Emerging From the Child-Wife

Between Marriage and Divorce: A Woman's Diary by Susan Braudy William Morrow and Co.: 252 pp.; $7.95

OUR FAILURES ONLY MARRY" was reputedly the favorite assertion of the founder of Bryn Mawr College, but Susan Braudy remembers the now-cliched warning differently, as "Only our failures marry." The distortion was handed down to Bryn Mawr women by their predecessors and it reveals the underlying ambivalence pressuring women at elite colleges in the 60s. In Braudy's case the indecision focused on whether to be the writer or the writer's wife.

Between Marriage and Divorce: A Woman's Diary describes the evolution of the writer from the writer's wife, or more importantly, the emergence of the lonely, self-reliant adult from the "child-wife." This psychological portrait is an integral part of Braudy's experience--coping with divorce for her is at heart learning to live without depending on men. And in this sense, the diary is not simply a guide for women contemplating divorce; most women who have been involved with men have shared some of Braudy's emotions.

Human beings tend to assume their emotions are unique, that their pleasure and pain, their desires and fears are their own, separating them from all other people. Braudy tells her story to expose how common its theme is. "In the ordinariness of my private feelings, I hope other women can see their own. We are unsurprisingly not alone."

Her story is the story of a woman journalist imbued with parental ideals of the "perfect marriage" with a Prince Charming, of a woman who grows to realize that such false expectations breed only hurt and anger. Suffering the conflict between living her own life and playing the role her mother has outlined for her, Braudy feels simultaneously selfish and guilty, angry and deceptive. Explaining her discordant emotions, she writes "We are becoming more equal, and as an emerging equal, I displease him. Feeling his resentment, I'm angry, yet I worry that I am hogging the spotlight in an unwifely manner. I feel selfish."

The myth turns on itself; as Braudy's Prince begins to metamorphose into a frog, she reaches out to other men for confidence and adventure, and to assert her independence. Becoming involved first with a long-haired, melancholic Cajun singer and later with a slick, prurient East Side music critic, she self-deceptively convinces herself that "momentary pleasure won't cause you or your husband later pain."

The marriage of the Jewish couple from Philadelphia reaches its pathetic nadir as Braudy realizes that her husband, too, is having an affair. And so arises "the great unanswerable question. How come only Susan can have a new romance in her life?" Braudy asks why a woman can so easily drift to another man, yet find it so hard to accept her partner's similar involvement. This question is followed by another, equally perturbing one, "Why do women define themselves as failures without a man?" Although Braudy poses many questions, for the most part she leaves them unanswered. Because she has written the diary not to interpret or rationalize her emotions, but simply to share them, its value does not suffer from the absence of satisfying explanations.

The diary is primarily a description of Braudy's two initial obsessions: marriage and sex. The predominant role of her husband in her life is obvious; from marriage to divorce--six years--her job and all else are second in importance to her marital (and extra-marital) affairs. The progress of her growing self-awareness is easily traceable in her subject matter, as she leaves behind her sexual absorbtion.

After the divorce, the rejected woman sinks into her lascivious routine, where she says, "My body feels like it is only my sex organs. And I become the feeling and sound and rhythm of sex everywhere." But sleeping with countless men--from one of her husband's oldest friends to a baby-faced Robert Redford look-alike just out of Yale--rehabilitates her, perhaps by restoring her self-confidence and simultaneously forcing her to hate the self that wins assurance as a sex object. Suddenly she begins to find rules within herself. The increasingly determined woman writes more extensively of personalities, friendships with women, and finally and most victoriously, of her own work.

Braudy's honesty ensnares the reader's confidence, and her unadorned description of her sexual affairs and emotional contortions accomplishes her goal--the reader trusts her. In her role as journalist, Braudy feels she can enter someone's life only through trust. And in successfully winning the reader's confidence, she makes her argument that nobody is alone in this world seem convincing.

AS A MANUAL for the divorcing woman, the diary does provide emotional companionship but fails to tackle the pragmatic problems of divorce. Braudy had a network of friends to drag her out of her depression, she had a talent that merely needed development (she is now editor and writer for Ms. Magazine), and she had no children to hamper her individual development.

But for the autonomous woman, or the woman who yearns to be independent Between Marriage and Divorce may serve as an assurance that she is not alone in her struggle to set her own priorities and follow them. The institution of marriage has failed Braudy, as it may fail others. A glimpse into her life provides an alternative for those who feel they cannot fit into the often stiff framework of marriage, and hope for those striving primarily to be accepted in a man's world.

A few months after her divorce, Braudy wrote, "I have a growing knowledge that the loss of any lover, friend, job, money won't tear me apart. If I do fall apart only a small percentage of me will disintegrate, and then I know I will put myself together. I feel tougher."

In sharing her own life, she has undoubtedly toughened other women, and helped even more of them to feel less alone.