Thursday, September 19, 2013


Don't tell me how it ends, because I'm listening to the audiobook of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. At first, I didn't think I'd get very far through this book because I have an unsophisticated desire to like somebody, anybody, in any given book. If there's no one likeable, I don't see much point in carrying on, and through the first hour or so, there was no one to like at all. Nick was unpleasant; Amy was unpleasant. But the more I listened, the more I realized that Amy was really only unpleasant as portrayed through Nick's eyes, and as we get to see more of her through her own diary entries, she's actually funny, charming, kind, and a generous and understanding girlfriend and wife.

Still, though, this book is depressing the hell out of me. Its depiction of marriage, even a marriage barely five years old that was born in head-over-heels, giddy, let's-drive-to-Delaware-to-have-sex-just-because-we've-never-had-sex-in-Delaware romance, is bleak. Its depiction of life for educated, east coast liberal young folk who end up through unplanned circumstances in a small Midwestern town, whose culture is essentially American suburbia, is bleak. Middle-class American married life in suburbia is the very definition of my life at this moment.

What disturbs me to the depths of my secret soul is Nick and his (mis)understanding of his wife. He attributes to her all of his own worst insecurities about himself and then resents her deeply for what (he supposes) she feels about him. She is baffled by his anger because she does not feel any of those things about him. She works hard not to be the nagging, needy, manipulative wife that she sees some of her friends become. And still, he sees her as exactly what she refuses to be, and his anger and neglect forces her to become, in painfully awkward moments, just that. Seeing each character through the first person, it's agonizing witnessing their complete failure to understand or even to try beyond a superficial level to communicate meaningfully with each other about that failure to understand. Amy says more to her diary about how she feels than she does to him; Nick says more to the reader as narrator than he ever says to her.

All of which reminds me painfully of the early- to mid-2000's. I was Nick. I saw my wife as Nick sees Amy. I thought we were engaged in some sort of competition or battle because she absolutely refused (refused!) to concede any victories to me. So in turn, I refused to concede any to her. And things fell apart. And things got bad. And now, years later, they're much, much better, but the reminder of how quickly and easily even the best fairy tale love story can turn into a murder mystery (no, I never wanted to kill my wife, and no I don't know if Nick killed Amy! Don't tell me! I haven't read that far yet!) is a hard one to read.

So I remind myself by telling you this marital advice that should have been obvious to me much sooner than it was, and which should be easier to remember through the years than it actually was or is:

First, be nice. Be nice to each other. Behave as if you are in love, even if you're not feeling particularly in love right now. Acting as if you're in love can lead to feeling more in love, while waiting to feel in love does not necessarily lead to acting as if you're in love.

Understand that the only person whose behavior you can change is your own, and changing your own behavior can inspire a change in your partner. People are nicer to those that are nicer to them.

No one ever brought anyone over to their own side through passive-aggression, sarcasm, and open hostility. A clever retort in a heated moment wins you nothing.

I suppose I'll keep listening so that I can find out where that Gone Girl ended up, but it hurts me to think that Amy deserves better than Nick, because it hurts me to think that my wife deserves better than me, and that I've misinterpreted the sweet, loving, generous, and forgiving woman that she is, seeing her instead through the distorted lenses of my own self-criticism.
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