A Clever, Joyless Look at the ‘Commonplace Horror’ of Marriage

THIS AMERICAN EX-WIFE: How I Ended My Marriage and Started My Life, by Lyz Lenz

When friends asked why I married a man 30 years older who didn’t have any money, I had three answers: 1) I loved him. 2) I’m an idiot. 3) I knew I couldn’t be married forever and this way, nature would take care of that problem for me (which it did).

I always thought getting divorced would be the worst thing to happen. But Lyz Lenz has straightened me out. The worst thing is being married in the first place. At least for her. And, she maintains, for most women on the planet.

“This American Ex-Wife”is a clever, well-argued and thoroughly joyless examination of what Lenz calls the “commonplace horror” of marriage. After growing up in an evangelical household, she chose a conservative Christian hard-working man who loved God, “Star Trek” and doing his own home renovations. He liked Trump, didn’t like gay people and didn’t like to cook or clean. Did I mention he was bad in bed? Because she did. After reading that, I hoped another thing he doesn’t like to do is read.

To Lenz — who has written books about faith and pregnancy — it was a marriage that made sense. But that was before she had two children, moved into a house she hated and discovered that she didn’t share most of her husband’s values. There was no infidelity, nothing dramatic, just quotidian misery and the impulse to be free. (The words “misery” or “miserable” appear 42 times in this book.)

Why, Lenz wonders, do so many of us assume that we need to “work” at marriage? What is equality in marriage? And what is a good man? Citing claims that 40 percent of marriages fail, Lenz writes: “If 40 percent of Honda CR-Vs had engine failures, Honda would issue a recall.”

Yet in making her case, Lenz sometimes fails to consider counterarguments. Are rings a symbol of bondage, as Lenz says, or a symbol of unity? Do comedians “normalize the quiet misery of marriage” or do they make us laugh at our occasional pettiness and ridiculousness? She’s dismissive of studies that show divorce can be detrimental to children, and she omits whole bodies of research indicating that married people are happier than unmarried ones.

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