Mrs Maisel and marriage breakdowns

Marvellous Mrs Maisel screenshot

I’ve been enjoying The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (MMM), the award-winning comedy set in 1950s New York. It’s an uplifting watch with great writing and highly recommended.

Lots of MMM is colourful, escapist TV. But for me there were moments that triggered poignant memories.

That’s because in the first episode, <spoiler> the main character’s marriage abruptly crumbles. It kickstarts the plot for the rest of the series, which sees both sides of the couple develop in different ways as they work out how to handle separation.

I’m about 5 years on from going through this type of situation myself and even in 2018, it ain’t easy. MMM doesn’t dwell on the difficulties (after all, it’s a comedy), but it reminded me how far I’ve come.

What advice would I give someone facing the same situation today?

It’s not a reflection on you

MMM does a great job of showing that Midge Maisel is practically perfect (yet somehow still likeable, argh how does she do it?!) She’s intelligent, fun, attractive, a good cook, supportive, and she has extremely small thighs. None of this prevents her husband from walking out. The other couples in the show who don’t encounter the same issues in their marriages aren’t better people, in fact the friend Imogene is pretty dull. The point is one of the worst consequences of marital breakdown is the guilt.

It took me many sleepless nights to come close to accepting that being half of a marriage in difficulty wasn’t a reflection on me as a person. I spent a lot of time trying to pinpoint things I could have done in a different way. I was very hard on myself at a time when I needed to be kinder. No one is perfect in reality, but I know now there wasn’t a magic attribute I could have possessed to fix it. It was one of life’s ups and downs, and completely unrelated to thigh size.

Your identity has to change and that’s good

The couple in MMM have been together since early adulthood, with a shared home and children. They have extended family and mutual friends. They have traditions and routines. Separation affects everything. But after the initial difficulty, they thrive on independence. Midge pursues stand-up comedy and becomes more confident in who she is, whilst Joel takes a different career path.

Whilst I didn’t jump on stage, I went through a similar process of re-defining my identity post breakup. Relationships can be comfort zones. Navigating the world outside of one is very uncomfortable at first, but gives you room to work out who you are and what you want now. It feels like one step forward, two steps back for some time but you emerge with a new outlook. You’re tougher and you have more experience, ready for great things to happen.

The outcome isn’t always hating each other

The couple in MMM may be separated but they still communicate and over time share in each other’s successes. There are practical and emotional changes because feelings don’t disappear overnight. Both parties reflect on what happened and move on to new relationships at different paces.

It’s not always realistic to stay friends, but it’s not impossible either. Even though I had a lot I needed to process from our split, I kept in touch with my ex-partner. We check in and wish each other well. It’s a choice to do this rather than to pretend someone who played an important role in your life no longer exists. That’s not for everyone but for us there was enough underlying friendship to consider keeping. It can be an agonising process to work through the changes, but worth trying if you share ongoing commitments.

Cultivate your friendships

In the wake of separation, Midge makes a new friend in Susie, her tough-talking manager. The two form a partnership to navigate the world of standup comedy. Susie represents the working class in MMM. She teaches Midge that her life is still pretty good and not everyone has the same advantages. It’s a fractious friendship at times, but a real one.

One of the scariest parts of a marriage breakdown is the way it impacts so many areas of life. Your friendship network will change. People go one way or the other, so the ones who stick around become a huge source of support. I also made new friends or became closer to others as I moved forward. Like Midge, the nature of my socialising changed. I’ve learned more about the value of friendship.

In summary, you can survive and thrive post break-up like Midge.

You can even become your best self.

I’ll drink to that!

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