The frailty of modern marriage

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


Jo Piazza’s recent book How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage follows the Eat Pray Love method to the letter, and is animated by the author’s intense anxiety about “failing” at marriage. Piazza is a longtime travel writer, formerly at the helm of Yahoo’s travel vertical, which had her working 80-hour weeks and racking up air miles. The setting for this, her fifth book, reads much like the first act of a mid-oughts rom-com (which Piazza has acknowledged): A long-time New Yorker, perennially single and fiercely independent, meets a laid-back sweetheart named Nick on a work trip. She drives across the country with her best friend in a yellow car to marry Nick and live with him in San Francisco, and-–record scratch sound—now what?

What ensues is where the rom-com comparisons end; a few months after getting married, Piazza is diagnosed with the genetic mutation that causes Muscular Dystrophy, a congenital disease that has confined her father to his bed, and her mother to the role of full-time caregiver. Piazza’s devastation at this news is partly what compels her to set forth on a year of travel with Nick in tow, to find out how people around the world approach the challenge of nurturing a happy marriage.

Piazza’s anguish over her diagnosis gives rise to her urgent need to build a strong foundation for her marriage during its first year, but this is an urgency that most people can relate to, regardless of health. Her fear of fucking it all up is much more interesting than the notion that the first year of one’s marriage is somehow more significant than any subsequent year; it’s an arbitrary marker of time that makes for a catchy subtitle but a flimsy premise. It is Piazza’s anxiety about her future, her health, and the high stakes of marriage that distinguish this book. Her writing contains a strong dose of Carrie Bradshaw (right down to the use of “I couldn’t help but wonder”), reminding us that before her marriage and diagnosis, she loved her life.

But as she faces down the reality of sharing a future with someone while coping with her father’s failing health, her mother’s isolation, her jacked-up work habits, the financial burden of new homeownership and possibility of having a child, her confidence is replaced with frank and open anxiousness. “A tight panic began to squat in my stomach like a recalcitrant troll,” she writes about her spending the first night of their Yucatan honeymoon doubled over with dysentery. That feeling doesn’t seem to let up until midway down the last page of the book.

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