March 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm , by Cherise Bathersfield
Entertainment journalist Thelma Adams’s novel Playdate, just out in paperback, explores the minefields of modern marriage with humor and sass. But Playdate is no empty romp. In addition to parenting precocious pre-teens, the protagonists—couples Lance and Darlene and Alec and Wren—are dealing with complex issues. Lance, an unemployed weatherman, is married to Darlene, a restaurateur, who maintains an inappropriate flirtation with her restaurant’s financier, Alec, who is married to Wren, a yogi, who is having an affair with Lance. Got that? If that love quadrangle weren’t dizzying enough, a fierce forest fire is menacing their comfortable upper-middle-class California enclave. We asked Adams to talk about the game plan behind Playdate.
You’ve been a film critic and entertainment writer for almost 30 years. How did that experience inform your first novel, which is about marriage and relationships?
I am a married film critic and entertainment writer with relationships. Some of which, I confess, are a little convoluted. This novel began as an idea for a screenplay: What if we melded Warren Beatty’s handsome rootless philanderer in Shampoo with Michael Keaton’s overwhelmed dad in Mr. Mom? It seemed like a funny concept. However, as it turned out, I’m a prose girl. The movie idea morphed into a novel.
With his sensitive nature and commitment to parenting, Lance is the heart and soul of the book. But he’s also having an affair. Was it hard to construct a sympathetic cheater?
Making Lance sympathetic without demonizing his wife Darlene was one of the great challenges of the book. Personally, I am the daughter of a relatively sympathetic cheater. My dad was no saint, but he was no demon either. I was a daddy’s little girl who adored her father, and growing up we had this kind of very easy, affectionate, unconditional love. And then, when I was in my early twenties, I discovered that I’d lived in a house where a pattern of infidelity on my father’s side gutted my mother. Being daddy’s little girl was suddenly a difficult position to have within the family politics. And, on top of that, when I found out about my father, I was still crying over a post-college live-in relationship with a serial cheater with whom I was crazy in love. That’s a long time ago, but fidelity, and understanding how infidelity molds a family, and a relationship, has been central to a lot of my writing. In the end, I came to understand my father, which is not exactly the same as forgiving, through my love for Lance and [his daughter] Belle. Read more
March 1, 2012 at 10:00 am , by Lauren Piro
Marlene, 44, and Roy, 49, had a grass-is-always-greener problem with their marriage. Both divorced, they’d experienced bossy and distant spouses before, and were ready for a smoother, more romantic ride the second time around—and they got it. But before long, togetherness turned clingy (for Marlene) and concern turned critical (for Roy), and both wondered if they were actually better off before they remarried. Read on to find out how they reconnected, or find the full story here.
Marlene’s turn: On their honeymoon, Marlene couldn’t believe much she loved Roy. They wandered the streets of Paris hand-in-hand, and she couldn’t imagine a life apart from him again. That is, until the honeymoon was over (literally), and all she wanted was some quiet time for herself after a long day at work as a litigation attorney. Instead, Roy follows her around the house, craving her attention. That is, when he’s not leaving a mess in the kitchen, half-finishing chores, or missing important appointments. Plus, their sex life is just not good—Roy gets too nervous, and they’ve tried everything make it easier. Lingerie, videos, Viagra … everything. Marlene loves that Roy has become a father figure for her son Carl, but that seems to be the only item in her “pro” column. Should she have just stuck with her single, yet peaceful life?
Roy’s turn: Roy is terrified that Marlene is going to leave him, but he doesn’t understand what he’s doing wrong. So what if he leaves a spices out on the counter? He’s made his wife a delicious gourmet meal! Big deal if he’s not a handyman. He’ll gladly pay to have someone come work on their house! And why does Marlene avoid him when he tries to start a conversation? Husbands and wives are supposed to talk! Their sex life is just the icing on the cake. Roy feels horrible about not being able to please Marlene, but the more pressure-packed the situation becomes, the harder a time he has.
The counselor’s turn: When asked to rank their biggest marital complaints, Marlene and Roy laughed to see that they’d listed the same problems—but from opposing viewpoints. Marlene yearned for alone time, but Roy felt like she never wanted together time. Marlene hated that Roy never cleaned up after himself, but Roy felt like she was overreacting and didn’t appreciate the nice meals he made for their family. And finally, Marlene didn’t understand why Roy couldn’t do some household chores, but Roy preferred to pay someone else to play handyman. Out loud, this all seemed pretty trivial, so the counselor urged them to remember to pick their battles, and promise to make compromises. Soon enough, Marlene and Roy were able to enjoy married life again—outside and inside the bedroom.
February 21, 2012 at 11:48 am , by Cherise Bathersfield
No Cheating, No Dying is journalist Elizabeth Weil’s account of the year she devotes to making her self-described good marriage even better. Weil and her husband, Dan Duane—both writers and overachievers—submitted to couples counseling, sex therapy, group workshops and more, applying themselves to their marriage as they would to a new writing assignment, hobby or exercise regimen. But being married with two children is no two-mile swim (which the couple did from Alcatraz to San Francisco). It’s complicated. For every issue unearthed, resolved and shelved during Weil’s marital spring-cleaning, another seemed to pop up to take its place. Weil shared some insights with us about her sometimes tumultuous journey to rehab her “good enough” marriage.
