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四十年之痒

(2010-06-22 16:52:28)
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情感

当我在写一本关于一对结婚多年的夫妇离婚的书时,我发现一句法国谚语能很好的表达这种情况:“我没有一直拿着蜡烛。”这句话的含义是:我不知道夫妻之间会发生什么事,所以我怎么可能知道夫妻为什么会离婚?

     这并不能使我们停止猜测Al和Tipper Gore离婚的原因,即使他们认定结束自己四十年婚姻由的时候,这对夫妻行为举止也优雅端庄。公众的反应如下,以震惊与怀疑开始:“他们看上去是一对很般配的夫妻。”随后是愤怒:“难道这一切都是假的,特别是他们在传统场合接吻的时候?”最后就是恐惧:“是不是所有婚姻最后都会以离婚结束---我的婚姻也会有这种结局吗?”

    其实这个问题只是部分反映出一些小范围但不切实际的关于晚年离婚的猜测。处理离婚律师告诉我,他们快速增长的客户群体以中年和老年为主。她们离婚并不完全因为丈夫外遇,使她们孤独或性生活不和谐。2004年,一份关于1147对年龄段在40、50、60之间夫妇离婚的调查报告显示晚年主动离婚的妇女数量高于男人,并且如果晚年离婚妇女要找一个新的伴侣,她们通常会找一个。

    为了写这本书,我约见了126年男士和184名女士,这些人都是在结婚20-60多年后才离婚的人。使我感到吃惊的事是他们在别人认为坚如磐石的婚姻状态下所展现出的勇气。对于他们而言,离婚不代表失败和羞愧,而是机会。

    “人们变了,而且忽视相互交流,”Lillian Hellman说。当许多夫妻到该离婚的时候,他们仍然会打招呼。无论他们所处的环境多么舒适,家多少温馨,后代多少成功,他们离婚只是因为他们无法和同样的人一起继续生活下去。

    我所见到的男士和女士都坚称他们不是因考虑不足或一时冲动才离婚。他们中的许多人都提到了“自由”。我听到最多的另一个词则是“控制”;人们在自己的余生中都需要的。女人们已开始厌烦照看房子,丈夫和成长中的孩子,男人们则开始讨厌为他们认为不合适或孩子不认可的母亲而工作。男人和女人同样都要找出他们的自我。

    当任何一方要退休时,一对夫妇可能需要继续工作。这常常会有情感上的缺失;一方可能会说对方“没有明白我,不知道我是谁,”然而另一方可能没有暗示:“我想任何事情都很好,我们之间没有争吵甚至没有打架。”一方因饭桌上满脸皱纹的人而失去魅力,另一方就会需要新人和兴奋。

    我对我自己说男人只是喜新厌旧的连环求偶的人,就如同他们离婚时,妻子会深思熟虑并要孩子以挽救婚姻。而且我还发现,女人需要一个一起吃饭和跳舞的男人,但当她回到家中自己的床上时,就会离开男人独处,直到下一场聚会。

    许多故事都以同样的结局结束,“这是我的时间,如果我现在不占用,我就永远失去。”无论夫妻是否准备适应多年后的离婚还是决定多数服从少数的时刻,很少人会后悔。想找新伴侣的男人很容易找到,同样地,女人也会在二年内找到。

    现在离婚很容易的。我们退休时间会更长,身体会更健康。人们有足够的收入来改变生活。且离婚的困境也渐渐淡化。一个世纪前,Elizabeth Cady Stanton称离婚为“社会地震”。但几十年后,Margaret Mead认为每个女人需要三个男人:一个是年轻性伴侣,一个是安全且可以抚养后代,一个是老年快乐的伴侣。在21世纪,Margaret Drabble,英国小说家,称婚后生活就像“第三纪”。小说中的女主角“七姐妹”说,“我们所依赖的已经消逝或长大。无论好与坏,我们都自由了。”

    所以我们不必对 Al 和Tipper婚姻的结局感到震惊或伤心。相反,让我们祝福他们,希望他们独自且平和地享受他们的“第三纪”。

 

The 40-Year Itch

 

THERE’S an old French expression I found useful when I wrote a book about couples who divorced after long marriages: “I wasn’t holding the candle.” It means that I couldn’t know what happened between the two people in a marriage, so how could I possibly know why they split?

That hasn’t stopped speculation about Al and Tipper Gore, who are behaving with grace and dignity as they keep to themselves their reasons for ending 40 years of marriage. Public reaction has followed a pattern, beginning with shock and disbelief: “They seemed like the ideal couple, so perfect together.” Outrage came next: “Was it all a sham, especially that kiss on the convention stage?” And finally fear: “Are all marriages doomed to wither and die — and will mine be among them?”

But such questions expose just a few widespread but unrealistic assumptions about late-life divorce. Divorce lawyers tell me the fastest-growing segment of their clientele is the middle-aged and elderly. And their divorces do not all that often involve husbands running off with someone new, leaving wives alone and bereft. A 2004 AARP survey of 1,147 people who divorced in their 40s, 50s or 60s found that women initiated late-life divorces more often than men did, and if the divorced women wanted a new partner, they usually found one.

For my book, I interviewed 126 men and 184 women who divorced after being married 20 to 60-plus years. And what surprised me most was the courage they showed as they left the supposed security of marriage. To them, divorce meant not failure and shame, but opportunity.

“People change and forget to tell each other,” Lillian Hellman said. Still, many couples seem to have an “aha!” moment when they realize that it’s time to split up. No matter how comfortably situated they are, how lovely their home and successful their children, they divorce because they cannot go on living in the same old rut with the same old person.

Men and women I interviewed insisted they did not divorce foolishly or impulsively. Most of them mentioned “freedom.” Another word I heard a lot was “control”; people wanted it for themselves for the rest of their lives. Women had grown tired of taking care of house, husband and grown children; men were tired of working to support wives who they felt did not appreciate them and children who did not respect them. Women and men alike wanted time to find out who they were.

One spouse might have wanted to keep working while the other wanted to retire. Often, there was an emotional void; one would say that the other “doesn’t see me, doesn’t know who I am,” while the other hadn’t a clue: “I thought everything was just fine; we never argued, we don’t fight.” One grew disenchanted with the wrinkled person across the dinner table and wanted someone new and exciting.

I talked to men who were serial marry-ers with trophy wives they abandoned, as one of them put it, the minute the woman “got broody and wanted babies.” And I found women who wanted a man who would take them dining and dancing, but then go home to his own bed and leave them alone until the next party.

Many stories ended with some rendition of, “It’s my time and if I don’t take it now, I never will.” No matter whether they had spent years gearing up for divorce or decided on the spur of the moment after one minor disagreement too many, few had regrets. Men who wanted new companionship easily found it, and women who wanted new partners had them within two years.

Divorce is easier now. Our retirement years are longer and healthier. Both men and women often have enough money to make changes. And the stigma of divorce has long since faded. A century ago, Elizabeth Cady Stanton called it a “social earthquake.” But several decades later, Margaret Mead thought every woman needed three husbands: one for youthful sex, one for security while raising children and one for joyful companionship in old age. In the 21st century, Margaret Drabble, the British novelist, calls life after divorce “the third age.” The heroine of her novel “The Seven Sisters” says, “Our dependents have died or matured. For good and ill, we are free.”

So let us not feel shocked or sad about the end of Al and Tipper Gore’s marriage. Let us instead wish them well, and hope that they might enjoy their third age, individually and in peace.

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