04/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Truth in Marriage

Once my kids were settled in school, I returned to work full-time at a Connecticut newspaper. It was truly starting over. Besides picking up everyone's slack as an editorial assistant/cub reporter, I was called "Blondie" by the macho sports writer and a twenty-something reporter who fancied herself a lot like Lois Lane although she didn't get the reference when I called her "Lois." I had to prove myself: a wife and mother was a bad risk, they said bluntly. Maybe I wasn't up to the task.

Before a promotion came along, one of my weekly assignments was "Street Beat" where I stood in front of the town library, courthouse, or elementary school, and posed philosophical questions wrapped around current events to harried passers-by. A "for example" is "What should Hillary Clinton do in light of her husband's scandalous affair?" Naturally, this elicited many opinions from tossing Bill's furniture out on The White House Lawn to standing by her man a la Tammy Wynette. And with that, and other Street Beat questions, everyone always had a rapid and gut response.

So, last week I thought it might be fun to "street beat" a question that has gnawed away at my brain since 1981 when Mark and I married. Ready? "What is truth in marriage?" How timely -- Ruth Madoff, Silda Spitzer, Dina McGreevy -- to name just a few wives who have had to deal with truths about their husbands in the last year. Yesterday, I wrote three drafts -- all deleted one by one until finally, at the end of the day, I thought, what kind of truth am I talking about here? Truth that hinges on "Do these pants make me look fat?" or confessions about Ponzi schemes, cavorting with prostitutes, and being a gay American? It was all too unwieldy. I decided to take the question Street Beat style and ask others.

I called my friend Jeff, wondering how a man might answer.

"Let me put it this way," Jeff said. "If I was walking down the street with my wife and saw ten beautiful women, I wouldn't say, 'hey, look at those ten beautiful women.'"

"That's it?" I was disappointed.

"Well, not exactly. I mean, if she asked if I noticed, I'd answer honestly. But I wouldn't make a big deal about how beautiful they were. And if I had an evening out with the guys when I had some heavy flirtation with some woman, I wouldn't come home and tell my wife. Bottom line: if you need to tell your spouse something to alleviate your own guilt, then it's just hurtful. If something doesn't impact the marriage, why be hurtful because you have to unload?"

Hmmm...seemed reasonable but made me a little, well, edgy -- begging the question "is omission a form of a lying?"

Then I called my friend Nancy who has been divorced for 16 years. Nancy laughed out loud. "You're joking, right? Truth in marriage? Steph, I gotta go. And find another topic."

At the end of the day when my head was splitting, my friend Ellen called. I asked her the question.
"How about 'IS there truth in marriage?'" she replied. "Forget the 'what is truth' part. Look, marriage is like peeling an onion, not Gump's box of chocolates. It's not black and white. It's filled with filters. Truth in marriage is debatable. It's what we can live with. All the margins and measures. Who thought up that question?"

"I did."

"What the hell were you thinking?"

I admitted that I was at my wit's end.

"I've never had a problem writing anything before. This blog is making me crazy," I moaned.

"Look up truth in the dictionary," Ellen suggested. "I'll hold on."

And there it was -- undefined and redundant: being true; sincerity, honesty, accuracy, actual existence of; established fact.

So, in the great words of Oscar Wilde, indeed "truth is rarely pure and never simple." And in my words and new perception, truth is not only subjective, but subject to change. I have always contended that everyone has their own versions of truths: even the eyewitness who saw the perpetrator running off in a blue coat when in fact he was wearing a red jacket is not a liar. It's simply how we see things.

"Why don't you ask Mark when he comes home tonight?" Ellen suggested. "See what he has to say."

Now that was pretty scary: Did I want this answer from my husband? As a physician, Mark deals in unequivocal truths: Cholesterol, hemoglobin, blood pressure -- high, low, normal. And Mark is not an emotional thinker -- which isn't to say he's unemotional, but he deals scientifically. He'd make a lousy psychiatrist.

I took my notebook to dinner last night, and after wine, and as we ordered dessert, I asked him both Ellen's question and mine. "OK, what is truth in marriage or is there truth marriage? You can answer one or the other."

He took my notebook, pen poised. "Go powder your nose or something."

Upon my return, I read, "If the answer to the second part is 'no,' then the first part is moot. To answer either is the 'third rail' of marriage. There is truth, but it reveals itself in unexpected ways. There is no truth...period. One man's ceiling is another man's floor."

"What?" I asked, feeling the blood drain from my face. "Third rail? That's when you get electrocuted, right?"

"Great Cotes de Rhone, isn't it?" he asked, diving into a profiterole.

"Don't change the subject. Are you saying there is no truth in our marriage? "

He faked some choking, pushed his hair back from his forehead, and strummed his fingers on the table.

"Look," he said. "Knowing what you know after 27 years, would you marry me?"

"No," I said. "Absolutely not."

"But you do love me."


"So there's your truth," he said. "And mine."