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Beyond Marriage

An audio version of this essay is available on Substack here.

“The secret to happiness, Billy Boy? Marry well.”

- Mike Sottak

I moved to Aix-en-Provence in 2010, after splitting from Alexandra and a 20-year marriage. We had 3 kids; I brought 1. We had a nest egg and a home; we divvied them up amiably. We spent 2 decades building something infinitely more valuable than a legal union; we honored it. In short, we still loved each other, but in a different universe of needs and partnering. And we still do.

Escaping to Provence would have been impossible without Alexandra’s clearance and support. That escape was key to rediscovering myself at midlife; a period of growing tension around who I was and why I mattered. The happiness and welfare of our 3 little Magills was paramount, and we ran that priority through every move to which we agreed, married or not. It was all a bit unplanned, beautifully. Some years with their French mom in San Francisco, some years with the American dad in France, and often in different combinations. It was an unconventional upbringing that formed 3 tested, confident, and soulful young adults. Somehow, they still love us.

When I’m in San Francisco, I stay at the old home. When Alexandra is in Provence, she stays with me, along with her partner when traveling together. It saves each of us a lot of hassle and money; me in particular. SF is expensive. We spent a long weekend as a family unit last fall, just mom and dad and the 3 kids, while her partner volunteered to stay home with the ailing mother-in-law. The definition of selflessness and generosity.

I need to start thinking about a will one of these days. If I’m still uncoupled, I may put the ex in executor. It’s a reflection of the trust and confidence I have in her, that we share in each other. She’s not much impressed by lavish displays of superfluous possessions, so any assets I don’t burn through will flow to the kids anyhow. It’s one less thing I need to worry about. She’s solid. I married well.

If you win, then I lose. NFW!

Game Theory (noun): the analysis of a situation involving conflicting interests in terms of gains and losses among opposing players.

- Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I’m imagining the contractual framework of a Trumpian marriage. The Donald runs every relationship through a transactional prism, with no apparent awareness that the most rewarding transactions (financial, relational, or other) are win-win, not zero sum. This is not some pollyanna Bill Magill happiness babble (I have plenty of that if interested). This is basic business school 101 stuff, which explains much about his underwhelming record of returns (4,000 cash-burning lawsuits, 6 corporate bankruptcies, 2 equally cash-burning divorces, and 1 failed insurrection, with the incarceration of 378 “Trump Patriots”). But I digress.

Divorce need not be a blood sport, a zero-sum game. The win/lose maxim only pulls down the happiness average for both, and for the entire clan when kids are involved. It’s a calculus of mutually assured disgruntlement. Life is challenging enough. Why lose your closest ally over self-destructive bragging rights? The vows may have ended, but the alliance can remain unbroken.

Trust and intimacy are fundamental to a healthy marriage. Trust and loyalty are the elements of a happy post-marriage alliance. For the ring-buying young and hopeful, the key question is not only, will this person be a loving, supportive spouse throughout our blissful years together? It is also, will this person be a loving, trusted ally (and possible co-parent) throughout the rest of our lives, spent together or not.

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