Q. After nearly a decade of a marriage that was not broken, what made you decide to fix it?
A. I noticed that I was being lazy-brained about my marriage in a way that I was not about the rest of my life. I had stacks of book on how to be a good mother. I kept up with the latest research on how to stay healthy. I put a lot of effort into my friendships, my work life and staying fit. But I had an attitude about my marriage that it was either star-crossed or it wasn’t. And once I noticed that attitude, it seemed silly. So I decided to change it.
Q. How did your husband, Dan, react to your proposal?
A. With horror! I’m sort of kidding. But his first reaction, when I brought it up, was “I can’t think of anything worse.”
Q. Where did the name of the book No Cheating, No Dying come from?
A. Those were our secret vows. Of course we stood up at the altar in front of our friends and family and promised to love and care for each other for richer and for poorer, in sickness and health and all that. But privately we said to each other: no cheating, no dying. We figured our marriage could survive anything else.
Q. You refer to a lot of marriage psychology publications and self-help books. Which ones did you find particularly helpful to you as a couple? Why?
A. Stephen Mitchell’s Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time really had a huge impact on me. Mitchell argues that romance doesn’t die in marriage due to neglect. Romance dies because we kill it, on purpose, as it becomes increasingly dangerous. We are so dependent on our spouses. These days husbands and wives aren’t just lovers or financial partners. We’re also co-parents, emotional supports, best friends. We can’t bear to think of our spouses as anything less than entirely predictable. And as a result we can start to think they’re boring and unromantic. But really, we’ve just put our spouses in that box. We need to take them out again.
January 13, 2012 at 10:10 am , by Lauren Piro
Oh, love in the time of Facebook. Such innovation. Such connectivity. Such possibility … that your high school flame will friend you and want to reconnect in a more-than-friendly way. (We’re onto what that “poke” button is for, Mark Zuckerberg. How sly of you.) That’s what happened to Jenny, 38, wife of Tom, 36. Her old sweetheart Grant came-a-clicking and before she new it, she was in a hotel room with him. Read on to find out what transpired, or check out the full story in our February issue, on newsstands now.
Jenny’s turn: Jenny was feeling trapped—Tom is a workaholic, and all the couple ever talks about these days is how to homeschool their kids. All the parents at their church do it, and the couple was supposed to take it on together, but now Jenny basically does all of the work, and occasionally Tom makes a bossy suggestion. With all of this on her plate—and all of the housework—Jenny doesn’t have time for the gym, Bible class or coffee with friends, so she started spending hours on Facebook to feel less lonely. That’s when Grant sent her a message. They started talking and texting, and Grant made Jenny feel like herself again, which she really missed. Eventually, they decided to meet up and spend the day together. Jenny lied to Tom and had dinner with Grant. Every step of the way, she knew it was wrong, but couldn’t help it—until her kissed her in their room at an inn. Jenny immediately felt awful and told him to leave, and she went home the next morning and told Tom everything, sobbing. Will she be able to convince him that he’s the only one she truly loves?
Tom’s turn: First of all, there’s no way he believes that Grant didn’t spend the night with Jenny. Does she take him for an idiot? He was shocked when Jenny confessed, but looking back on everything he can’t believe he missed the warning signs. Their cell phone log shows 300 pages of calls between Jenny and Grant, and Tom always thought she was just excited to reconnect with her friends on Facebook—not her ex-boyfriend! He knew the homeschooling was hard on her, but he didn’t think it had gotten this bad. If he ever cut Jenny off when they were talking about the kids, it was only because he hates arguing. He can’t believe she’s done this to him—and he’s not sure he can move past it.
December 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm , by Lauren Piro
Here’s a couple with a head-scratching dilemma: Glenn, 47, has never wanted anything more than to be a stay-at-home dad. And when his wife, Sheila, 45, had twins three years ago, he got his wish. Glenn quit his job to raise his kids, and Sheila spends her days as a business executive, but still dedicates time to cooking wonderful gourmet meals for her family. And Glenn is quite ticked off about that. Huh? Read on; it’s more complicated than it seems. And pick up our December/January issue for the full story, on newsstands now.
Sheila’s turn: All Sheila wants to do after a long day at the office is come home, hug her kids and cook her family a healthy and tasty meal. She wishes that Glenn would appreciate her efforts, but no. He complains that they’re spending too much money on food; Sheila thinks they’d be eating PB&J’s for dinner if it were up to her husband. When they got married, Glenn was intelligent, rugged and ambitious, but now he just whines all the time. Sheila isn’t sure he realized how overwhelming parenting would be, and it shows. The house is a pigsty, he makes lame excuses to avoid doing things he once loved (like mountain biking), and he’s constantly negative. Maybe he’s jealous that Sheila gets to be out doing fulfilling work everyday? Whatever it is, the tension is at an all-time high, and Sheila is losing her patience.
