Takeaway: It is really many stories of divorce (her own and those in her family) followed by an almost accidental discovery of an actually happy marriage (so far).
Marriage is both overly prized and distained in our culture. Some think it can do anything, so think it can do nothing. Some people think both.
Patchett wrote this essay for a friend. Her young friend wanted the story of Patchett’s happy marriage. And Patchett does seem to have a happy marriage by her account. She has been married about 11 years to a man she adores and who seems to be right for her and she for him.
Patchett starts not with meeting her husband the how they fell in love and got married and lived happily ever after, but with the story of many divorces in her family. Staring with her grandfather who came to the US and worked for 10 years before saving enough money to send for his family. When his wife wrote back that she wanted to come, but that she had to tell him that there were now three boys instead of two, he rescinded the offer and never saw his family again (even refusing to see the son that came to find him later in life.)
Patchett’s grandmother was married for the first time for just 10 months. Eventually her grandparents married and Patchett’s mother was born. Patchett’s own parents marriage disolved when she was only 4. Soon there was a new step mother and a new step father and step siblings. Her mother and step father’s marriage lasted 20 years, but was fraught with difficulties.
Patchett herself was married, but the doomed marriage only lasted 14 months. She left the marriage determined that marriage was not for her. She has several long term relationships, but she was always determined that the relationships were to be temporary and when things got hard, she left, or he left, or they both left.
Later, about six years after her divorce, her mother’s boss, a doctor, got divorced. He pursued Ann, and Ann let him. In part because he was a good looking, charming, a doctor and she knew he was not ready to marry, and she was the only one that would say no.
They did eventually marry, after 11 years and only when she and her now husband thought that there was a very real chance that he might die. He recovered and they lived on.
This story is nice. It is nice that this story has a happy ending, even if they take a tortured path to get there. (Patchett describes it as an original german fairy tale, with all of the nasty stuff included.) Patchett is a good author, and she narrated the short book herself.
I listened to it straight through on a drive and then stopped at home, showered, packed and got back in the car to drive to the airport. Once I got back in the car I started listening to Tim Keller’s Meaning of Marriage and was struck by how different Patchett and Keller’s understanding of the purpose and ‘meaning’ of marriage. This is not to say that this short little book does not have value. It has the value that I now want to read more of Patchett’s books.
And I think that she clearly has a story that is not unlike the story of many marriages. Marriages that start with only divorce all around are very difficult. Marriages, that involve self absorption, alcohol or drug abuse or other issues just make it another step harder. I am glad Patchett found a good marriage. I am even happier that I found a good marriage and that neither I nor my wife brought the amount and diversity of emotional baggage into our marriage.
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