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Would You Rather Your Spouse Die Than Divorce You?

Would you rather your spouse die than tell you he wants a divorce?

That’s the provocative question at the heart of novelist Amy Sohn’s (Prospect Park West) terrific new essay in Elle, on the latest batch of divorce memoirs.

Taking a look at a number of family crack-up memoirs including Isabel Gillies Happens Every Day, Stacy Morrison’s Falling Apart in One Piece and Jenny Sanford’s Staying True, Sohn examines the marital institution, circa 2010, and comes to the conclusion that divorce porn, as she calls it, is a form of “escape fantasy.”

These memoirists get to end it all, Sohn says, and they get to end it all without guilt. They are, in their own telling, the innocent party. Their husbands’ cheat, sometimes spectacularly, or proclaim they never loved them. They humiliate them so they have no choice but to end it, forcing them to live life on their own till they meet another man (because, of course, they almost always meet another man).

Then there are the rest of us, the readers of divorce porn.

Sohn speculates that many of us often feel stuck in our occasionally fulfilling, sometimes frustrating and most often humdrum lives. Our spouses, if not particularly exciting, are not particularly heinous either. They are certainly not so ghastly that they give us a get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of the other woman.

So what to do? Enter the death fantasy:

A friend who has struggled in her marriage once asked me which I’d prefer: if my husband dropped dead or we wound up divorcing. “I guess if I had to choose, I’d say dropped dead,” I answered.

“Me too!” she cried.

“We’re sick,” I said.

“No, we’re not,” she said. “I don’t really want him to die. But I fantasize about it sometimes, because when I try to envision the alternative, divorce, I worry that I’d be doing the wrong thing, that I’d ruin my kids’ lives and end up alone or with someone else who just had a whole other set of things that I hated.” I got it. She wanted the release of no longer being married to him without the responsibility of having made the decision to end it herself.

Women in divorce porn, after a period of requisite suffering, get to, as the cliché goes, have their cake and eat it too. They would face social opprobrium if they didn’t end their marriages: no one, after all, expects one to stay legally bound to a guy who proclaims that the other woman is his “soul mate” on national TV or attached to a skunk who induces his legal wife to move halfway across the country in order to further his career as a poet only to then embark on affair with a half-French literature professor.

The rest of us … we get to think about death.

What do you think? Be honest your secret is safe with us.

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