Thursday, August 24, 2006

Susan's marital problems

I had a very relaxing evening last night that included cashing in a gift certificate for a massage (thanks Brian!). And all that relaxing allowed me to think about what is really the problem with Susan's marriage. And I think I uncovered it!

My problem had been that I didn't want it to be something specific--cheating, infertility, workaholicness, etc.--mostly because Susan and Gary are going to stay together in the end and while I do think couples can overcome any of those problems, I also think that the act of overcoming would take over the story, which I didn't want.

So, here's what I'm thinking: Susan is basically questioning the value of being married, of dealing with the same person's B.S. for 50+ years. This comes up for a few reasons:
  • At a fairly wild 30th birthday party for a friend, as a joke to harken back to their college days, they start playing the game "I never." (Just in case you don't know... someone makes a statement like, "I never had sex with a stranger" and people who have done that have to do a shot.) One of the statements is "I never fantasize about people other than my spouse". Gary drinks to that. And while intellectually Susan isn't shocked, emotionally she is. Drunk as she is, she asks him in the taxi home who he fantasizes about, and drunk as he is, he tells her its someone at work. She can't get that idea out of her head, and it makes her start to wonder if he wants to sleep with this person, then how is that so different from actually doing it? And what is marriage then?
  • At the same time, she's been having some doubts about the marriage on a more emotional level: things have changed and he doesn't fulfill some of the needs he used to--like being thoughtful and making her feel special (by doing little things like bringing her candy bars that he knows she likes) and having long talks about random things like current events or the nature of people. They're busy, but she also feels like he's reluctant to try to reincorporate these things into their lives. She has found friends to fill this gap, but that makes her wonder why she is married if her husband can't be her best friend.
  • There has to be a catalyst that makes her bolt. Maybe her mom dying is enough (life is short, etc.)
I'd love to hear people's thoughts! Best Blogger Tips


TI said...

Bug, you're on to something. I like the "I never" angle. But the drifting apart thing is something that lots of couples go know, like in that song about pina coladas where they end up answering each other's personal ads and discover stuff about themselves that they never knew, thus realzing that they are , in fact, perfect for one another? So the thing is that if they get back together, it needs to be with a new appreciation of the marriage--not just where they left off (that's probably obvious). I guess another question is: why does he feel the need to fantasize about someone else? Anyway, those are my thoughts for what they're worth. Fiction isn't my forte! You're doing great with going deeper. I'm inspired. TI

Bug said...

Yes! You're totally right. I'm hoping that Susan will get that from her meeting with her mom's sorta-lover, Harold. Ironic, yes, but I think his explanation of why the mom stayed married, as well as Susan's own feeling of needing to talk to Gary because he's the only one who knows her well enough to understand what's going on--will make her realize that that intimacy is one of the reasons it's worth it to suffer through the drifting apart times. What do you think?

TI said...

Yes--exactly. Intimacy takes time. Related to that there is the theory, which I believe, that if you don't work out your "issues" with your current partner, you will just put them on hold until the next relationship, where you will inevitably find yourself with someone very similar (despite your best efforts to find someone different). As soon as you get to know them you will be in *exactly* the same emotional drama because it's actually about YOU not HIM! I'm not sure if it is in Susan's character to realize that it's either Gary or someone else, but there is no way not to go through this stuff if she wants to get to the other side of it. I think it's very believable to have her realize that the intimacy she has with Gary is pretty special, and you're already showing that with the phone call. TI

FatCharlatan said...

Wow! BRAVO. I think this is great. At some point (if you're comfortable doing so--and I'll understand if you're not, so no worries), I'd love to see your story so far (offline...maybe e-mail?).

I'm not sure how your story starts or if this suggestion will screw you up, but have you considered starting with the "I never" scene? As a reader, that would SO suck me in, and it immediately creates tension, drama, an issue, backstory...all that good stuff.

I'm going to disagree with a little bit of what TI said (hey--I'm playing Devil's Advocate in the spirit if virtual workshopping)...if they stay together, I'm not sure it has to be with a new appreciation for marriage (I know many couples who, sadly, stay together just because). To me, it would be realistic (and less category romance) that if she stays, she still worries about this other woman in the back of her mind...or she gives herself her own wild fantasy (maybe Harold??)...I'm not saying that she and Gary can't agree that they have something special and worth fighting for...I'm just saying that I'm not sure that I want to see a nice big red bow on the end of this story (you know, the story I haven't even read! Ha!). :)

I DO agree with TI that there are issues that need to be dealt with...that if Susan doesn't address them, that they'd crop up with someone else.

But I'm not convinced everything has to--or should--end with an epiphany of, "here's why we're in this and we're gonna keep going together."

I'm not saying that that couldn't be an implicit theme, but I'd rather see the couple still struggling a little in the end, even if we, as readers, are rooting for them and you keep them together (just seems more credible to me). My two cents. ;)

But I'm SO impressed with your breakthrough, Bug. Keep are SO almost there, IMHO.

Bug said...

Thank you both. I can't tell you how helpful this virtual workshopping has been.

FC, I would love to send you my story! I haven't incorporating the breakthroughs that I've had on my blog yet, but when I do, I'll send it your way. Thank you for the offer!

And I agree that this kind of story doesn't need to have a major, neat epiphany--what I hope to accomplish is a subtle, implied one that also acknowledges that Sus and Gary still have work to do.

Interesting idea re the I never scene being the beginning. I'll think about that!

TI said...

Okay, I confess to be a softie who prefers happlily-ever-after. TI

FatCharlatan said...

TI, if the happily-ever-after involves me and George Clooney, then I'm all for it!


Nic Sebastian said...

the unexpectedly planted idea that can't be shaken is an excellent mechanism. Like the missing horseshoe, or a rusty key that starts the mechanism of tragedy going in that inevitable Aristotlean way. The other side of the coin is equally important -- the idea is planted in her head, but she raises it with her husband, planting in turn an idea in his head that can't be shaken, and so it goes. Whatever happens has to be hugely disrupting and wounding -- whether the protagonists recover is up to the kind of protagonists you have made them. good luck. It sounds fantastic!

chiefbiscuit said...

It's all poised for something to happen - this way, that way - who knows? Relationships are so complicated - but I'm sure you can pull out something as you allow your characters to speak to you - they'll tell you themselves no doubt! Great tension with the 'never game'. I like that development a lot!