Last night the writer Joan Didion addressed a large crowd gathered at Vibiana for the Los Angeles Public Library’s ALOUD series about her newest book, “Blue Nights.” It’s not a memoir (Didion hates the term - “it’s soft”) but a meditation of sorts on the the death of her daughter.
“This is the first time I ever didn’t write a narrative,” she said.
Instead, the book is fragmentary, disconnected, revealed in gusts, like her memory.
“My daughter’s death is not a narrative because it wasn’t supposed to happen.”
What did she mean by that? The statement sounded vague and pretentious (though Didion is one of those people who is allowed to act pretentious if she wants).
Today’s news that Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher will divorce after six years of marriage made me realize what she meant: This is a break in the narrative. This wasn’t supposed to happen. They were in love! And rich! And beautiful!
What went so wrong in the marriage that looked so right? Even Bruce Willis, Moore’s first husband, appeared to support the relationship.
No surprise that the Internet is swirling with stories that Kutcher’s rumored infidelity is to blame for the marriage’s demise. But one should never believe a tabloid has the whole truth; as anyone who’s ever been in a committed relationship knows, they’re hard! and complex, and it is probably not at all true that one rotten thing poisoned the whole batch.
Moore’s statement announcing the divorce, however, alluded to a clash in values.
“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I have decided to end my six-year marriage to Ashton,” she said. “As a woman, a mother and a wife there are certain values and vows that I hold sacred, and it is in this spirit that I have chosen to move forward with my life.”
“Shared values” is a term we often hear tied to healthy relationships, as if it were possible for every couple to share every value. My rabbi, Terry Bookman from Temple Beth Am in Miami, once said that every person holds core beliefs about basic values like religion, finance, children etc. (he came up with 11 basic values and heck if I remember them all) but said that no couple, no matter how simpatico, will share every one. And while a good litmus test of a promising long-term relationship or marriage is to have as many core values in common as possible, perhaps more importantly, the greater determinant of success is how much each individual is willing to compromise on the values that are not shared.
When things aren’t working, though, plenty of couples take their fragile hopes to psychotherapy.
Demi and Ashton reportedly sought marital counseling from their Kabbalah gurus before sounding the death knell. What kind of advice did they get?
Kabbalah counselor Chana Ginsburg speculated to E!Online that “Kabbalah adherents believe there are all kinds of parallels between (the relationship with G-d) and marriage; understand the higher principles, and you’ll have a better understanding of your relationship, or so the wisdom goes. It helps people transcend above immediate self interest, to see a bigger picture and relate to their marriages in a deeper way.”
When asked how the Jewish mystical tradition would deal with infidelity, Ginsburg offered a hypothetical: “[A] Kabbalah counselor may suggest that ‘God and his creations have rules for interacting with one another—the 10 Commandments being some of them. There’s a framework, in other words, and married people need to adhere to their own agreed frameworks if they expect their divinely-forged union to work.”
In other words, couples need to have agreed upon values. There are rules. Standards. Boundaries. Relationships, just like people, have needs. And those needs must be nourished in order to avoid heartbreak, pain or chaos.
It would be a wonder if sound advice could unknot all the tangles in a relationship, but alas, the mystical and magical can sometimes get mixed with hard truths that make it impossible for a relationship to continue. As Michael Ondaatje wrote, “The heart is an organ of fire.” Love burns. And love burns out.