Mary and Dave are getting divorced after 25 years of marriage. My question is "what's the rush?"
What were they waiting for?
I don't want to get into specifics here, like Dave's big collection or Mary's art aspirations. I don't want to tell you that Dave's goal in life is to upgrade and that Mary's goal is to find herself - that is, far away from Dave.
I don't want to tell you these details because one of the first things you learn in adult life is that the only relationship you can judge is your own.
Some people scrap like cats and dogs and still manage to hang on. On the other hand, a quiet argument about nothing can break a couple in two.
Relationships are tricky. It's easy to lapse into tired formulas like "it's all about the pension" or "it's all about the kids."
Despite his gigs, memberships and toys, Dave is pretty bitter. He says he had no early warning that Mary was unhappy. He thought their relationship was manageable.
"Maybe I would have tried to change, but I didn't know what she was looking for. I still don't."
Mary says she's been biding her time, waiting for escape velocity. She was tired of the endless grind. She does more than work. "The cooking, cleaning, caretaking, keeping my body acceptable - isn't there more to life than back-stopping a man?"
"Time for you?" shouts Dave. "Have you been in prison for 25 years? We've got a nice house, great friends and a vacation pad. I didn't realize you were suffering so much."
"You don't get it," replies Mary. "You do whatever you want. Marriage is about male privilege. I'm tired of making you look good."
How can both people believe they are getting the short end of the stick? Can these mid-life divorces be about both a woman's desire for self-actualization and a man's shock that financial security does not a marriage make?
"Nobody bothered to tell me the rules had changed," says Dave. "Nobody told me that women eat at the buffet, and all men get is combat duty. We work. Then we croak. The retirement homes are filled with happy old women."
"Let me be perfectly honest," says Mary, "I want to live life in a meaningful way. I want to be fully alive. I want to enjoy all that life has to offer. I'm not interested in being someone's wife."
"Nobody told me that 'wife' was a four-letter word," says Dave.
It's nothing new to say that men and women can fundamentally misunderstand each other's needs, but it may be interesting to begin mapping out a new definition for marriage, especially if marriage is to survive beyond children and mortgages and sleek waistlines.
Is it any surprise that, according to one of Sarah Hampson's pieces in the Globe and Mail, the majority of divorces above the age of 40 are initiated by women?
Is it any surprise that marriage is one factor that statisticians say has proven to increase our lifespan? Just as we spurn it, we discover that marriage is the best thing for us.
"I'd rather have a short, happy life than a long, miserable one," quips Mary.
As more and more people separate, choose to live alone or decide not to be married in the first place, marriage becomes the exception, not the norm.
Traditional gender roles have changed, but many mid-life couples are still confused because they don't know what the new rules are. What does he do? What does she do? How do we find the right balance between our own needs and the needs of our partner?
Baby-boomers are not only facing retirement surrounded by issues such as the "meaning of my life" and the "legacy of my life," but they also have to pay for the "darn good life."
Down-sizing is no longer a top priority for so-called empty nesters. Making your success obvious has moved with a bullet to number one. Thus, the custom wine cellar business is booming. Luxury everything is selling. The list of luxe items that were once optional and that have now become mandatory is endless.
Expectations concerning retirement have changed, too. No longer do we want to pay off our mortgages while we save for retirement. No, we want it all, and we want it droned in yesterday.
Every day, the luxo-monoculture slaps us in the face like our friend's spanking new whatever that you don't have, and it cannot help but make us incredibly dissatisfied with our lives.
Who has the power to resist the pressure to make our consumption so conspicuous?
"We're in debt up to our eyeballs because Mary wanted the water view," says Dave. "You just couldn't stop competing with your friends, could you? You wanted a bigger stove, fancier countertops, a killer powder room."
"Yeah? Who buys the toys around here, Dave? Nobody twisted your arm. We both bought in."
"Mary, go ahead and dump me by the curb, but don't think that your life is suddenly going to be instantly different. The problem, Mary, is you. It's not me. Amputating me won't be the quick fix you think."
"It'll be a nice start."
"No, thank you, Dave. It's nice that you're finally looking me in the eye. Don't forget for the past 25 years I've been a work widow, a sports widow, and lately, an Internet widow. Dave, we've been divorced for a long time; you just never bothered to notice because the services weren't discontinued."
"Darling, 'service' ain't it. You've been phoning it in for a dog's age."
In time, divorce can be a good thing. It can allow people to start again. A new perspective can be gained. Mary may travel the world, make love to a stranger on the beach, and sell her creations to world fame - or she may wonder what she and Dave could have done years ago to make their marriage work.
Would it have been worth the effort?
Dave may date a couple of hot women with screaming kids - and he may wonder, every day perhaps, what he could have done to better support Mary.
When people feel a lump on their body, they see a doctor as soon as possible. When people sleep next to one, they'll wait five, 10, maybe 25 years to do something.
What are you waiting for?
Ask for Stan Chung's Global Citizen at a Mosaic or Hooked on Books.