Study Guide

This Is Where I Leave You Marriage

By Jonathan Tropper

Marriage

The self-help books and websites haven't come up with a proper title for spouses living in the purgatory that exists before the courts have officially ratified your personal tragedy (2.3)

Self-help books might not have a name for it, but we think "It's Complicated" does a pretty good job of expressing Jen and Judd's not-quite-married, but not-quite-divorced relationship. Although Judd feels betrayed by Jen, he still isn't ready to completely give up on their marriage.

We knew marriage could be difficult in the same way that we knew there were starving children in Africa. It was a tragic fact but worlds away from our reality. (3.2)

Everyone knows that marriage is difficult—for other people. Somehow we think that we'll be exempt. Spoiler alert: we're not.

Every so often we'd get into a fight over something larger, and we'd scream and vent all of our gripes, tears would fall, hurts would be validated, and the sex would get good again for a while, passionate and intense, and then the cycle would repeat. (19.28)

Talk about the very definition of "vicious cycle." Judd's fight-and-forgive pattern might have been comforting to him at one point, but eventually the cycle became a marriage-killer.

I spent a good deal more time picturing myself as a father than as a husband. I figured I'd be a husband first, and certainly, I imagined what sort of woman I might marry [...] but I didn't picture myself as any particular type of husband. Just me, married, basically. (21.1)

Oh, Judd. Rookie mistake, seriously. Even we know that marriage requires compromise, and we're planning to die as confirmed bachelors. Here, Judd's immaturity leads him to believe he can have a successful marriage without changing anything about himself.

But still, I can't help wondering if that baby might have saved us, the same way that losing it accelerated our downward spiral into the thorny underbrush of marital decay (21.2)

As Tolstoy (almost) said: all happy marriages are alike; all unhappy marriages were ruined by children in some way or another. Look at Paul and Alice, for example. The pressure to conceive weighed so heavily on Alice that she put her relationship with Paul at risk.

"Over the course of a fifty-year marriage, one bad year isn't very significant. Your marriage might still be there to be saved. But you'll never know if you keep indulging your hate and anger like the world owes you reparations." (22.11)

For all her eccentricities, Hillary really does have a good perspective on life. Everything she's saying here is true, and it implies that she and Mort had plenty of bad years to go around too. Really, Hillary's marriage is probably the one we should be imitating.

Never marry a beautiful woman. Worship them if you must, go to bed with them if you can [...] but when it comes to marriage, it's a losing proposition. (27.60)

So Judd might be a little biased here, but there's definitely some truth to what he says, only maybe not quite the way he means: beauty or not, don't marry someone thinking that they're just going to be a beautiful doll. Judd placed Jen up on a pedestal but forgot to treat her like a living, breathing, mourning human being.

"I needed you to see me as your wife and all you could see was the failed mother. And now I need you to see me as the mother of your child, and all you can see is the failed wife." (31.64)

Man, Judd just can't win. Here's a hint: maybe he should try seeing Jen as a woman, pure and simple, without projecting all his insecurities and expectations on her. How's that for an idea?

I am not real to him. This is his wedding day, and nothing is real to him. And I am in mourning, and in shock, and he is not real to me. We are ghosts, passing each other in a haunted house, and it's hard to say who pities whom more. (31.83)

When Judd runs into a wedding party after another fight with Jen, he shares a moment with the groom. It means nothing to the groom and everything to Judd, who sees the guy as a reflection of Judd on his own wedding day—naïve, overconfident, and in for a rude surprise.

"You got married right out of college. You're terrified of being alone. Anything you do now will be motivated by that fear. You have to stop worrying about finding love again. Get comfortable being alone. It will empower you." (43.41)

Judd has never had to face the world on his own, and that's an important part of growing up. Hopefully, his road trip to Maine will leave him recharged to either rekindle his marriage with Jen or start a new life altogether—or at least with some good Instagrams.

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