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Notes From the Blunderground: A Divorcee's Thoughts on Marriage

07/21/2012 03:11 am ET | Updated Sep 19, 2012

I was out walking my dog a few weeks ago when I passed a young man sitting on a stoop, smoking a cigarette and eyeing me in a decidedly odd way. "Oh great," I thought. "Another New York psycho I need to sneak past without making eye contact." As I walked by, he called out, "Hey, aren't you the writer?" In a flash, my ego won out over my fear of being assaulted by a crazy person. I had a fan! I walked over to say I was, indeed, a writer and as I approached, he reminded me we had met at a local cafe where I told him about my latest book. Klonopin Lunch details a time in my life when I got up to all sorts of shenanigans, including having an affair and subsequently ending my marriage. Before you could say "no-fault divorce," this guy was on his feet, telling me his marital woes, his sexual proclivities, his wife's sudden lack of sexual curiosity (which he explained away with "because we're married now") and how he had always had a thing for older women. As we walked, his wife called. Instead of explaining that he was taking a walk with a neighbor, he said he was going to the store. Ouch. I tried to buck him up, but all I could think was, "Dude, you are going to be divorced within five years. No question." And believe me, I know what I'm talking about. I've been divorced twice before hitting my mid-forties.

Getting divorced twice relatively early in my life has its good and bad points. The bad stuff is the obvious heartbreak, shattered ego, fear of being alone, feeling like a failure -- the usual suspects. But the few upsides have turned out to work in my favor. I now have the uncanny ability to, when listening to people talk about their marriages, know whether or not they're going to get divorced. And roughly how long it will take for the shit to hit the fan. That's right. I'm the marriage whisperer.

How did I wind up with this particular talent? The easy answer is that I went through the wringer and can identify similar suffering when I see it. The more complex reason is that after two failed marriages, I sat myself down and wrote out everything that had gone wrong with each of them and why. This was, just for the record, not fun. I had to look at the stupid mistakes I made right along with those of my exes. Even in the privacy of my own home, it was humiliating to realize how many boneheaded choices I had made. Nonetheless, I finished my exercise and found myself with a neatly typed manifesto of what I should never do again. And then I made another list, this time detailing what I knew I needed in a relationship. Not what I wanted (I don't think Adrien Brody will be knocking on my door any time soon), but what my inviolable requirements are to ensure a happy coupling. The list included things like, "enjoys travel, has a career not a job, likes his family, tells the truth" and so on. In other words, I had a document I could refer to (and possibly laminate for safekeeping) that would keep me on the straight and narrow should I ever decide to be in a relationship again, much less get married.

And in that list lies my view on divorce. The answer to the constantly asked questions, "How do I save my marriage?" or "How do I avoid divorce?" is pretty straightforward. Ready for it? Don't get married.

OK, I'm being a little glib, but what I mean is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Once a relationship hits the skids to the point where one or both parties are looking around for an escape hatch, there isn't much hope. Rather than marry for nebulous reasons and then labor to avoid divorce, marry wisely, if at all.

There is no formula I can come up with to provide a blueprint for the perfect spouse. That's up to you. You may prefer a guy or gal who is a dyed-in-the-wool homebody. I'd rather stick my head in the oven than live with someone like that. I have a close relationship with my -- no hyperbole here -- crazy family. Dealing with that may not be someone else's cup of tea. The only way you, me, and everyone we know can create that blueprint is to take time to know ourselves intimately -- warts and all. Take a good, hard look at the very best and very worst things about yourself. Think about the things you'd like to change and change them. Think about the things you like about yourself and cultivate them. It may take a while and it may be a painful process. But trust me, it's nowhere near as painful as even the most amicable divorce.

Once you're properly acquainted with yourself, you'll know what you like, what you don't, what you'll put up with and what you can't. You'll have no doubt about which guy or girl you should spend an evening with and when you should politely decline an invitation so you can finally get around to re-caulking your tub. The one catch of my foolproof plan for not getting divorced is this: It requires patience. Being discerning means you don't leap into life-changing decisions because you feel you "should" or you're afraid of being alone. Don't be afraid. Being alone can suck, but all things are relative. I've found there is enormous truth in the old chestnut "better alone than in bad company." Get yourself to a place where you are your own best company and audience. Once there, all you've got to do is figure out who is worthy of you. And whom you will never wind up gazing at across the expanse of your lawyer's conference table.