Excerpt from No Cheating, No Dying by Elizabeth Weil, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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No Cheating, No Dying

I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried To Make It Better

by Elizabeth Weil

No Cheating, No Dying
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  • Published:
    Feb 2012, 192 pages

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One popular, if superstitious, belief is that you can learn a lot from people's origin stories. Mine with Dan is built on the idea of destiny. Dan's version rests on destiny, too, though he skips my move from Chicago and our meeting at Mars and starts instead the following Friday, on our first date, when, over Knob Creek whiskey, he told me about his soon-to-be-published novel and how, in it, the protagonist takes advice on how to pick up girls from an article called "How to Get the Love You Deserve," published in Rolling Stone.

I set down my drink, unnerved. "You're kidding, right?"

"No, why?"

"I wrote that article."

Dan stared, thrilled, his self-deprecating guard dropped.

A month later, Dan read from his novel at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books. The house was packed with his surf buddies, his warm and gracious family, and the former Berkeley High School water polo team. Dan held the room rapt—breaking away from the funny stories he'd written to tell funny tangents not in the book. He looked fantastic, in his faded Levi's and plaid shirt, and he was very charming. So much so that as I left, a man I knew from college yanked my elbow and said, "Oh my god, he'll date you?"

I pretended, in the moment, to be offended. But to be honest I felt the same way: stunned that Dan would throw his lot in with me, amazed that he was mine. Eleven years later, I still felt this: proud, nearly giddy, to be his wife. Of course as I lay in bed, digesting the pig's tail, that giddiness was buried beneath the mess in the kitchen, the ever-toppling stacks of weight-training books, the small domestic disturbances that often appear huge, the way a thumbnail held up to the night sky might cover the moon. But I loved Dan. I loved him more than I did at the start. Plus now we had two kids, two jobs, a house, a tenant, a sprawling local extended family—what Nikos Kazantzakis describes in Zorba the Greek as "the full catastrophe." And I was going to be passive about how our union worked out?

Our children, Hannah and Audrey, bless their klutzy selves, were no longer desperately needy. Our careers had stabilized. We'd survived gutting our own house. Viewed darkly, one could say I feared stasis. (For the first time in our lives together, neither Dan nor I was trying to finish a book, or pregnant, or nursing, or reeling from a lost pregnancy, or living in a construction zone.) More positively, I had energy for Dan once again. Whatever the case—undoubtedly some of both—I borrowed Dan's furious skill-acquisition method. I decided to apply myself to my marriage by any and all means. I also took notes, all of which turned into what you're reading here. I quickly learned that my idea was sound, if a bit unusual. The average couple is unhappily married six years before presenting at therapy, at which point, according to The Science of Clinical Psychology, the marital therapist's job is often "less like the emergency room physician who is called upon to set a fracture that happened a few hours ago and more like a general practitioner who is asked to treat a patient who broke his or her leg several months ago and then continued to hobble around on it; we have to attend not only to the broken bone but to the swelling and the bruising, the sore hip and foot, and the infection that ensued."

I didn't want to become one of those people. I had a strong tendency just to keep marching forward in life and I didn't want that to lead me to become like Sandra Tsing Loh, a woman I identified with and admired. She described in the Atlantic Monthly leaving her husband of twenty years, how she sat in some therapist's office, realizing that she lacked "the strength"—more rightly, the will?—"to ‘work on' falling in love again" with her marriage. Because just as I believed that marriages formed slowly over time, I also believed they broke that way. People drifted. Dan and I had drifted. Needs diverged. Thus far Dan and I had managed always to return to each other. But what if someday the husband, the wife, the proverbial falcon started flying off a little farther than usual? At some point the center—the marriage—cannot hold. There's only one direction to go: out. No coming back.

Excerpted from No Cheating, No Dying by Elizabeth Weil. Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Weil. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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