Why a new genre — reality marriage lit — is here to stay
Originally published in Moms Don’t Have Time to Write
Lisa Taddeo’s brilliant New York Times essay, “My Real Love Language is Fear,” published on the eve of Valentine’s Day, is the final nail in the marital secrecy coffin.
It used to be sacrilegious to discuss the ins and outs of our marriages. And by “used to,” I mean, like, just a few years ago. When my college girlfriends and I started tying the knot back in the 2000s, our detailed late-night conversations about our respective smooches and the play-by-plays of our relationship dramas suddenly screeched to a halt. As wedding bands slipped on our manicured fingers, our lips zipped shut. The guys, with all their peculiarities and prowesses, the ones we used to collectively dissect and analyze for hours, were now off limits. Like paintings at the Met, the red velvet rope of matrimony cordoned off the most valuable canvases.
Married, when we took our regular girls’ trips and congregated at our increasingly infrequent group dinners, we chatted about anything but the most sacred terrain. Yes, inconsequential anecdotes were tossed out, ping-pong ball nuggets of information flying back and forth. But not the meaty stuff. As my mother and generations before her had cautioned, “What happens behind closed doors, stays behind closed doors.”
Enter marital loneliness.
Just when we might have needed the most help navigating our new stage of life, our support system became out of reach, like a boat docked only a few inches too far away to board, close but inaccessible. Instead, our ecosystem migrated away from the collective girlfriend hub and into a two-person life raft.
I kept all the details of my first marriage private, shared only with my computer keys as I typed out my innermost feelings — only to delete them or, occasionally, password-protect them, only to then forget the password. My thoughts went unread, unexpressed. When my first marriage ended, even my closest girlfriends were shocked. Everyone was. I hadn’t said a word to suggest otherwise. I never divulged the details. And I won’t.
Sometime between my first wedding in 2005 and my second in 2017, the tide turned. The boat docked right up to shore, an easy step onboard. I read essays, everywhere, about the most intimate marital moments. The doors had not only cracked open to let others in, but some unions seemed to have taken them clear off their hinges. Sex, in-laws, fights — it was all fair game.
Now things have started to change in the literary world, too. In my work as a literary podcast host of Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books and in my roles as columnist for Good Morning America and Katie Couric Media, I get pitched most books months before they hit bookstore shelves. Over the past four years, I’ve gotten to know dozens of publicists across many publishing houses. I’ve even started my own publishing company. From this unique perch as a major receptacle of books to come, I’ve spotted a new trend: reality marriage lit.
Two new books have really delved deep. Kimberly Harrington’s fabulous essay collection But You Seemed So Happy: A Marriage in Pieces and Bitsexamines her marriage in great, granular detail, as does Heather Havrilesky’s Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage. Lisa Taddeo’s sharing about her well-intentioned husband’s reluctance to dispose of the Christmas tree, their repeated arguments, her analysis of the role her own anxiety plays in their dialogue, cemented my suspicious.
It dovetailed nicely with Eve Rodsky’s disclosures about her husband, Hello Sunshine’s Seth Rodksy, and his marital transgressions which motivated her to craft a whole new system, complete with a bestselling book and game called Fair Play, to help the rest of us navigate an equitable division of labor in our own marriages. Women are sharing more and more, revealing their most private moments to make the rest of us feel less alone.
I like it.
I like where this is going.
AmI ready to spill the beans about my own marriage? Only a little. Just a few beans. I do share a lot about our relationship in my upcoming memoir Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature that years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of publicly disclosing. Perhaps it’s my husband Kyle’s permissive nature; he’s okay with anything. Perhaps it’s the changing societal tide.
I even co-host a sex advice podcast, SexTok with Zibby and Tracey, although I never share anything about my own, um, stuff. My co-host Tracey Cox, an international sex expert, answers anonymous questions to help the most intimate issues.
As all our boats dock closer to shore, we’re collectively combatting the most insidious of marital woes: feeling alone and isolated even when in a relationship. The worst. I’ve built my whole brand around community, on helping others feel more connected and less alone, especially through books and stories. This new trend is music to my ears, a delight to my now-in-reading-glasses eyes.
On Valentine’s Day, I’m incredibly thankful about my own midlife marriage to Kyle. But I’m also sincerely grateful to the authors and essayists who have opened up their lives to help mine and others. Perhaps this trend can even impact the nation’s divorce rate! We’ll see.
In the meantime, I’ll keep reading. Listening for the doors to creak open. Tip-toeing in.