When Divorce Wasn’t an Option

Department stores continue to disappear and the crowds in the remaining ones are increasingly poorly behaved.  Just about anything you want is available online.  I find myself  rarely stepping foot in a mall. Yet, there is one category of store that I still enjoy visiting in person. Second-hand book stores get my heart racing. I have difficulty walking away empty-handed.

And what gems I have found! One of my favorite discoveries was a copy of Pink and White Tyranny. While Harriet Beecher Stowe is universally known for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she was a prolific author with other volumes to her credit. Pink and White Tyranny tells the tale of a New England man accustomed to competent, intelligent, God-fearing, principled and diligent women such as his sister. On vacation he meets and marries a different type of girl, one whose entire life training has been to catch a husband; she is a bit of mindless pink and white fluff.  The book is sad and humorous; depicting his arrival home with his new wife and his slowly growing comprehension that he has made a disastrous choice in his life partner.

The book should be heralded today as a feminist tome. Just as she railed against slavery in her best-seller, in this book Mrs. Stowe makes a passionate case for cultivating women’s minds rather than focusing only on their beauty. Yet I doubt if Pink and White Tyranny is going to enjoy a resurgence of popularity. Unlike the typical hero of today’s fiction, the protagonist doesn’t end up divorcing his unsuitable mate and starting anew. His wife doesn’t end up rebelling against her upbringing and becoming the CEO of her own company while finding true love with a more forward-looking man. Instead, the protagonist acknowledges both his stupidity and his responsibility and concludes that walking away from a commitment would only add another wrong to his life’s reckoning. His wife stays ignorant and self-centered, only realizing that she wasted her life once it is too late.

Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that divorce is one of life’s sad realities. A few lives may indeed improve after a divorce. Nonetheless, divorce is always a tragic reality that causes suffering to both people and God. There is great harm in allowing the idea of divorce to become culturally neutral or normative. The hero of Pink and White Tyranny decides that it would be unmanly and unethical to send away his wife in the hope of salvaging his own chance for happiness, In contrast, today’s novels often deal with divorce as an accepted and even lauded factor of life. In “chick lit” in particular, second marriages tend to provide sunshine and light that was absent from the first.

Our nine-year-old granddaughter is an avid writer.  She regularly producing extensive adventure stories for us to read. A few weeks back she expressed her sympathies for her mother who, in her mind, without a computer, clearly wasn’t able to write prolifically when she was a little girl. This younger generation was unable to conceive of writing by hand for hours on end and painstakingly copying the final version as her mother indeed did. 

We tend to define “normal” by what we know. I am grateful to be able to read books from a time when society as a whole treated marriage with the respect and seriousness that it deserves. And I am grateful to Harriet Beecher Stowe and numerous other authors who wrote, revised and copied when doing so took an effort that is long-forgotten.


14 thoughts on “When Divorce Wasn’t an Option”

  1. Hello, I’ve been searching for answers 1st from God and can’t hear what am I supposed to do? I’ve married a man that I’ve recently figured out he is Aspergers
    Our children are adults now but have a tremendous amount of problems in their lives and their father seems not to “care!” He is just cordial to them, if he sees them or talks to them occasionally and they are the ones to initiate the contact. My husband has nothing to do with me either, other than speak of weather or news. I have no freedom to make repairs of my home nor do I have freedom to purchase anything other than clothes and food. I believe his Aspergers is getting worse! My sadness is overwhelming!
    I went into marriage believing one marriage forever! I’ve stayed way too long it’s damaging to me and it’s heartbreaking to see my children in the mixed up minds they now have!
    I want to divorce but then I have NOTHING and I’m now on disability and have a broken down vehicle! My husband is just blind to it all! It’s unreal that he is very unaware and goes on as life is rosey!
    Will I be in much trouble with God if I divorce?
    I hardly ever hear any messages on marriages with partners who have “mind blindness” such as this. It never gets better and it’s very controlling and research shows this type of marriage results in the wives married to these men suffer the same abuse as if they’re living with a sociopath! He CAN NOT LEARN so I have nothing to work with, he just doesn’t get it even when I read the scripture to him and express the pain he inflicts! NO RESPONSE

    So what does God say? I want to know.

    1. Cynthia, I am truly sorry that you have had such a difficult path to hoe. Please find someone in your faith community who may not be able to tell you what God says, but can at least help you navigate within the structures of your beliefs. I encourage you not to think of any choice as “getting in trouble with God,” but rather look to make the best decision you can out of a number of unfortunate choices. Blessings.