Glenn’s turn: Glenn really hates Sheila’s gourmet cooking habit, but not because he dislikes good food (duh). He’d rather she come home to chat and unwind with him, not spend two hours over the stove while he’s stuck parenting alone. He has long days too—kids aren’t a cakewalk!—and also knows they need to curb their spending on non-essential fancy meals and hobbies like his mountain biking. Now he just avoids his wife to avoid a fight, so Sheila thinks he’s always off sulking somewhere alone. Glenn’s glad Sheila’s given him the opportunity to watch his kids grow up, and is actually happy with his new job as dad, but still feels short-changed. He’s constantly making sure everyone’s needs are met, but Sheila only blows up at him when he mentions what’s bothering him.
December 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm , by Lauren Piro
Do you remember that classic Ferris Bueller line? “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it.” It’s truly a great rule to live by, and one that Amy, 27, and Sean, 29, forgot after they had kids. As Sean himself puts it, “Everything happened quickly. We got married, had a baby, moved halfway across the country, had another baby.” Now, with two kids (Jake, 3, and Ian, 4 months), the couple’s connection is waning, they’re constantly fighting, and they’re dealing with other major issues they can’ t ignore any longer. Read the full story here.
Amy’s turn: This stay-at-home mom just had a new baby and has a lot of the typical gripes that come with the job: her husband doesn’t understand how hard she works, doesn’t help out around the house, and forgets the things she asks him to do (“Just when will Sean look up those flights to Seattle so we can see my family?” Amy laments). But there’s also a larger problem at play—Amy’s suffering from postpartum depression. She cries at the drop of a hat, doesn’t feel a connection to her newborn, and no one seems to get what she’s going through. Sean took a temporary leave of absence from work, and her mom stayed with her for a while, but now that she’s without them again, her anxiety is at an all time high. She misses feeling like herself, misses the satisfaction of working as a nursery school teacher, and misses her husband’s friendship. All they do now is fight, not to mention Sean’s mother meddles and makes back-handed comments about how Amy runs her household. Everything feels wrong, and she’s not sure her marriage is going to make it.
Sean’s turn: Sean just can’t figure Amy out. It seems that in her eyes he can do no right—she’s always screaming at him for something. He knows he could work harder at controlling his temper and could do more around the house, but he just doesn’t feel like he and Amy share the same special bond they did before. He knows his mother can be difficult, but Sean grew up with a physically abusive father, and is glad to have fostered a decent relationship with his mother later on in their lives, though she still denies the abuse. Amy calls Sean at work hysterical, and he just never thought it would get this bad. His secretary mentioned that counseling helped her when she had a newborn daughter, so Sean decided he and Amy should give therapy a try.
November 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm , by Lauren Piro
A marriage is a marathon, not a sprint down the aisle followed by decades spent smoothly on autopilot. It needs tending, respect, and more than a few “state-of-the-union” chats. Otherwise, tiny, navigable speed bumps can grow into brick walls that smack your relationship down quicker than you realize. Kate, 39, and Alberto, 40, have reached one of these barriers in their marriage, and they turned to a counselor to help scale it. Read the full story here, or in our November issue, on newsstands now!
Kate’s turn: Kate’s job requires her to spend four days a week on the road, leaving Alberto alone with the kids—and his new friend, Nina, another mother from their children’s school. At first, Kate was glad her husband and kids had found someone to hang out with while she traveled, but the first time she met Nina, she sensed something was off. And when Nina visited their house, her familiarity with her way around their home (and Alberto) seemed like a big red flag. Sure enough, two weeks later, Kate came across a note from Nina to Alberto that was not so innocent. Kate’s convinced they’re having an affair, but Alberto staunchly denies it. Sure, he may have flirted with the idea, but he claims nothing happened. They tried seeing a marriage therapist to help them talk about everything, but when Kate felt like Alberto still wasn’t telling the whole truth, she quit going. She’s ready to work on their marriage, but can’t pretend they’re communicating while he’s lying to her.
Alberto’s turn: The whole story? He is, in fact, lying. Privately, Alberto revealed everything to the therapist: he did have sex with Nina, and on more than one occasion. Alberto feels lonely and overwhelmed taking care of two kids and working 60-hour weeks. Kate doesn’t call much when she’s away and seems tied to work when she’s home. When he met Nina, he wasn’t looking for a relationship but was glad to have a companion whose kids were friends with his kids. As they saw each other more, it became clear Nina wanted to pursue a romantic relationship, and Alberto didn’t stop it. And once they’d slept together, what was the harm in doing it again? He felt guilty, but justified it since Kate was absent, and Nina made him feel wanted. When Kate found the note from Nina, he panicked. It was never his intention to break up his family, and he’s afraid Kate will leave if he owns up to his mistake.