State of the Union

A new Salon series examines marriage from all angles -- who does it and why and what happens before, during and after the promises.

Published October 14, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

Marriage comes up for discussion almost every week around here when we read the questions sent to Cary Tennis' "Since You Asked" column. Many of the letters start with a rave review of a spouse -- how loving and sweet and intelligent and brave they are -- and how great and frequent the sex used to be. Then there is a paragraph break and the next sentence starts with "But ..." and the problems pour out in delicate -- or not so delicate -- detail.

Usually sex is the problem. There's not enough of it, or it's the wrong kind, or the kids or pets get in the way. But there's always a subtext, something else going on between the lines -- as well as between the sheets.

But then there are the letters that celebrate marriage, that reveal its unexpected treasures: the gifts of friendship, of laughter, of erotic constancy, of just plain silliness, the whole rumpled mess of ordinary joy and hard-won peace and hot sex and good talking that most couples enjoy at least some of the time.

It's this infinite variety -- the rituals, the intricacies, the stubbed toes and soaring heights of partnership -- that we will explore in a new twice-weekly series about the unique union we call marriage. Why, even though half of marriages end in divorce, do people keep lining up at the registry? Why are so many reality TV shows geared toward finding "the one"? Why is Dr. Phil so popular? Why are we as a species so obsessed with couples, from Adam and Eve to Dante and Beatrice to Ben and J.Lo?

Our stories cover the full I-do spectrum, from the tale of a woman who annulled her marriage after her husband's wild bachelor party to what a prostitute learned about marriage through her job, from an investigation of America's mania for lavish, bankruptcy-inducing weddings to a report on the travails of a gay married couple in a small town. We look at sexless marriages, bride shows, people's strange obsession with the Times' wedding section, the ubiquitous "wedding boyfriend" (or girlfriend) and much, much more.

We begin our twice-weekly series with two pieces, one from 30,000 feet above the marital fray, one from its front lines. In thin air, Gary Kamiya explores the literary history of mates, from the heartbreak of the semi-divine King Gilgamesh at the beginning of recorded literature to the lacerating eroticism of Milan Kundera (with a special shout-out to the world's most depressing marriage counselor, Lord Byron). And down on the ground, Benjamin Cheever movingly explores the unlikely path that led him to marital happiness -- a happiness he sums up with the words "love is a confusion of identities." Cheever's father, John, was famous not only for his exquisite stories about relationships but also for the intricacies of his own life and loves. Benjamin carries on the family tradition beautifully.

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We want to make you a part of this series. Salon wants to know: What is the state of your union? Did you find the one and never look back, or has finding lasting love been a marathon of trial and error? Did you have a fairy-tale wedding only to watch things crumble once the reception was over, or have you glided along in marital bliss since Day One? We want to hear your stories of joy, romance, heartbreak and pain. After all, partnership, as we all know, is a complex concoction of all of those things. (Please remember: All submitted writing becomes the property of Salon IF IT IS PUBLISHED. We reserve the right to edit submissions, and cannot reply to every writer. Interested contributors should send their stories to

By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

MORE FROM Lori Leibovich

By Karen Croft

Karen Croft is the editor of Salon Sex.

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