"My wife and I had 25 blissful years. Then, we met." So quipped Rodney Dangerfield. People laugh at the joke in the same way they laugh at any witticism which reflects a certain truth that we can relate to though don't necessarily dare express. But it is the truth. Committing yourself to sharing your life with someone else is incomparably harder work than the bliss one might enjoy in individual tranquility. But while the earlier years of marriage form part of an invariable struggle as two independent people adjust to learn to live with one another, over the course of time, with the right sort of compromises, the perseverance in nurturing the love and significant emotional maturity, we can come to experience more of the bliss that wedding bells promise, as we progress in the marriage. Another famous one-liner is, "My husband and I have enjoyed six blissful years of marriage. Mind you, we've been married for fourteen years." Here,the implication is that marriage can invariably start off blissful as one enjoys the fruits of young love, but with the passage of time and the inevitability of "familiarity breeds contempt," that blissfulness alas becomes a long lost memory. To be sure, in today's world, such marriages won't typically stand the test of time. Once boredom starts to erode the marriage people are quick to look for the exit door. They'll enjoy the immediate highs experienced at the outset but aren't prepared to invest time and energy required to experience the deeper sense of enduring connectiveness which takes years to develop.
High profile people struggle with making this adjustment more than others, often because they're living their marriage under a spotlight. When a Hollywood couple split up after more than 10 years, the media often recoils in shock at how "one of the strongest celebrity marriages is breaking up." In other words, 10 years of marriage is considered a rock-solid relationship in Tinseltown even as that is the stage where most couples are just starting to discover the fruit bourn after years of marital labour.
When advertising tycoon Charles Saatchi was pictured with his hand around the neck of his wife Nigella Lawson at a restaurant in London, society was up in arms and the media circus had something to run on its front pages for days on end. People questioned whether this idyllic couple was really just a sham. How could they have kept up the facade for nearly a decade? A menacing act such as that depicted is not typically a one off gesture and is reflective of more abuse that must be endemic in their relationship, is how the thinking went. When Nigella was subsequently seen leaving the marital home with her bags packed it seemed to confirm all suspicions.
So I was stunned to pick up a Sunday paper with a screeching headline, "I'm divorcing you Nigella: Saatchi is divorcing his wife because she refused to defend him in public and say he never hit her." We all know that the best defense is offense, but this was masterful even by a marketing guru's standards.
The gist of the spin was that the neck-hold picture "looked bad" even as it "didn't depict the truth" and that if Nigella didn't admit the truth to the public that it was nothing more than "a playful tiff" then he would simply have to accommodate the claims in the short term. So much so that he even went to make a statement to the police resulting in a caution. Of course confessing something he didn't do was untenable and he would now have to divorce her. In other words, the gesture was nothing more than playful, Nigella's subsequent leaving the home was just in response to the misconstrued embarrassment, and Saatchi lied to the police. Why on earth would he do all this for her only to then leave her thereafter? Yet the media reported this as gospel, mostly because Saatchi chose to announce his divorce to his wife through them, thus rendering it an exclusive.
Exclusive, unadulterated poppycock, in my opinion. I've been married nearly twenty-five years. During that time my wife and I have had our share of tiffs. Any couple that claims otherwise is either delusional or non-existent. But I can honestly say in all that time I've never once put my hand around my wife's neck or tweaked her nose upward (another demeaning gesture Saatchi was photographed doing). It is to my mind a pathetic spin from a man now leaving his third wife.
Maybe there are two sides to Saatchi's character. There is Saatchi the art collecting socialite who was always seen lovingly embracing his wife in public and there is the darker side to Saatchi behind closed doors, or in the presumed confines of a private restaurant where a more controlling and bullying personality emerges. In the telling words of his second wife, whom he divorced before marrying Lawson: "When the light shines on you he is charming and amazing and special. I know, because he shone it on me. Then the light fades and there is darkness."
For all I know Saatchi simply believes his own spin and doesn't see anything wrong with his physical gestures. Perhaps they were indeed common place in his relationship, and without a protesting wife, it becomes acceptable behaviour. The hard fact is that physical contact expressed in any way other than benign or lovingly, is abuse. Any woman enduring such should seriously question her relationship. Perhaps, after enough times, Nigella learnt to accept such behaviour as reasonable, as many an abused wife would. If so, even as she is reported to want a reconciliation the media will have done her a big favour by embarrassing her into divorce and waking her up to reality.
Henry Youngman once said: "The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret." For Saatchi and Lawson that rings true. It behooves the rest of us married people to keep working on discovering it.