08/10/2012 03:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This Man Was The World's Worst Husband

Excerpted from You Can Be Right (Or You Can Be Married): Looking for Love in the Age of Divorce. Copyright © 2012 Dana Adam Shapiro. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

CURRENT MARRIAGE STATUS: Married to my third and current wife since 1998
DO YOU HAVE ANY CHILDREN? A nineteen-year-old and a sixteen-year-old from my second marriage, a seven-year-old and a three-year-old from my third.
YEAR OF MARRIAGE: 1983, 1994, 1998
HOW LONG YOU DATED BEFORE YOU WERE MARRIED: seven years, two years, one and a half years.
YEAR OF DIVORCE: 1990, 1997

There's no such thing as a Noel Coward divorce. You know, that sort of amicable, happy-go-lucky divorce where everybody's interested in pursuing their own interests and whatever maliciousness there is is sort of clever and beautifully executed. It's not like that at all. I don't care how much you might have loved the person--halfway through any divorce the only thing you can think of is: I hate this person and I want this person to bleed. You become obsessed. It becomes a matter of absolute survival. Once it's over, the question is not whether you can recover from the love, or from the loss of love. It's whether or not you can get over your own hatred. And I've been divorced twice, okay?

The first time it was a very casual marriage. We met in college in 1977. We really had very little in common but we enjoyed each other's company. We kind of drifted together. A series of one-night stands kept getting closer and closer and the next thing we knew one of us didn't go home anymore. This went on for a while, until all of a sudden, we had no money and the coffee maker broke. And we figured, what the fuck, why not get married, somebody will give us a coffee maker. And they did. They gave us a coffee maker and they gave us a popcorn maker. And we fought like cats and dogs over that coffee maker and that popcorn maker. And you know what? I don't eat popcorn and she didn't drink coffee [laughs]!

Look, I'll be perfectly honest with you--I was flat-out the world's worst husband. I was inconsiderate, I was selfish, I was utterly self-absorbed. On the rare occasions that we did have any money, if I wanted to spend some, I would. Now remember, at this period in time, I was also a drunk. And on November 19, 1983, I went on an absolutely horrific bender. And in the course of that bender--I don't remember this, but I know what happened. I slapped her.

Understand, not a month before that, I had been arrested for drunk driving. I had been thrown in the worst hole that Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, had to offer. It was this 19th century prison where I was left with a fellow inmate who would've cut off my finger to get my ring, okay? That didn't sober me up. But when I understood that I had slapped my wife--that did. And that was enough to make me stop drinking.

But you know what my stopping drinking did? It destroyed my marriage. Because we no longer had anything in common. Actually, I have to credit her with my becoming an editor because in an effort to hold the marriage together I started working at a small weekly newspaper. This was 1985, I was twenty-seven years old. I would go in at 9:30 on Monday morning--and no bullshit--I'd work straight through until about 2 A.M. Wednesday morning. The upshot of all this was that my wife and I now no longer even had contact. We hardly ever saw each other.

To be perfectly honest, I think the reason I was doing it was because there really wasn't anything to come home to. This went on about a year and a half. It was around this time that a really young reporter from a really troubled background started hitting on me. And I responded. It never got to the point of sex because frankly I was too conflicted to have it. But it came very, very close, and the sexual tension was utterly addictive, particularly for a recovering alcoholic. Meanwhile, I made very little effort to hide any of this from my wife. And at that point, she entered into a similar relationship with a guy.

Now, it was interesting because I couldn't be as magnanimous and open-minded as she had been, and this led to her saying she wanted out of the marriage. So now, all of a sudden, all of this ambivalence we had had for all these years suddenly ossified and became a molten core of rage. When you look at the papers filed in this no-fault divorce, it is a collection of every misstep, every error, every horrible thing that either of us did in the then-twelve years we had known each other. I would put something in and she would respond with something. Then I would get so outraged that I would respond with something else. It was vicious. It really was a blood sport.

Understand, nothing that I ever did during the course of our entire marriage involved me thinking about her as a first thought. And yet now, as we were going through the divorce, she was all I could think about. We were separated, but I knew where her boyfriend lived, and I would find myself making a point of going out of my way to drive past his apartment so I could see whether or not her car was there. It was all-consuming. If there had been one tenth--one hundredth--as much passion in our marriage as there was in our divorce, we would have just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.

My second marriage failed in spite of--but I think in part because--I tried to not make the same mistakes I made in my first marriage. But what I did was, except for the alcohol, I married the Me of 1977. Irresponsible, self-centered, obsessive, destructive. She was artistic, she was a musician and a writer. She was sexually aggressive. Phenomenally aggressive. And sure enough, everything that I did to my first wife, she did to me.

Yes, I did feel that there was a certain karmic retribution in all of this. But here's the thing, and it took me three times to figure this out. You have to find somebody who is willing to accept you for who you are and then tell you that that's not good enough. And with their help, you figure out how to be better. And you need to do the same thing for them. But if you're not willing to turn around and say, "I accept, I demand, and I work," then you're not willing to be married.

What's present in my marriage now that wasn't present in the other two is respect. I pitied one and I had an accommodation with the other. But I didn't respect either of them. And they didn't respect me. And that's the most important thing. The very best you can hope for is that you've got somebody who's gonna respect you enough to go through the day-to-day bullshit and be honest with you. That's the most romantic thing in the world.

There is something absolutely divine--I mean, literally, the breath of God--in the ability to put someone else in your heart, to think of them first. But from the time of the greatest pornographer who ever lived, Shakespeare, we've demanded that love be something more. No, fuck Shakespeare--since the Song of Songs! And what happens is, the utter grandeur and magnificence of what love actually is gets overshadowed by this disappointment that it's not the way we fantasized it should be.

Now, that's not a new phenomenon. The new phenomenon is the ability to divorce easily. You asked me before how you know when it's over. That question is almost irrelevant now because most of us never get that far to find out. It's not a moral thing. It's not a character thing. Whenever you give people an opportunity not to be in pain, they're gonna take it. And the lower you set the threshold, the earlier they're gonna take it.

I wonder, then, whether we might not have made divorce a little too easy. And here's the point. This is the point--it's crucial in all this. It's goddamn easy to file for divorce, okay? It's goddamn easy to be declared divorced. But those 18 months between those two actions--man, those are the hardest 18 months of your life.

You Can Be Right (Or You Can Be Married): Looking for Love in the Age of Divorce. hits shelves September 4.