On Day 3 of my daughter Jane’s tropical island vacation with another family, the parents announced their separation on Facebook. Jane took it in stride. She had seen worse. When she was a little girl, she would burst into tears at the slightest hint of angry voices, so terrorized was she by the scream-fest that was her own parents’ marriage in decline.  But I guess she got over it, because now she just cocks an eyebrow and sends judgmental text messages.

In fact, as the successful survivor of a broken home, Jane has become a reassuring presence, even a guru, for her friends with parents on the rocks. I just thank God mine split up years ago, she says, whether the father in question has relocated to the basement, failed to return from Belize, or has been “at work” for three weeks and counting. She offers in contrast her own post-divorce lifestyle — lovely weekends in the country with Dad, school days and summer plans managed by Mom, benevolent older siblings from the de-blended family residing near and far.

Her home was a lot more broken when we were together than since we split up.

While Jane’s ebullience about divorce has led me to believe that couples need not — perhaps should not — stay together for the kids, this does not mean there are no reasons to stay together. The most obvious is represented by those who make it through serious challenges and remain lovers, partners, and boon companions. Unfortunately, this involves a long series of mostly good decisions of which many of us seem to be incapable.

Still, most if not all of my male friends are other women’s husbands, and since I end up on the wife’s side of the bleachers if they split up, I hate to see ’em go. Most of them, anyway. As it is, they are nearly an endangered species.


Several of my friends have managed to marry into the top echelon of Nicest Guys In The World, and the generosity and kindness of these fine fellows has overflowed onto me. They say things like, “Put that credit card away.” “We’ll pick you up in twenty minutes.” “Man, this is delicious.” Sometimes even, “You girls sit down, I’ll do the dishes.” Unbelievable.

Often the Sweetie Pie is very good-looking and has one thing he does perfectly. A pizza crust. A barbecued brisket. A pan of Indian butter chicken. He can shuck oysters, explain the stock market, drive perfectly after a couple of drinks. In any case he rarely seems to get drunk, whereas his wife and I are lightweights, or lushes, or both. He keeps everyone up to date on the latest hell in Washington, reading aloud from the screen of his laptop.

Various husbands of my friends have helped me with all of the following: my divorce, my book trailer, my fortieth birthday party, my lawsuit against the crazy people who bought my house in Texas, the outrageous bill from that greedy psychiatrist who said I was a drug addict with ADD.

The Sweetie Pie is perfectly happy to watch football with whatever husband or man-du-jour I might be sporting. When things go south, he is sad, but does not really want to hear about it.  As I imagine a brother might, he doesn’t like to think of anyone hurting me. If I sound a little funny when I call his wife, he might say, “Let me get her for you — wait. Are you all right?”

Some sub-species of the Sweetie Pie include:


So crazy about his wife you just can’t help remarking on it, it’s how you bond with him, because you both love her so much, the three of you joined in a sturdy triangle of affection. She wears her good luck as lightly as a cardigan thrown over her shoulders. For him, it is something to tend, like a crop, or a flock of sheep. It is serious.


These guys are so good with kids, it’s like they’re part soccer coach, part birthday party entertainer, part short order cook and bus driver. When I was widowed in my thirties with two little boys, I was fortunate to know several Super Dads. Jane’s father was one, really, and so is the dad from the island breakup, which is probably part of why those two are already back together.


He is really nice, but he is always in the other room, watching golf.  Which reminds me, actually, that not every person’s husband is my best friend.  In fact, some are jerks! Cheaters, liars, fatsos on their riding lawnmowers. I have been outright hated by a couple of these guys, possibly because I got along with their wives better than they did. Yeah, just look at the two of us with our bottle of Malbec, planning our divorces in his kitchen. Poisoning his meatloaf, probably.


I have heard of husbands who flirt with their wife’s friends, make comments about their boobs, kiss inappropriately, and such, though this has never happened to me. I did notice that my friend Judy’s first husband was sort of hot — at a Lloyd Cole concert back in the 90s, probably after taking X or something — but it was not the kind of thing that causes a problem. Anyway he left her in a rather unpleasant way and now she is married to a Sweetie Pie and he dates younger women.

Which takes us back to where we began, with the wisdom of the eighth-grade guru. Divorce is never fun, but it is often for best.

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik is the author of "The Big Book of the Dead,” “First Comes Love,” and several other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her...

9 replies on “Husbands: A Field Guide”

  1. Yeah, divorce is great. It almost kills you, but it is great. Marriage is great too, so I like to keep my marriages long and divorces short. Each subsequent marriage lets another part of your free, a part that was squashed by the previous marriage. But, don’t get divorced unless the marriage you are in is killing you. You won’t do your kids any good if you’re dead.

  2. I have been married 21 years. Mostly for better but I really wonder if any of my kids will get married (one did and beat a hasty retreat).

  3. I have been married and in love for 33 years-yes we are still crazy about each other! We have been through just about each and every life crisis and raised two fantastic children who did the usual not so fantastic stuff and have had some real heartbreaks in our life together – the worst being that my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness resulting in many hospitals, 7 months away from home for a life saving but almost fatal bone marrow transplant and the resulting life changing consequences.
    The real truth is that the brush with death and the miracle cure did not make me a nicer or more appreciative person as i am probably a crazy person with many issues who clings to my faults and lives by my emotions! Although I think my husband is really terrific he is likely not without flaws of his own. I have friends who were better wives than me, more fun, smarter, calmer, nicer, thinner and better housekeepers whose marriages ended while mine (with the children we made) has been the absolute most amazing best thing in my life. The real secret is just absolute luck! crazy love and crazy luck. I love all your work and reading your words has often been like therapy for me. keep sharing your gift.

  4. After one Wandering Eye, and one Invisible Man, I am so thankful for my Sweetie Pie! The third one’s the charm 😉

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