in my living room, or in my brain. Contrary to other readers here, I love her style of writing, while recognizing that it's maybe a bit lofty and overly academic for some tastes. It's a fair critique that she would broaden her reader base with a re-write catering to those without Ph.D.'s. That being said, this book is nothing if not directed at people with Ph.D.'s (and other advanced degrees). It will probably resonate much more with white, middle- to upper-middle progressive couples (both hetero and same sex) than it will with working class, inner city minority, or even conservative Christian ones. But let's be honest: how many common factors do we really think exist between married couples across these various demographic groups? Again, she's not trying to solve the Problem of Marriage, or any problems in anyone's marriage. She's DESCRIBING what she has seen, heard, and read among those she knows and those she interviewed for the book. And then asking questions meant to provoke thought, perhaps so that we might consider new solutions that work for us - something I believe too few books choose to do. After all, it's easier to sell solutions than questions, isn't it? And it's easier and safer to cling to solutions others have crafted than to venture into uncharted territory yourself when you have no idea where you might end up.
Read this book if you and your partner are both fairly well-educated, have been married for 7+ years, and find questions without answers exciting - even ones that may rock the boat of complacency.