“I don’t know… Marriage is hard, girl…” was my response to a friend who asked what I thought about Halle Berry filing for her third divorce from her husband of two years (and father of her second child, Maceo), French actor, Olivier Martinez. Berry was previously married to both baseball player David Justice and singer Eric Benét, and had a partnership (and child) with professional model Gabriel Aubry.
My friend (who’s never been married) had lots to say about what’s wrong with Berry and why she can’t seem to “keep a man” (as if men are possessions to be “kept” anyway). To be honest, I listened only halfway; respecting her opinion, but knowing she has no idea, no experience, of what it takes to try and make a life with someone—and with someone who has a completely different lived experience than you.
Everyone is quite different, by the way, regardless of how similar they might appear to be on the outside, or how much we believe we have in common with them that can make it all work. To make a marriage work, after all, both people have to be more committed to it than anything else in the world, which is much easier said than done. Although we can thankfully put away the myth that 50% of marriages end in divorce, the divorce rate is still quite high.
As I think about Halle Berry and how her divorce and obvious pain are talking points for complete strangers, I remember how my ex-husband and I sat in the courtroom waiting to see the judge and talking about magnet programs for our daughter on the day our divorce was finalized, which was a second divorce for me. She was impressed by us, the judge was, that we could sit in her courtroom and speak amicably with one another. She believed our daughter was very lucky to have two parents who could end their marriage with kindness and the best interest of their child at heart.
She didn’t know about the custody issues that forced me to move back home from pursuing my writer dreams in another state, the ridiculous lawyer fees, or how I’d been cursing, throwing things and crying for months. My long bout with depression was not a part of the divorce petition. Divorce is a kind of death for almost everyone who experiences it, including both my ex-husband and I.
Like Halle Berry, people took my divorce lightly. My (not so close) friends would joke about my propensity to love ’em and leave ’em. My ex, before we fought back towards friendship, said some pretty wicked things about me as a wife and a mother, things that not only hurt me, but could have affected the way I’d be able to parent our child. It was an awful process, a fresh hell from day to day.
I’m at least grateful that my pain, and constant mention of what my child’s life might be like post-divorce, wasn’t gossip for People or TMZ. Berry, of course, is not so lucky, and I’m appalled that so many women, who have experienced their own kinds of deep heartbreaks I’m sure, are so quick to light Berry up with their perceptions of what she’s doing wrong to keep ending up in divorce court.
The most annoying comment about Berry and her pending divorce is this idea that she’s “crazy”—you know, that word we use to dismiss women because we don’t want to deal with their complexities, or humanness, or (more often) how we’ve mistreated them. We call women crazy because they don’t comply, they don’t take our sh*t, they don’t roll over and play dead.
Halle Berry is not crazy, although maybe she should be after surviving various incidents of domestic violence (as a child and as an adult), a cheating “sex-addict” husband, and an ex keeping her in a rabid child support battle—all while trying to dodge the paparazzi and a demand that she look flawless through it all.
Even more, comments on Berry’s need to “stop dating pretty men,” or any comments aimed at her taste in men at all, should stop. We have to stop telling women to settle and not seek the partners they want. We can have standards. Now Berry may indeed be choosing the wrong partners, but it’s not their race, looks, or (lack of) status that are likely leading to divorce. It’s quite possible she is choosing wrong because she’s not been guided on how to choose right (or at least better). We all know the words to that song, yes?
Ultimately, I believe we need to examine issues outside of Halle Berry’s “crazy” and taste in men to figure out why we seem so ready (and sometimes happy) about her relationship challenges. (I don’t look at divorce as failure.) When things go sour in relationships, we always examine what women are or aren’t doing, as if the successes of the relationships lie solely on their shoulders. And since we’re seeing countless arguments in the news about how men don’t prefer to date smart women, maybe the issue is that Halle’s exes struggle hard with her being beautiful, accomplished, and probably more successful than them.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter at @jonubian.