Myths, Marriage, and the Gray Sweater

Marriage myths? There’s “Happily Ever After.” Divorce myths? How about “Kids are resilient; you owe yourself happiness!” Health myths? Here’s one: “Depressed? It’s all in your head!”

We may hesitate to admit as much, but we buy into myths readily: sex myths, age myths, ethnic myths.

Hell, I bet you could pound out your own list at the drop of a hat – and without approaching the assortment of odd beliefs on both sides of the political divide.

We mythologize constantly, yet we create and accept “myths” which aren’t myths at all, imbuing our interpretations of neighbors, bosses, friends and family members with qualities and characteristics that are neither “story” nor fact.

Myth is a widely misused term, as Andrew Cherlin points out in his New York Times opinion piece, “The Top Three Myths About Myths.” We routinely replace its more accurate definition (stories used to explain a variety of phenomena) with one that suits contemporary misconceptions – namely – a misconception.

And our Myths-A-Plenty are both amusing and dangerous; those are my words, not his.

Mr. Cherlin writes:

Myths used to be about ancient Greeks… when authors write about myths today, they mean something more prosaic: a misconception, a statement that almost everyone thinks is true but really isn’t.

Marriage Myths

In the arena of modern “mythology,” the first thing that comes to my mind is marriage. Talk about Land of Misconceptions! Consider the way we seek “The One,” the soul mate, the once-upon-a-time “Other Half,” all as the answer to our Happiness (with a capital H).

Surely a misconception, no?

Add one Blinged Out Ring + The Theory of Love Conquers All. Stir in children, mortgage, and several decades of anniversaries, and all applaud the Good Marriage!

But how many of those exist, regardless of whether we look at marriage singly or serially?

Personally, I wouldn’t even venture a guess. But marital misconceptions can be hazardous to our health, which is not a condemnation of marriage but rather my own denouncement of our naive expectations of what it means, and what it entails.

My view of relationship reality does not resemble myth; the reality of my friends who remain married after 10 and 20 (and more) years, likewise. My conversations with those who believe they have good marriages include admissions of ups and downs, a great deal of work, not to mention compromise, forbearance, and luck.

Might I add that we have at least as many misconceptions about divorce as we do about marriage – possibly even more?

Mental Health Myths

Considering yesterday’s musing on mental health treatments under healthcare reform, is it any wonder I stopped cold on this CNN article on “Going Public With Depression?”

I imagine we’ve all experienced our bouts with bad times, some of which plunge us into a pretty ferocious funk. The “situational” reasons – or apparent lack of them – may characterize our individual struggles with what we refer to more openly as the blues, and only in private, to ourselves, as something more insidious.

But charcoal has always seemed a more apt rendering of this most miserable mood (and more) to me, what writer Kat Kinsman refers to as gray – “this dull gray sweater” – in her recent (eloquent) article on depression.

Her depiction of the frequent descent into hell that is a way of life for many should be on your list of “must reads” if you suffer from depression, or love someone who does. Depression can be deadly; it is never to be dismissed.

Not only does Ms. Kinsman’s writing make her points poignantly (and tragically), but the comments that follow are equally hopeful, sorrowful, pointed, and devastating.

I will mention that this article makes the case for a combination of talk therapy and medication (as needed), underscoring the serious nature of the illness, its proper diagnosis, and the removal of the stigma that has long permeated anything to do with afflictions of the “mind” as though yet one more myth (misconception?) is absolute: that it’s only a matter of bucking up, of determination, of discipline to right whatever is wrong that drops us over the cliff into depression.

Happy Face

I’m all for marriage, and making marriage work – with rational expectations – as there is no “perfect.”

I recognize the need for divorce, but I do not diminish its life altering consequences – for some of us more than others.

When we live through tragic and troubling times – illness, loss, betrayal, unemployment, familial problems – keeping up a perky mask in a happiness-obsessed culture worsens the weight of the tasks at hand, which more aptly require seeking help.

In the interest of looking in the mirror, slowing down, and putting less pressure on ourselves and our children, I will offer one more thought piece I read this weekend, ironically, frantically trying to “catch up.” It is an article on Healthland about the new book on Slow Parenting. Writer Bonnie Rochman quotes author Susan Sachs Lipman:

In our very well-meaning attempts to give our kids the best and help them get ahead, we might not be doing what’s best for them. What’s best may be a slower pace…

May I say that I put a bit of this in practice, especially when my children were younger?

And I’m very glad I did, which isn’t to say that it’s not difficult to go against prevailing patterns of parenting – whatever they may be. But life goes quickly enough – and those blues (or grays) are likely to hit at some point. If we’re fortunate, with help and without stigma, we weather those storms or learn to live with them, finding joy in simple moments.

Some of us realize we inevitably create myth – the reshaping of what we see and feel,  imperceptibly or intentionally rewriting history. As for the rest?

Myths about myths, ad infinitum. And I suggest we shed ourselves of these misconceptions.


© D. A. Wolf


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  1. says

    Wow – so much to think about here. You did a lot of heavy reading this weekend and thank you for pointing to some of what you read. When I think of mythology I think of Joseph Campbell and yes – the ancients. But you’re right – we live in the midst of so many myths today. Do we adhere to them for survival? To soothe? I think so.

    Marriage – my first was difficult at best. Divorce – more long lasting and difficult effects than I ever imagined. How my children have fared? I’m never quite sure – my parents will celebrate their 60th this year so it’s nothing I lived through.

    And slow parenting – I’m absolutely on board. I was at home with my children when they were growing up and we went without a lot of material things – I think of those years as taking it slower – and yet they still flew by.
    Great, thought provoking post.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Ah Barb. I’m not sure we ever fully know how our children fare through divorce. In some instances, they may consider themselves better off. In others, surely not. And I wonder how many cases over no definitive resolution, for any involved, including the children.

      Yes, to slow parenting. Or at least, slower, as best we can. You know better than most its advantages, I suspect!

  2. says

    As school starts and team sign ups are everywhere and the endless pressure to do enough and do it right piles onto my head, I love the reminder to slow down. Less is more. Because we didn’t send my big girl to camps this summer, she got bored enough to find her way deeply into books. Without quiet time, my middle girl can’t find her equilibrium. And rushing makes me crazy too.

    As for myths – well, I think the stories we tell to explain the unknowable are fascinating. They can help us live better. The misconceptions are no good.

    I’m also pretty sure that happily ever after would be boring and that struggling (together) is what makes marriages stronger. Of course, that requires us to see each other honestly. Which isn’t easy if you turn your partner into a mythic being.

  3. says

    Kate’s last comment is profoundly true. So many people go into marriage with fairy-tale expectations that can’t survive when reality hits. Life’s struggles so make us stronger in many cases. But, with some people, the struggles overwhelm them and result in clinical depression, addiction etc. The decent into hell is very real. We’re experiencing this in our own extended family, and it’s anything but mythical.

  4. says

    I am a great fan of Joseph Campbell and his theory of myth. I think we live through societal and personal myths. Some useful some not. Societal myths are often so subtle that we may not be aware of them yet we make decisions based on them. It can be very difficult to go against the grain and follow our own paths. Personal myths are created at an early age and we then create our lives based on them. If they are a match and fit for who we are as Joseph Campbell says “if we follow follow our bliss we will have a life well lived”. Thanks for prompting some deep reflection.

  5. says

    Just a heart-felt thank you for the link to such an excellent article on depression. Over the years I have read a lot and I do mean a lot about depression and anxiety–it is rare that someone nails the tone of honest, revealing/helpful, informative so well.

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