  2. Speaking of divorce, would you explain what Malachi 2 is talking about, starting around verse 13 to the end of the chapter. Thank you.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      So sorry Karen–
      I don’t mean to sound indifferent or unhelpful, but you are doing the equivalent of me sending an email to Chef Raymond Blanc asking him to please tell me how to prepare Boeuf Bourguignon for my family’s dinner this evening. Or perhaps the equivalent of the late ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev asking Albert Einstein if he might explain the general theory of relativity to him. I am sure you know how much time we spend preparing to explain just 3 or 4 verses in any particular Thought Tool or on one of our ancient Jewish wisdom television shows http://www.tct.tv/watch-tct/on-demand-ajw. Karen, not only don’t I want to sound indifferent or unhelpful but I certainly don’t want you to feel patronized, but this is highly technical material and the 58 verses of Malachi would take me about 18 hours to explain on a basic but satisfactory level. To try and do it in less would be to insult my audience, and worse, it would trivialize some of the most important and complex verses in the Bible. Please understand that this response to you is not merely a long way of saying “No, I won’t!”. We have discussed divorce in our writings and more will be appearing soon but for now, suffice it to say that what is being discussed in Malachi is far more than human divorce between a husband and wife. That is part of it, but only a part of it. Complex? Very. For this reason, we almost are never able to respond to emails or comments that begin with the words, “Would you explain ______(insert Biblical book) chapter____ (insert number) from verse__(insert number) to verse____(insert number)” We’re talking about God’s message to mankind and naturally understanding it takes some investment. I know you’re willing to make the investment as are we, but not in this venue. I respect your eagerness to understand.

  3. from my experience as a young jewish child, yes indeed! divorce causes horrible suffering to people….and yes, suffering to God too, He who gave us the 5th Commandment which is the only Commandment that He gives a reward for obeying…. “modern judaism” sees both divorce and gay marriage as normative….

    1. Bob, with all due respect the two examples you give are not equivalent. Divorce is allowed under Jewish law, though as you say, it is a tragedy if it becomes normative rather than an extreme reaction to extreme circumstances.

  4. Going through a painful divorce. Turns out my husband was lying from the beginning and plotting divorce for at least half our 25 year marriage. He stayed for the kids, but when our youngest became teens, he left.

    I had taken marriage seriously. I knew there were problems but tried everything I could to deal with them and improve our marriage. I now realize nothing I did or could have done would have worked because, long before I knew, he had already decided on divorce, was preparing for it (secretly running up credit debt on cards he took out in my name, hiding money, secretly selling assets, etc.) and emotionally detaching not only from me, but also from our children.

    I wonder how things might have been different if he had ever been committed to building our marriage rather than his divorce. I wonder if that would even have been possible for him. Considering that I’ve now discovered he was lying even in the beginning, perhaps he would have had to be a completely different person to be committed to marriage. Despite my failure now, I still believe if both people are truly committed to marriage, they can work out all problems and achieve happiness. Where either is not truly committed, however, then failure is inevitable. One person cannot make a marriage alone.

    1. Jennifer, I’m so sorry for what you are going through and I do hope you emerge stronger on the other end.

    2. Kenneth Rhodes

      I am so sorry to know of your situation.
      I sincerely pray for a miracle.
      My wife separated from me, due to my poor self-image and lack of virtues and character. The spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional pain I experienced were beyond words. My wife was not totally innocent; yet, I took full responsibility for creating the separation. I thought I was going to be another divorced man.
      Regardless of whether or not my wife and I reconciled, I was determined to develop a healthy self-image, virtues, and character. By HASHEM’S grace, my wife and I have reconciled. I sincerely pray for reconciliation in your marriage.
      Men can change!

      1. Kenneth, I have heard stories of couples who seemed completely irreconcilable who managed to save their marriages. I do not know where they got the strength, faith and optimism to do what they did, but it sounds like yours is one of these stories.

  5. A good word Susan. Not to let men off the hook in the divorce issue, but it is pretty clear that the independent woman of today has found she can also be independent of her husband too if things don’t work out easily. No, not a good culture…disposable plastic “glasses” disposable buildings and disposable marriages.
    Do you have the feeling that the definition of COVENANT is missing from today’s dictionaries??

    1. I don’t know if it is still true, Rosemunda, but a few years ago more divorces were being initiated by wives than by men, I believe. That wouldn’t have been the case when Mrs. Stowe was writing.

    1. I didn’t know that although I do know there is a visiting rabbi in one of her books.

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