Several years ago, I played an embittered first wife in Arthur Miller’s play “After the Fall”. I was meant to deliver this line, “I am a separate person”, with stoney certainty, but at the time, I didn’t quite understand it. What does that even mean? Of course I’m a separate person, I’m standing apart from you. But I’m married to you, so I’m connected to you? Either way…you’re leaving me for a thinly veiled version of Marilyn Monroe?
But the play wasn’t about Louise, the nag, the shrew–it was about his second marriage, with Miller’s most famous wife, Marilyn Monroe, the red-hot mess. (Before he can possibly consider marrying his third wife, the breath of fresh air). Now, I love me some Monroe, my heart breaks for her, but historically speaking–Monroe was not a spectacular wife. She just wasn’t. She was a selfish star who self-medicated with pills and champagne. She was mentally ill, and wasn’t properly cared for. Of course, Miller tried his damnedest to save her, but it was a truly impossible feat. It would have been so easy to love her, but it was have been impossible to sustain that affection because it would have been like trying to fill an eternal void with all your precious energy.
The issue for Miller was that he was at a great height in his success, he was a beloved playwright with a Pulitzer Prize, and catalogue of important work. But under Monroe’s spell, his work dwindled. His sanity suffered. He lost himself in trying to keep their relationship afloat.
He worked on her projects, followed her everywhere and even wrote the last film she ever completed, “The Misfits”. By the end of filming, they flew home on separate planes, and their marriage was over.
Monroe was a rapidly wilting flower, and nothing could be done to change that. I think she was convinced that marriage could save her life, but that’s a pretty lofty expectation for any relationship. But Miller wasn’t without fault, he had told reporters that Monroe would make fewer pictures now that they were married: “She will be my wife. That’s a full-time job”. And that’s a mistake old Joe DiMaggio made as well, that marriage would somehow tame Monroe’s ways. When in fact…I think marriage brought out the worst in her. Anyhow, she and DiMaggio didn’t last a year, and her relationship with Miller failed after five years. They split in 1961, and she died the following year.
Being married to Monroe would have been an all-consuming gig, and it would not always be rewarding. (Louise ain’t looking too bad now eh Arthur?) Demanding to be thought of as a separate person is not a crime. It’s not a crime to demand that your spouse all but dissolve into your own being, but it’s certainly a misdemeanor. In marriage, perhaps a bit of separateness is needed for longevity. Now married, I am just learning what that means. We belong together, we live, eat, sleep and travel together, but we are still separate entities. I think of marriage as a kind of three-legged race. You are bound to each other, and are trying to run in a unified order in the same direction. But what if you want to go in opposite directions? Is that the fork in the road that signifies the end of your marriage? That’s a perfectly terrifying thought. In your marriage…or in any long-term relationship, there are decisions to be made. These range from, “where are we going to order our Chinese takeout from?”, “which grocery store will we shop at?” “what movie are we going to watch tonight?” to “where are we going to live?” “how many children are we going to have?” “how will we spend our money?” “if I become a famous [insert profession here] will you accompany me to [insert award show, press junket, photo shoot here]. These are serious questions, and when the answers vary, it’s cause for concern.
As a couple, my husband and I are polar opposites. He is a strong silent type, and I just won’t shut the fuck up. I want to be onstage, and he’d prefer to be behind the scenes. I’m a social butterfly, and he’s a solitary bear. He’s a sturdy structure, and I’m a twister swirling all around. Our unifying quality is that we are both stubborn as hell, and we often lock horns. Our marital three legged race can be a challenge, I want to go one way, he the other. But we don’t want to break up, fall apart, get divorced. Is it possible to remove that tie and change the game?
These conversations have been occurring more frequently: “your thing doesn’t have to be my thing”. Of course, I’ve never been married before, and obviously all my relationships failed before I met my husband, so I’m no expert on how to get these things right. I love him deeply, I am committed to him, but I still belong to myself. How do you successfully live your life as a spouse without letting go of your personal goals. How does that important role not engulf you?
Last night, lying in the dark, thinking about my marriage, my husband, myself, my thoughts turn (naturally) to Dolly Parton. Hasn’t she been married for ages to a man that has nothing to do with her career?
Yup. Dolly Parton has been married for a staggering 47-years to Carl Dean, whom she met at a laundromat when she was 20 years old. Dean has absolutely nothing to do with the public aspects of her career. She explained this in an interview with Oprah–another gal that knows a bit about being a “separate person”. She and her partner of 25 years, rarely appear together publicly, and prefer it that way. They also never married and claim that is what kept them together.
As for Dolly and her camera-shy husband, they learned quickly what worked for them:
“Early on in my career, I’d won [Song of the Year] in 1966, and I asked him to go with me. … He was so uncomfortable…He said: ‘Now I want you to do everything you want to do. I want you to enjoy every minute of your life. But don’t you ever ask me to go to another one of these things. Because I am not going.'”
And so, she never pushed him into partaking in another public event ever. What is really interesting is that in exploring these ‘separate’ relationships, I’ve noticed an abundance of criticism and suspicion. Open marriages, secret lesbianism– Parton is rumored to be in a homosexual relationship with her best friend, a rap Oprah has also dealt with. God forbid it has anything to do with being comfortable in your marriage and and confident about going your own way. And it is just that–she wanted to go this way, he wanted to go that way, but at the end of the day, they wanted to come home to the same place.
“He’s proud of me. He’s just basically shy about things like that. He doesn’t like crowds. And I respect his privacy. I respect the fact that he loves to be out of the limelight. That’s one of the reasons I think we’ve lasted so long.”
(Wow, they seriously do not appear together in public, pictures of them are hard to find, and those you do see are grainier than a poorly made sex tape).