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"Marriage Confidential," by Pamela Haag

Marriage Confidential, Pamela Phaag
Harper Collins

Jeff Glor talks to Pamela Haag about her new book, "Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules."

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Pamela Haag: It was a bit like "Gilligan's Island." "Marriage Confidential" started out as a "three hour tour," and ended up a three-year book project. The inspiration for the book was simple enough: late-night conversations with close friends, in which I got the distinct but vague feeling that something was amiss with marriage. A fair number of us seemed to feel ambivalent about marriage; some were dissatisfied over perceived unfairness in marriage. Yet, for the most part, we hadn't divorced. And, for the most part, we didn't share these feelings easily with friends, for fear of looking like failures, or sounding like whiners. We were semi-happily wed.

All of this intrigued me, because as an historian, I wondered why this should be so. I was curious about how marriage had changed, or is changing, for my generation. Why should women and men who had so many options and so much freedom to stay single, to divorce, or to change marriage end up with such ambivalent and even stuck feelings about the institution? Or, is that just what marriage is?

Once I set my mind on these questions, a torrent of thoughts, hypotheses, ideas, and potential avenues for investigation just exploded on to the page, and I found myself having written a book proposal before I knew it. I had no idea how much pent-up energy I had for thinking about marriage in the post-millennial age. And, judging from the response to "Marriage Confidential," readers felt the same way. They've been eager to talk about these themes, too.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

PH: "Marriage Confidential" tackles one of our deepest human curiosities: what goes on behind the closed doors of a marriage? This was a personal journey for me, as well, to explore that question.

In terms of the content of my book, what surprised me the most was how many marriages weren't as they appeared. There's so much innovation and variety, and such a range of complex feelings, even within an apparently "traditional marriage." And, as a writer, it was exhilarating to synthesize these feelings and changes, and pull them together into one narrative of a "post-romantic" turn in marriage.

In terms of the writing process, I was surprised by how challenging it was to muster the courage to admit to my own marital ambivalence, even though a fair number of husbands and wives have that feeling. It felt like an act of outing, just to admit that I had second thoughts about the estate of marriage. While we seem to be talking about private lives and relationships all the time today, there is, still, a lot of shame of failure attached to discussing marital semi-happiness, even though it's a common enough feeling.

JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

PH: I'd be dreaming of being a writer at a day job.

It's an achievement and a blessing when you can make money--at all--from writing. Actually, I've had a variety of pursuits and jobs in my life, from a Ph.D. to a speechwriter to the director of research for a nonprofit. Right now, I'm also a freelance editor. But one consistent thread in all of these jobs has been writing. Regardless of how I made money, I think I would always be a writer. Most of us don't really have a choice. Not writing isn't really an option, because it's how I make sense out of things, and it's such an intellectually and even soulfully satisfying experience, of finding just the right metaphor or just the right sentence to explain or describe something, to yourself and a reader.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

PH: I'm a literary omnivore, and an eclectic reader, although mostly of nonfiction. I read everything from scholarly monograph to memoir. Toward books I have a lot of generosity. I'm not the kind of critic who seeks to tear down a book. Instead, I read with a critical eye to figuring out how the book "works," toward identifying and appreciating the things that I can learn, appreciate stylistically, or emulate from whatever I'm reading. I try to take books on their own terms--as if they're invitations into someone's home, or mind, which they are. I almost never regret having spent time with one.

I usually have a few books open at once, as I do now. I've been curious about Chinese development so I just finished Peter Hessler's "Country Driving." To escape the heat wave, at least in my imagination, I'm also reading Ian Frazier's "Travels in Siberia." I'm also moving back into writing essays, so I've been re-reading Gore Vidal's collected works. And I'm reading Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows," because I've been vaguely worried about how the Internet is changing our habits of mind.

More eclectic are the manuscripts that I'm currently editing. In the last two months, I've edited an anthropological manuscript about Peru and the processes of social repair after political violence; a manuscript on 20th century denaturalization laws; an article on new trends in architectural education; and I'm now beginning to read a proposal to publish a set of letters between Gertrude Stein and some of her family members. So I'm all over the map--but that's the delight of being an editor, reader, and writer. You can temporarily get immersed in any world, or idea, that you want.

JG: What's next for you?

PH: I'm still getting lots of interest for interviews and other opportunities related to "Marriage Confidential." I'm gratified that the book's sparked an ongoing conversation about the state and future of marriage.

But another part of my mind's roving to the next thing. I'm writing new pieces of cultural criticism and commentary, which I think of as my niche. I have forthcoming essays on the "elite college mystique," for example, and a critique of the role of sentiment and emotion in our public culture today, and I have several other essays in the works for the Huffington Post, where I blog.

As happens with tropical storms, some of these manageable, small-ish ideas right now are likely to develop into full-blown hurricanes down the line, and I'll start thinking that one of them really does need to be a book. And then I'm sunk! Until that happens, though, it's very satisfying to be an author- vagabond again, and wander into whatever topic strikes my interest at the moment, and see what develops on the page.

For more on "Marriage Confidential," visit the Harper Collins website.