Two women I know are in the process of getting divorced from their husbands and a third already has. It happens. It’s not quite true that fifty percent of marriages end in a divorce, though it turns out the divorce rate is weirdly difficult to determine. Current estimates hold that somewhere between 42 and 45 percent of marriages end in either divorce or permanent separation. Actually, my mom is the only one of her siblings whose marriage didn’t end that way, now I come to think about it. While her two living siblings are both married, it’s a remarriage for both of them, and her dead brother left his wife and lived apart from her for twenty years.
So I suppose, for a lot of people, the idea of a divorced couple getting back together and living Happily Ever After is their idea of a dream. Not for my three friends, I suspect, though I’m only sure about one of them—who has moved on and is living her best life. But most of the time, when we see a divorced couple interacting in a movie or TV show, at least one of the pair hopes that they will get back together. This is even more notable if there are children involved. I genuinely believe this is harmful, and that in the majority of cases, it’s absolutely okay to end a marriage. Probably it’s healthier than staying together.
The iconic movie for kids on the subject for generations was The Parent Trap. I grew up, as so many kids did, watching Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills (and uncredited body double Susan Henning) get Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara back together. As established, this was never my fantasy; my father was dead, and all the wacky shenanigans in the world weren’t fixing that. But I’m quite sure it was a fantasy for a lot of other kids. I haven’t seen Mrs. Doubtfire in years, and I don’t know how it ages, but I do like that it acknowledges that, yeah, sometimes parents stay divorced and that’s okay, and it’s even okay if they date other people afterward.
Because there are lots of completely valid reasons to get divorced. There are people who disagree with that, but I honestly don’t think thier opinions are acceptable. I don’t think they really have people’s best interests at heart; if they did, they’d be able to at the very least admit that abuse—physical or emotional—is a legitimate reason to get divorced, and not all of them do. Honestly, I think my aunt would have been completely justified in divorcing my uncle after he had a kid with someone else, but to the day he died, she was adamant that they were still married. Her objections were religious, but I think society does reinforce that image.
But beyond that? I don’t think there’s any shame in just saying “this marriage isn’t working.” Oh, sure, you should try. Couples’ counseling should definitely be a thing. But sometimes, you should be allowed to be incompatible and walk away without shame. We just don’t see that in media. Every time we see a couple getting divorced where we’re supposed to have sympathy, there’s some big reason. “We just don’t get along” is not a reason. I suggest that it should be.
This is another one of those weirder angles of representation, to me. It’s not just about gay people or varying ethnicities or what have you. If we are going to show real people in real lives, let’s show real divorces. I know people who are divorced and get along just fine with their exes but weren’t happy being married to them. (I actually know a couple of women who aren’t divorced because they’re worried about custody issues these days if they get divorced, but they actually get along just fine and make great decisions for their son.) I also wonder how many kids grew up watching Hayley Mills and wondering when their parents would get back together.