The X Factor or Why I Wrote SLEEPWALKING IN DAYLIGHT
I had it easy. Here’s how I came to write my new novel, SLEEPWALKING IN DAYLIGHT. All I had to do was surreptitiously take notes when my drunken friends shared their sometimes unbelievable tales of marital woe (and bliss). Here’s how it went down: one particular weekend, four of my dearest and oldest friends and I had a reunion – they had unwittingly fallen for my master plan. I plied them with wine. Served lots of salty food. More wine and presto! The stories bounced back and forth like the US Open and there I was in the center of it scribbling away and guiding the conversation like Dr. Evil.
Though the circumstances were exactly as stated (see above), I confess to taking some liberties with the story. I am a fiction writer after all. Yeah, no, my friends knew I was thinking about writing a story about this epidemic of stagnant marriages. They very graciously agreed to let it all hang out on the condition that none of them would be named or easily identified. No problem. And so the idea for my novel was born.
Little to no sex life: check. A marriage that is functional but passionless and, in many cases, sexless: check. Wondering is this is all there is to life: yes. Raising a teen you barely recognize? Yup. That too.
Welcome to a modern American marriage.
Let’s start with sex. It feels to me like sexless marriages are all women are talking about these days. One friend told me it had been a year since she and her husband had been intimate. Another said her marriage had turned into a functional relationship bereft of intimacy she’d been craving but finally gave up on. “I’m exhausted by the end of the day and he falls asleep in front of the TV every night – what can I do?”
One of my friends has not had sex with her husband since their four-year-old was conceived. Conceived. “Life got away from us,” she told me not so long ago.
Another friend (I swear these are real people) has sex with her husband three times a year. “If I could winnow it down to two, I would,” she said. “I mean, do we really have to ring in the new year with sex?” she half-joked. We were talking about how easily a lonely housewife questioning her marriage, her purpose in the world, and her parenting skills could tryst with an equally disenfranchised married man and get away with it. Not only would it be easy, it would be understandable, we agreed. And there it was: the plot revealed itself.
The book took shape without my realizing it. I have a five subject spiral notebook filled with snippets of thoughts, fragments of sentences, quotes, full paragraphs of prose that did and didn’t make the final cut.
One of the many things that surprised me while working on the book is the fact that one or both spouses – the ones married more than, let’s say, ten years – are just fine with the evaporation of sex from their lives. In many cases, one spouse wants it more than the other. But there are other couples numbly soldiering on without significant intimacy in their relationships and without a thought about it.
“That’s life,” my friend the veterinarian said. “That’s what marriage is, right? No one ever said it was a party.”
The disconnection, the lack of emotional availability, communication problems and the worry that comes with the realization that kids are grown and nothing is left to fill the vacuum – these are the calling cards of our post-boomer generation.
And that, my friend, is why I wrote the book. Because that yawn of emptiness is scary and lonely and I wanted to mark it. To “own” it, even though much of this book is not based on my own personal experiences. I wanted to take a snapshot of The State of Our Unions in 2009.
And what of the kids? Teenage years are of course notoriously tortured for both the teen and the parent. What would happen if a mother and daughter were each caught up in their own quests for self-knowledge at the same time?
I can’t tell you how many parents I spoke to about their teenagers and most proudly told me they knew everything that was going on in their child’s life. They were happy their kid came to them and still opened up from time to time. “I’m just relieved we have healthy dialogues” I heard from one stay-at-home mom friend of mine.
“She tells me everything. You wouldn’t believe the stuff she tells me her friends are all caught up in. I’m so lucky she’s a good girl,” another friend exclaimed.
And then I spent an off-the-record afternoon with the teenager I knew as a sweet child. The “good girl” who “tells her mother everything.” And you wouldn’t believe the stuff she is indeed caught up in. Let’s put it this way: if her mother knew half of what was going on “she’d freak,” according to my teenaged source.
The unavoidable questioning of what it means to be a middle-aged parent struggling to find purpose, grappling with a stagnant home life, while facing the empty nest they thought would be a relief – all of these are commonalities and that helped me in the writing of this book. I have no illusions that marriage is easy. On the contrary, it is the toughest thing you can ever do. I know. I’ve done it twice.
Learn more at Elizabeth Flock's website: http://www.elizabethflock.com.