At its worst, the charge reeked to me of self- righteousness, of false piety, and at times of religious intimidation. It was the rehearsed indignation of professional moralists who had discovered a market for sanctimonious rhetoric. But even at its most sincere, it simply seemed oblivious to lived experience. No one I knew who had decided to divorce undertook it lightly. It was a wrenching decision, fraught with remorse and heartache, imperiled by moments of genuine terror, and it had almost invariably been postponed for years. Who had the right, I wanted to know, to moralize about these choices, to add the weight of public censure to the private anguish they already entailed?
Most of the couples I knew who had gotten divorced, particularly those with children, seemed irreparably altered. Defeat haunted them. Their futures had been sapped of meaning. Other couples treated them gingerly, like convalescing soldiers, but also with caution, as if their misfortune might be contagious.
As the social debate intensified, and as my wife and I continued our discussions about separating, divorce had begun to ravage our neighborhood. It struck like some form of natural disaster, leveling one house while leaving the next intact. Our daughter's nursery school teacher, a vivacious woman with dark eyes and plump legs, was the first person my wife and I knew, the first of our age, to get divorced; she and her husband, she later explained to my wife, simply didn't get along. One day our daughter came home to tell us that the teacher, while leading the class in song, had burst into tears. I expected my daughter to ask us why, but children are much more comfortable with life's inexplicabilities; she said nothing.