But at what precise point does the breakdown of a marriage become irretrievable? The moment we declare it so, and no sooner. And the marriage doesn't just break down. We disconnect the life support. While it requires will to make a marriage work, it also requires a horrifying act of will to bring one to an end.
My wife put out her cigarette and looked at me. There was nothing insistent or demanding in her eyes, the pale gray-green eyes of her Russian grandparents. She was, I realized, making an appeal to me. We had to help each other bring it to an end. I felt, at that moment, an exalting pure sense of complicity and understanding. To summon the strength to proceed we would need to reassure each other, to depend on and trust each other. We would have to work together to dissolve the marriage in a way we had never been able to do to sustain it. I saw all this with a piercing clarity, and then I thought, But if we are capable of such a delicate and complicated collaboration, maybe we should stay together after all.
My wife and I were falling through the darkness. We had been for years. Our impending separation rushed toward us, but spinning in the black air, unable to see, we had no idea when the moment of impact would actually arrive.
During that time the national debate over divorce had grown louder and, I felt, increasingly fatuous. Getting divorced had come to be regarded as an act of cowardice, a failure of character, an abdication of responsibility. Even liberals, who in the seventies had been proponents of divorce reform, began to consider it a display of intellectual independence to attack the ''divorce epidemic,'' as it was invariably called. They connected the existence of the epidemic to the supposedly pernicious spread of ''moral relativism.'' Instead of faithfully adhering to codes -- of duty, honor, family -- they complained, people nowadays continually improvised their ethics to justify the indulgence of their desires.