They say you can never understand someone else’s marriage. But this week, New York Magazine and the Cut decided to try. We interrogated dozens of couples (and a throuple) to see what makes their marriages work — or not.
Dana Freeman, Married 21 Years
I’m Jewish only by birth. Andy was brought up in a very Catholic family. My parents didn’t care at all while we were dating; they just wanted me to be happy. Andy’s parents, on the other hand … While we were dating and living separately, I was accepted into the family, invited on vacation. Then we moved in together, which is a Catholic no-no. When Andy told his parents that we planned to get married in my parents’ front yard with a justice of the peace and we’re going to write our own ceremony and it’s not going to have any religious component to it, next statement out of her mouth: “So you’re not getting married in a church.” I had never really seen Andy cry before. It was the first time he really had to stand up and say something to his parents about his choices.
At the wedding, after the ceremony was over — we’re already married, right? — Andy’s dad is going around talking to people, being like, “You know this isn’t going to work, right?” We hadn’t even been married for ten minutes.
It came to a boiling point when our children were maybe 3 and 6 and we went for a family visit to their house in New Jersey. First thing we noticed was there wasn’t a single picture of our children. Then you know how some people have a list on their refrigerator of the emergency contacts? Everybody and their mother and their dog was on there except us. We go to sit down and I get stuck at the kids’ table on the floor. My hair was standing up on the back of my neck.
After dinner we are playing cards and Andy’s parents proceed tell all these stories about the mischievous sort of kid that he was, and I could tell in that moment they still thought of him as 16 and not a man in his 30s with two children and a career. As we were leaving to go back home, they were talking about getting together in New York City over Christmas week, like a Norman Rockwell moment. His father wanted to go ice-skating in Rockefeller Center, and I was like, Are you kidding me? I’m not spending $1,500 during the busiest week of the year to have one magical day in New York City with people who don’t care about us and are mean to my husband.
When we got home, with Andy’s permission, I wrote an email saying thank you but no thank you. And I’m like, “You should really get to know your son. He is an incredible person and we’re raising a beautiful family and religion doesn’t matter. We have the same morals and values.” Then we didn’t speak for ten years. The email got floated around. Andy’s father responded directly to Andy and accused me of being bipolar and toxic. I never spoke to or saw his father again. He passed about a year and a half ago.
It was hard. How could you not be caught between the people who raised you and the family that you created by choice? That is an impossible position to be in. If they can’t coexist, then one gets dropped. In that sense, without saying it, I was asking him to choose marriage and his children or his parents. I didn’t want to have to put down the hammer and be like, “Them or me.” But he really on his own stuck up for me when his parents started emailing back with poisonous, venomous, she’s-a-witch sort of situation. He was like, “She’s not, and you know she’s who I love and she’s the family I’ve created.” I think there’s a certain turning point in a marriage where you become a team. That definitely started us on the trajectory of feeling like it was “us against the world.” There are no secrets; nobody else comes first.
*This article appears in the April 1, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!