Divorce Is Divorce

(of Course, of Course)

By Lisa Grunwald

Divorce can be ugly (of course), as well as disillusioning, disheartening, distressing, and lots of other disses. Which hasn’t kept generations of comedians, writers and artists from giving ways to find humor in it. Here, adapted from my husband’s and my new anthology, The Marriage Book: Centuries of Advice, Inspiration, and Cautionary Tales, from Adam & Eve to Zoloft — a few reasons to smile, and maybe even to laugh.

The vocabulary lesson:

Divorce, from the old Latin word divorcarum, meaning having your genitals torn out through your wallet.

Robin Williams, riffing, on The Tonight Show in 1991

The best description ever given of the worst kind of cheater:

The man was capable of having sex with a venetian blind.

Nora Ephron, in Heartburn

The literary put-down

I swear…if you existed I’d divorce you.

Martha to George, in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

The “and-this-is-supposed-to-make-me-feel-better?” explanation

After all, you know that I have always been faithful to you, that I have never gone seeking love, that if my love for you had not died no new love would have come to me.

Eugene O’Neill, in a 1927 letter asking for divorce from his second wife, Agnes Boulton

The Sadie and Moishe joke

Sadie and Moishe go to see a lawyer.
“What can I do for you, folks?”
Moishe says, “We want a divorce.”
“Well, this is very odd. I mean, um, how old are you folks?”
“I’m 93,” Moishe says. “Wife’s 91. We’ve been married 67 years.”
“And you mean to tell me, after 67 years of marriage, at your ages, you want a divorce?? Why now?”
“We wanted to wait ‘til the kids were dead.”

The possibility of a legal loophole

Please, your honor, unmarry me or I’ll hang myself. Just look at the furrows I’ve got from the tears I shed every day that I’m married to this walking skeleton. . . . Let me cry, your honor. It’s such a comfort. In well-ordered societies a marriage should be reviewed every three years, and dissolved or renewed like a rental agreement.

In Miguel de Cervantes’ 1615 comedy The Divorce Court Judge, a wife named Mariana pleads

The flip side

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell

Walter: Yeah, I sort of wish you hadn’t done that, Hildy.
Hildy: Done what?
Walter: Divorced me. Makes a fellow lose all faith in himself. Gives him a — almost gives him a feeling he wasn’t wanted.
Hildy: Oh, now, look, Junior, that’s what divorces are for.
Walter: Nonsense. You’ve got an old-fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever — “till death do us part.” Why, a divorce doesn’t mean anything nowadays, Hildy. Just a few words mumbled over you by a judge. We’ve got something between us nothing can change…

From His Girl Friday

The ancient Swiss approach

In Zurich, in the olden time, when a quarrelsome couple applied for a divorce, the magistrate never listened to them. Before deciding upon the case, he locked them up for three days in the same room, with one bed, one table, one plate, and one tumbler. Their food was passed into them by attendants who neiter saw nor spoke to them. When they came out, at the end of the three days, neither of them wanted to be divorced.

According to Jules Michelet

The Reno route

In the vernacular of the ’30s and ’40s, to get a divorce was “Going Reno” because it only took six weeks to untie the knot there; columnist Walter Winchell called it getting “Reno-vated”; and in the 1940s “The Reno” was the name for a bra that was said to “separate and support.”

In this 1940s postcard, a determined divorcee is following a fabled custom on “The Bridge of Sighs.”

The confession of sins

How can I help you when I can’t help myself? You think you’re impossible to live with? Blanche used to say: “What time do you want dinner?” And I’d say, “I don’t know, I’m not hungry.” Then at three in the morning, I’d wake her up and say “Now!” I’ve been one of the highest paid sports writers in the East for the past 14 years — and we saved eight and a half dollars — in pennies. I’m never home, I gamble, I burn cigar holes in the furniture, drink like a fish and lie to her every chance I get and for our tenth wedding anniversary, I took her to the New York Rangers — Detroit Red Wings hockey game, where she got his with a puck. And I still can’t understand why she left me. That’s how impossible I am.

Oscar to Felix in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple

The punishment

If any woman puts aside her husband to whom she is legally married, let her be smothered in mire.

A Burgundian law from around the sixth century, offering one non-negotiable treatment for wives who chose to leave their spouses

The ultimate choice

We used to argue and fight. We finally decided, we either take a vacation in Bermuda or get a divorce, one of the two things. And we discussed it very maturely, and we decided on the divorce, ‘cause we felt that we had a limited amount of money to spend, ya know. A vacation in Bermuda is over in two weeks, but a divorce is something that you always have.

— Woody Allen, standup act, circa 1964

The last word

Marriage is so tough, Nelson Mandela got a divorce.

— Chris Rock, in Kill the Messenger, 2008

Novelist Lisa Grunwald and Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler are the editors of The Marriage Book: Centuries of Advice, Inspiration, and Cautionary Tales, from Adam and Eve to Zoloft, to be published May 12, 2015 by Simon & Schuster. They have been married — to each other — for twenty-seven years.

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