Why divorced women make better wives: Yes, marriage break-ups are agony, says Nora Ephron (whose own divorce inspired a Hollywood film). But there IS an upside
01:09 GMT, 3 July 2012
Continuing our series drawn from the sparkling autobiographical essays of Hollywood screenwriter Nora Ephron, who died last week.
Today, in part three, she turns her trademark dry wit to her two painful divorces… and the madness of food fads.
The most important thing about me was that for quite a chunk of my life I was divorced. It was a fact that stayed with me even after I remarried. I have now been married to my third husband for more than 20 years. But when you've had children with someone from whom you're now divorced, that split defines everything; it's the lurking fact, a slice of anger in the pie of your brain.
Of course, there are good divorces, where everything is civil, even friendly. Child support payments arrive. Visitations take place on schedule. Your ex-husband rings the doorbell and stays on the other side of the threshold (he never walks in without knocking and helps himself to the coffee).
In my next life I must get one of those divorces.
Carl Bernstein and Nora Ephron out and about in the USA in 1977 before their divorce
One good thing I'd like to say about divorce is that it sometimes makes it possible for you to be a much better wife to your next husband because you have a place for your anger; it's not directed at the person you're currently with.
Another good thing about divorce is that it makes clear something that marriage obscures, which is that you're on your own. There's no power struggle over which of you is going to get up in the middle of the night to tend to the children. You are.
But I can't think of anything good about divorce as far as the children are concerned. You can't kid yourself about that, although many people do.
They say things like: 'It's better for children not to grow up with their parents in an unhappy marriage.'
But unless the parents are beating each other up, or abusing the children, kids are better off if their parents are together.
Children are much too young to shuttle between houses. They're too young to handle the idea that the two people they love most in the world don't love each other any more, if they ever did.
They're too young to understand that all the wishful thinking in the world won't bring their parents back together. And the newfangled rigmarole of joint custody doesn't do anything to ease the cold reality: in order to see one parent, the child must walk out on the other.
The best divorce is the kind where there are no children. That was my first divorce. You walk out the door and you never look back.
There were cats, cats I was wildly attached to; my husband and I spoke in cat voices. Once the marriage was over, I never thought of the cats again (until I wrote about them in a novel and disguised them as hamsters).
My first marriage ended in the early 1970s, at the height of the women's movement.
Nora's first marriage ended in the early 1970s, at the height of the women's movement
We took things way too seriously. We drew up contracts that were meant to divide the household tasks in a more equitable fashion. We joined consciousness-raising groups and sat in a circle and pretended we weren't jealous of one another. We read tracts that said the personal is political. And by the way, the personal is political, although not as much as we wanted to believe it was.
But the main problem with our marriages was not that our husbands wouldn't share the housework, but that we were unbelievably irritable young women and our husbands irritated us unbelievably.
I remember a woman in my consciousness-raising group bursting into tears one day because her husband had given her a frying pan for her birthday. She, somehow, never got a divorce. But the rest of us did. We'd grown up in an era when no one was divorced, and suddenly everyone was.
My second divorce, to the journalist Carl Bernstein, was the worst kind. There were two children, one had just been born. My husband was in love with someone else. I found out about his affair while still pregnant.
I had gone to New York to meet a writer-producer called Jay Presson Allen. I was about to fly back to Washington when she handed me a script she happened to have lying around by a writer named Frederic Raphael.
'Read this,' she said. 'You'll like it.'
I opened it on the plane. It began
with a married couple at a dinner party. I can't remember their names,
but for the sake of the story let's call them Clive and Lavinia.
was a very sophisticated dinner party and everyone at it was smart and
brittle and chattering brilliantly. Clive and Lavinia were particularly
clever, and they bantered with each other in a charming, flirtatious
way. Everyone in the room admired them and their marriage.
guests sat down to dinner and the patter continued. In the middle of
the dinner, a man seated next to Lavinia put his hand on her leg. She
put her cigarette out on his hand. The glittering conversation
When the dinner
ended, Clive and Lavinia got into their car to drive home. The talk
ceased, and they drove in absolute silence. They had nothing to say to
each other. And then Lavinia said: 'All right. Who is she'
LIFE'S TO SHORT TO EAT DIET FOOD
There's a new book out about diet, and it apparently says what I've known all my life — protein is good for you, carbohydrates are bad and fat is highly overrated as a dangerous substance.
