Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage, by Heather Havrilesky

Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage by Heather Havrilesky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

»Forever is two immortal elves, sipping pink champagne by a burbling stream, then exploring the wild, gorgeous woods around them in everlasting harmony. Forever is set in New Zealand, not New Jersey.«

It was around Christmas when I came across Heather Havrilesky’s essay “Marriage Requires Amnesia” (which is an adaptation from this book) in the New York Times.

In it, Havrileski poignantly describes her 15-year marriage to Bill Sandoval. While reading it, I laughed out loud and I cried and sometimes all of it at the same time.
Being in the 23rd year of my marriage myself, I felt both understood and like gaining a better understanding of my wife.

»But we weren’t married yet, so he still thought he could do whatever he wanted.«

I couldn’t wait to see “Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage” released in early February because I was hoping for more of the same. And I got it – to some extent.

Divided into four parts, “Foreverland” reads like the memoir of a relationship – starting at the tumultuous courtship between Heather and Bill, we learn a lot about Heather who tells us precisely who she is and what she craves at the age of 34:

»I wanted a husband. One that looked nice. […] with a solid career to match my own. I wanted a hunky, square-jawed, mature listener. […] a nurturing daddy type who would hang on my every word. And I wanted an athlete. […] an intellectual who was also a comedian, but with a nice ass. I wanted a cross between a therapist and a cowboy.«

This is when she meets Bill, a professor. Who is, as we’re going to learn, hot and incredibly patient and, on the other hand, »he is more or less exactly the same as a heap of laundry: smelly, inert, useless, almost sentient but not quite.« before he had his first coffee (which I can totally relate to!).

Marriage, kids, the suburbs, pestilence and plague follow and are explored in-depth in this wonderfully liberating book. While Havrilesky is both exploring and explaining her marriage, she delivers an unapologetically honest account of both their struggles.
A totally honest Havrilesky dispels the myths of “happily ever after” and marriages without issues.

From the small annoyances…

»A simple inquiry—“What are we going to do about dinner?”—incites an existential crisis, the 742nd of its kind since your wedding day.«

… to completely questioning everything…

»I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend forever with anyone, least of all myself.«

… this was a breath of fresh air. A much needed breeze to blow away the fairy tale depictions of love and marriage to create space for a more understanding and a more humane approach.

At times, the book drew out a little – there was a lot of stuff about the kids around the 50% mark and rambling descriptions of life in the suburbs (which seem to be very similar in Western societies, even on different continents…) but at about 70% Havrilesky picks up the pace again and I was laughing tears. When my daughter (20) came along and I let her read some passages, she giggled and triumphantly shouted “That’s YOU, DAD!”.

And I cannot really deny it. In some aspects I’m Bill. If I were the type, I’d get myself a t-shirt saying “I’m Bill”. But, luckily, my wife is also a bit of a Heather. And so am I, too. And she can be a Bill at times.

Maybe you’re going to say, “But my marriage is perfect! My partner farts a scent of roses!”. Well, maybe I’m the odd one out – or maybe you are. Maybe Havrilesky gets it all wrong, I don’t know (it’s just that a lot of it makes sense to me!).

At no point, though, does Havrilesky claim to present any universal truths about marriage. She doesn’t fall prey to making one – her – marriage as a blueprint for all marriages. That’s part of what I like a lot about this book. In fact, she states it clearly:

»This book represents my personal attempt to understand why I signed myself up for the world’s most impossible endurance challenge.«

To me, Havrilesky very much succeeds at that while also rationalising feelings of doubt, “the darkness” as she puts it:

»I wrote this book to explore that tedium, along with everything else that marriage brings: the feeling of safety, the creeping darkness, the raw fear and suspense of growing older together, the tiny repeating irritations, the rushes of love, the satisfactions of companionship, the unexpected rage of recognizing that your partner will probably never change. And in writing this book, I discovered new layers within my marriage and myself, haunting and chaotic, wretched and unlovable.«

Thank you, Heather, for this book! And thank you to you, C., for being my “partner in crime” for all this time and, hopefully, for a long time to come.

Four out of five stars for the book – and an extra one for courage and honesty!

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