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Lisa Birnbach


The Preppy Divorce

Posted: 11/09/10 09:00 AM ET

Whatever happened to sticking it out? That's what most people did in the 20th century, if they found themselves less than happily married. Preppy couples were discreet, especially if there were children involved. One party might stray; the other might be stoically stuck in place, or -- after an appropriate time -- move to Florida where golfing with friends becomes the order of the day. Or Baxter, after an extended thoughtful period marked by a companionable wife and three children, realizes that he would prefer to spend the second half of his life as , say, a decorator, in Savannah, perhaps -- a shock that his wife Betsy withstands with tight-lipped resignation.

In the social maelstrom of the 21st century, this behavior no longer exists. I write about divorce between preppies in my new book True Prep, because divorce is a fact of modern life. Perhaps it is an outgrowth of the short attention spans that seem to addle all of us. In 1980, when I wrote the Preppy Handbook, the word "divorce" was still stigmatized, sometimes even said in a whisper along with such secrets as "bankruptcy," or "safety school." There used to be boundaries of good taste and habit. Oh, how we miss them.

In the 20th century, you wouldn't find preppies having children out of wedlock (Grandmother wouldn't write the little bastards into her will), having open marriages (that's NOKD), or entering into civil unions. Today it's all different, with one exception: our private lives are private, or ought to be. Tough in a world that's lived in the public domain of the Interwhatsit.

SO, if you, Houghton, have been naughty, or you, Esme, have been preoccupied, there may be consequences to your actions or inactions. You may have noticed that other couples vacation together. You may have noticed that other husbands do not password protect their thingies. You may have noticed that other wives wear only jewelry given them by their husbands, for example, their wedding rings. Matters may have unraveled between you without anyone's noticing.

Rules to Live By (Preppies adore rules)

  • Don't complain about Houghton in public. That's unattractive. It makes you look like the bad prep in the equation.

  • Don't complain about Houghton at the club. Especially if it's his membership. (You may complain to a friend in the club parking lot. That's considered off-premises.)

  • Don't complain about Houghton to your children. (Rule can be waived if Houghton is not their father.)

  • Please remember that although you are simmering with righteous anger now, you very well might remarry him somewhere down the road. (He still has his hair and can still make you laugh.)

  • Don't ever degrade Esme to your friends. That's not gentlemanly. You are a gentleman, above all. And, sorry to speak so forcefully, it is Not Nice.

  • Don't badmouth Esme to your friend Mal. (He always had the hots for her, and might well take her off your hands.)

  • Don't bring Angela (your sexy new ... um... friend) to any social events within 15 miles of Esme's suburban idyll. You may have paid for it, but it's Esme's domain now.

  • If there is -- say, overlap -- make sure Angela's hair isn't too large. Also, do not allow her to wear the Herve Leger "bandage dress" you bought her in front of the children.

  • Do not introduce any woman on your arm as "my future ex-wife." Eeew. (It is neither original nor amusing.)

  • No Divorce Parties. (We love to drink, to celebrate, and to drink, but even we draw the line here.)