In Foreverland (Ecco, Feb.), “Ask Polly” advice columnist Heather Havrilesky brings her insight into and humor about relationships to bear on her own union. “Dating and looking for love doesn’t prepare you for marriage; it’s as if you’re trying out for an equestrian event, and then you’re playing water polo,” she says. “The skills that serve you well when you’re dating are very different from the skills that get you through life as a married person.”
PW spoke with Havrilesky about persevering through what the book’s subtitle calls “the divine tedium of marriage.”
Why write about marriage now?
The fact remains that people continue to get married, even though it’s a crazy thing to do. My central interest in the subject is how difficult it is to stay connected, affectionate, and married over the course of many years. When I went out and looked for books about marriage, I couldn’t find anything that I thought was realistic or that captured the feeling of being married as I experienced it. Our culture needs to acknowledge just how difficult it is to have a marriage that feels alive.
Can you elaborate on the meaning behind the book’s title and subtitle?
It’s half fantasy, half reality—that’s how marriage feels. You enter into this strange, fantastical arrangement where you’re supposed to stay in love and happy until you’re dead. It’s a delusional state that brought you to this fork in the road. I put tedium at the center of the picture: so much of what we experience in a marriage is repetition and boredom. You wonder why you spend your waking hours with this strange beast who makes the same sounds every day. But there’s a grace and a beauty to accepting and embracing those sorts of repetitions.
What did the process of writing the book reveal to you?
Every chapter was a new discovery. We have a concept of what kids will do to our lives, but there’s less writing about what effect that has on a marriage. There’s a scene in the book where I’m trying to explain to [my husband] Bill what happened the first time I left the house without the baby, how out of control my emotions were at that moment. Communicating that without making things worse was a challenge. The book doesn’t come up with simple answers. I honor the complexity of emotion and multifaceted emotional experience that exist within any marriage; there are layers and layers of processing and communicating and understanding yourself.
What do you hope that readers take away?
I was careful to be very descriptive and brutally honest about the folds of my marriage. There’s no real escape in marriage—you’re trapped by your lifelong commitment and you also can’t escape yourself. Marriage is two people being forced to confront their own flaws and the flaws of the other person. We don’t have a lot of good, clear, honest role models in this area; it all starts and ends with the work that you do individually, and the goal is to forgive yourself and to forgive your partner. I’d love for readers to have that feeling of acceptance, that it’s just hard to get along with another human being for the course of your entire life.