June 30, 2012
Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon.
For all my ranting about how little time I have to read, one book I have read this year is Melanie Gideon's Wife 22 (HarperCollins, $27.99). I loved her previous book The Slippery Year, a memoir of mid-life, school pick-ups and marriage, and when Wife 22 landed on my desk I devoured it over a weekend.
It's the story of Alice, who agrees to participate anonymously in a marriage survey, and, while sharing her most intimate details, soon develops something of a secret relationship with Researcher 101, the man sending her the questions.
''Confession is a powerful aphrodisiac'', the blurb reads, ''and soon Alice is left facing a heart-wrenching decision: stop communicating with Researcher 101 to save her marriage or admit she is falling in love …''
OK, it all sounds rather dramatic, but it's not. It's a poignant tale that will appeal to any woman who feels as though ''her husband gave up long ago''. Not that that's the reason the book appealed to me. Not by any means. Really. I liked it because it was a good, fun read that posed some interesting questions.
There's been a bit of talk this week about keeping secrets in relationships. Ahead of a national conference on mental health and relationships, University of Canberra associate professor and clinical psychologist Bruce Stevens said honesty after an extra-marital affair was not always the best policy and neither was confessing to ease a guilty conscience.
In Wife 22, Alice keeps quite a bit from her husband, but there's a nice twist at the end, which sets the path straight. What I liked most about Wife 22 was its format. The story is intertwined with Alice's answers to the survey, included at the back of the book. ''It's been a long time since anyone has asked her such intimate questions and listened so closely to her hopes and dreams.''
Go get the book, but in the meantime, here are my answers to some of the questions.
List three things that scare you.
The thought of my children dying, financial run, and parallel parking.
Do you believe that love can last?
Last, yes, but remain constant, not so much. Love changes over the years and becomes something different.
Are you still in love with your spouse.
See above. But yes. I can't imagine life without him as much as, in those moments, I dream of a life without him.
How does your marriage compare to your parents' marriage?
It's only when you have hindsight that you realise you knew nothing about your parents' marriage. I thought they were reasonably happy in a strained 1970s kind of way but after 25 years they divorced. As a child your world revolves around you. You have no idea what's going on in their world. Not a day goes by where I don't wish they were still together, more for their sake than mine. I wouldn't wish their loneliness on anyone.
What do you believe should not be done in public?
Airing of dirty laundry.
Do you fake things? If so, give examples.
All the time. I fake having an opinion for this column on a weekly basis. I fake being organised. I fake that I have it all under control. Sometimes I fake happiness.
If your spouse gave you one free pass to have sex with another person who would you choose? If you gave your spouse one free pass to have sex with another person who would your spouse choose?
We joke about our wild card all the time. For him it's Sandra Bullock. For me Matt Damon. I sometimes like to freak him out by changing my mind and nominating one of the dads from school. As if.
Do you and your spouse find the same things funny?
Yes. Hamish and Andy, MASH re-runs, stupid things the kids say.
When is the last time you flirted with a person other than your spouse?
I used to be such a good flirt. What happened? I can't remember the last time. I can think of some memorable moment in the 1980s but that doesn't count anymore, surely?
List some of the things you should stop doing but can't.
Being so negative. Eating too much cheese. Getting frustrated with the kids. Getting frustrated with my spouse. Feeling resentful, feeling jealous. Listening to bad '80s music. Enjoying the smell of my son's underarms. He smells like such a boy.
What did you used to do that you don't do now?
Sleep in. Read in bed, well into the night. Watch Law and Order SVU. Sleep on my stomach. Put myself first. Take sick days because I'm sick and not just because someone else is sick and I need to look after them.
Whose marriage do you most admire?
It's hard to know. The ones you think have it all under control are probably struggling as much as you are. At the moment Phil and Claire Dunphy are my role models.
Did you participate in any secular premarital counselling? If so, give an example of a question you were asked during counselling and your answer. Does it still hold true today?
I like to think we're still happily married despite our premarital counselling. We got off to a bad start when the risk factors of divorce were listed. If the woman left home early - I left at 18; if the couple lived together before marriage - we did; if at least one spouse was in a high-risk profession - like journalism. Next came the confrontation where we asked what would happen if we chose not to have children. Apparently the Church would not recognise our marriage. Then came the week where we had the ''sex talk''. Given, there might have been some virgins amongst us, but God help them if they actually learned anything from that night's lesson. Think 1950s, think diagrams of pens being moved in and out of test tubes, think the most interesting thing we learned was that sometimes fish change sex because of the mercury in the water. Or something like that.
Has your life turned out the way you hoped it would?
As much as I whinge about my life I couldn't have dreamt of a better one. I have a loving spouse, two beautiful children, a house that feels like home, a job I enjoy, great friends. I'm happy. And happiness is greatly underrated.