Well, it's about time. As my mother used to say, you can never have too much butter.
For example, here's how we cook steak in our house. First, you coat it with sea salt. Then you cook it in a very hot frying pan. When it's done, you throw a huge pat of butter on top. That's it. And by the way, I'm talking about salted butter. Here's another thing it says in this book: dietary cholesterol has nothing to do with your cholesterol count.
This is another thing I've known all my life, which is why you will not find me lying on my deathbed regretting not having eaten enough chopped liver. Let me explain. You can eat all sorts of things that are high in dietary cholesterol (like lobster and avocado and eggs) and they have NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER on your cholesterol count. NONE. DID YOU HEAR ME I'm sorry to have to resort to capital letters, but what is wrong with you people
Which brings me to the point of this: the egg-white omelette. Every time I'm forced to watch friends eat these, I feel bad for them. They're tasteless, and people think they are doing something virtuous when they are instead merely misinformed. Sometimes I try to explain that what they're doing makes no sense, but they pay no attention to me because they have all been told to avoid dietary cholesterol by their doctors.
So this is my moment to say what's been in my heart for years: it's time to put a halt to the egg-white omelette. I don't want to confuse this with something actually important, like the war in Afghanistan, which it's also time to put a halt to, but I don't seem be able to do anything about the war, whereas I have a shot at this.
You don't make an omelette by taking out the yolks. A really great omelette has two whole eggs and one extra yolk — and, by the way, the same thing goes for scrambled eggs.
That was on page eight of the screenplay. I closed the script. I couldn't breathe. I knew then that my husband was having an affair. I sat there, stunned, for the rest of the flight.
The plane landed, and I went home and straight to his office in our apartment. There was a locked drawer. Of course. I knew there would be.
I found the key, opened it and there was the evidence — a book of children's stories she'd given him with an incredibly stupid inscription about their enduring love.
I wrote about all this in a novel called Heartburn, and it's a very funny book which was turned into a film. But it wasn't funny at the time. I was insane with grief.
My heart was broken. I was terrified about what was going to happen to my children and me. I felt gaslighted and idiotic and completely mortified. I wondered if I was going to become one of those divorced women who's forced to move with her children to Connecticut and is never heard of again.
I walked out dramatically, and came back after promises were made. My husband entered into the usual cycle for this sort of thing — lies, lies, and more lies. I entered into surveillance: steaming open American Express bills, swearing friends to secrecy, finding out they couldn't keep a secret, and so forth.
There was a mysterious receipt from James Robinson Antiques. I called them, pretended to be my husband's assistant and said I needed to know what the receipt was for so I could insure it. It turned out to be for an antique porcelain box that said 'I Love You Truly' on it. It was presumably not unlike the antique porcelain box my husband had bought for me a couple of years earlier that said 'Forever and Ever'.
I mention all of this so you will understand it is part of the process: once you find out he's cheated on you, you have to keep finding it out until you've degraded yourself so completely that there's nothing left to do but walk out.
When my second marriage ended, I was angry and hurt and shocked. Now I think: 'Who can possibly be faithful when they're young' I think: 'Stuff happens.' I think: 'People are careless and there are almost never any consequences (except for the children, which I already said).'
And I survived. My religion is Get Over It. I turned it into a rollicking story. I wrote a novel and bought a house with the money from it.
People always say you forget the pain. It's a clich of childbirth, too. I don't happen to agree. I do remember the pain. What you really forget is love. Divorce seems as if it will last for ever, then one day, your children grow up, move out and make lives for themselves, and, except for an occasional flare, you have no contact at all with your ex-husband. The divorce has lasted way longer than the marriage, but finally it's over.
Enough about that. The point is that for a long time, the fact that I was divorced was the most important thing about me. And now it's not.
Now the most important thing about me is that I'm old.
■ Extracted from I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron, published by Black Swan at 7.99.
2006 Heartburn Enterprises Inc. To order a copy at 7.49 (p&p free), call 0843 382 0000.