Life After Divorce Hulton Archive/Orlando
By Amy Phillips Penn

VINTAGE GOSSIP is alive and well in the elegant hands of Amy Phillips Penn, former society columnist for the New York Post.  Every Thursday, Amy pens her posts with that same touch of class, making the legends and lore of a bygone era as relevant today as they were when Jackie O was queen of New York.


Irene Forsyte née Heron: “If our marriage is not a success, then I shall be as free as if I had never married you?”
Soames Forsyte: “If we were to marry, then it would be a success.”


We’ve come a long way, baby, or have we really?

Scarlett O‘Hara would never disgrace her family with a divorce. Betty Draper’s lawyer informs her that should she leave her slyly lying, womanizing boozer of a husband, Don Draper, she will be left with nothing.

“Does he provide for you? Does he beat you?”

In The Forsyte Saga, marriage is forever…often an eternal, tortured forever.

Young Jolyon Forsyte leaves his wife for his daughter’s governess, Helene, forfeits his inheritance, and fathers two children with “the governess,” while his daughter, June, remains virtually invisible in his life.

The word “divorce” never curtsies in. Death, however, does. When Young Jolyon’s wife dies, he unsentimentally acknowledges that he is now free to marry.

Irene Forsyte asks one vow of Soames Forsyte when he proposes: “If our marriage is not a success, then I shall be as free as if I had never married you.”

He agrees, overridden by the privileged assumption that the marriage will succeed. Irene is an acquisition, and Forsyte acquisitions are prizes. Isn’t every prized object a happy one?

Irene grows to “loathe” Soames. She has a passionate affair ending in tragedy, and aches to leave him. After a saga of separate bedrooms (“The servants will talk,” worries Soames), he rapes her. His promise to set her free erodes into an ugly mockery laced in machismo and noblesse oblige dismissal. After years of stalking, having her followed, and terrorizing her, Irene confesses to an affair (that never happened) to give him fodder for a divorce with the minimum of scandal.

My parents stayed together for over 40 years. They died three weeks apart.

“Haven’t you ever heard of codependency?” my aunt asked.

It was hardly a perfect marriage, but when I found a box of invitations for their upcoming anniversary party that never would be, I wept.

Their entourage was, for the most part, a one- or two-marriage era; widowhood allowed for more. When their friends married for a second time, those marriages stuck.

Once upon a cocktail party in East Hampton, one of my parent’s friends, a second time around-er, was flirting with me. He was attractive.

“My wife gave me an ultimatum. I can look, but not touch,” he confessed in a tone that was steeped in super glue.

After my mother died, I had dinner with two close friends: the three little bears, minus Goldilocks, compared love stories.

I was divorced, my friend “B” had been married for decades (soon to be divorced), while “C” had never been married at all. A few glasses of wine later, it was time for true confessions, as we quasi-dramatically gave voice to what we all knew or assumed; too much wine rarely fines anyone for repetition:

“I never want to get divorced again,” I tossed out the first ball.

“I never want to get married again,” B slurred in.

“I wish that I had been divorced at least once,” lamented C, who insisted that she wanted to get married, but beckoned a chain of unattainable men into her life.

“It should be easy to get a divorce and difficult to marry,” mused a famous actor quoting another wise man. While this may be the case, there is still something to be said for taking the old college try to grad school for a whirl.


“My husband and I have never considered divorce…murder sometimes, but never divorce.”
― Joyce Brothers

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