Too Much Like Real Life

“Why do we keep watching this show? It’s so depressing…too much like real life.”

These are just some of the thoughts both my husband and I have been voicing about the popular series “Mad Men,” set in the early 1960’s. Our home does not have cable TV, so we’ve been playing Get Caught Up via Blu-ray; as you read this, we’re just a few episodes into the fourth season. Note: For anyone who hasn’t yet seen this series – but wants to – there are several spoilers ahead; continue reading at your own peril.

Betty and Don DraperThe lead character in the series – Don Draper – is a successful Madison Avenue advertising executive. He is recently divorced, following a 10-year marriage to Betty. Don occasionally visits with his three young children. After watching him live the life of a somewhat-low-key playboy for three seasons – despite being married – the fourth season kicks off with Don wrestling with the realities of divorce, among other things.

In the early 1960’s, of course, divorce was far less common in our American culture. However, despite the Draper household being the exception rather than the rule, what strikes me about the sad reality of watching divorce play in out the lives of this particular (albeit fictional) family is that the issues are really no different than they are today. It would seem that families respond to having their lives torn apart in pretty much the same way today that they did 50 years ago, absent any outside help.

A few clear examples emerge from the series.

Betty Draper was miserable in her marriage to Don for various reasons, not the least of which was that she long suspected Don’s infidelity. So what does she do? Get godly counsel from a priest? Seek out wisdom and reconciliation, if possible? No, she chooses instead to have an emotional affair of her own and subsequently divorce Don once she has someone else waiting in the wings. As is all too common today, Betty compounds the mistake of ending her marriage abruptly by remarrying far too quickly.

The ongoing tension and acrimony between Betty and Don reveals, however, that there is a still a great deal of emotional attachment between the once-married couple. These scenes are, for me, tremendously painful to watch. They are so true to real life…and they do not bode well for Betty’s new marriage. (Remember, we are still in Season 4.)

Fifty years on, it is still far too common for both men and women to remarry too soon after their divorce. Healing from the death of a connection that deep (“one flesh“) takes far more time than most people are willing to acknowledge. The tragic result, however, is that the likelihood of another divorce is even higher. The most recent statistics bear that out; roughly 67% of second marriages dissolve.

After his divorce, Don rarely sees his kids. One day at work, he gets a letter from his daughter in the mail sent “To Santa,” listing out what she and her brothers would like for Christmas. As she finishes telling her Dad what they all want, her letter goes on: “And most of all, I’d like you to be there on Christmas morning to give it to me. But I know you can’t.” In the same episode, while on the phone with a boy, Sally confides to him, “I hate [living] here. Every time I go around the corner, I keep thinking I’ll see my Dad.” A deeper, unspoken truth underlying this sad scene is that Sally would never have been drawn into a creepy/inappropriate relationship with this weird neighborhood kid had Don still been on the scene.

People often think that because there is so much tension in their marriage, it would be “better for the kids” if they divorced. In most cases, serious abuses aside, this pat answer could not be further from the truth. Divorce breaks relationships that are designed to give children stability. It also invites a lifetime of unfulfilled longing into the lives of little girls. As one of those little girls who rarely got to see her Dad while growing up in northwestern Missouri, I know full well that all too often, we will try to fill the resulting hole in our hearts left by our departing father with relationships with other young men.

Finally, as Don is going into his apartment one evening, drunk and irritable, a neighbor asks him why he hates Christmas. His truthful reply? “I don’t hate Christmas. I hate this Christmas.”

Surviving the Holidays 2014

The writers of this series nailed it yet again; that first Thanksgiving and Christmas after a separation or divorce is just simply painful. No matter how much “cheer” we try to spread or how many distractions we throw into the mix, everyone sees the unfiltered truth that things are as different from our treasured holiday traditions as they can be. Oftentimes, making matters worse, people recently divorced choose to “medicate themselves” through it all. Don Draper medicates with lots of alcohol, “meaningless” sex with coworkers and late hours spent at his job. Many people today still respond in these ways, not realizing that their “medications of choice” do nothing to heal the pain, but only push back the date by which they have to address it. Sometimes, by then, they find themselves in Betty’s shoes, remarried and yet still an emotional mess.

Perhaps by now you’re thinking this article is a real downer. Maybe now you understand why we sometimes question why we’re still watching Mad Men! In many ways, it’s just way too much like real life, and real life can be very dark.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Our God is a God of hope (Psalm 3:2-6, Psalm 147:11). He uses even dark times like divorce to enliven our hearts to our need for more (Proverbs 6:23, Hebrews 12:11). Again this year, help and hope are available for those whose marriages have fallen apart. Divorce is far more common in 2014 than it was in 1964, but the lingering pain is exactly the same. Our cultural acceptance of divorce has not abated the intensity of the loss in the individual lives of those who find themselves single-again.

In the early 1960’s, Don and Betty Draper didn’t necessarily have the resources available they might have used to find hope for their marriage, or to help recover from the realities of divorce. Fifty years later, though, we can learn more about God’s hope in the wake of separation and divorce. If you are headed into the holidays as a separated or divorced person, I hope to meet you at one of the upcoming Surviving the Holidays events. Alternatively, I’d like to encourage you to find a DivorceCare group in your area and commit to attending regularly.

Surviving the Holidays 2014

Saturday, Nov. 15, 10 a.m.
The Crossing, 3615 Southland Drive
Includes brunch.
Cost: $10. Scholarships available.
Childcare available through 5th grade.
Register online at
http://thecrossingchurch.com/events/
or e-mail divorce.redemption@gmail.com

Saturday, Dec. 6, 10 a.m.
Parkade Baptist, 2102 N. Garth
Light meal will be provided.
Cost: $10. Scholarships available.
Childcare provided for children under age 5.
Separate session for kids ages 5-12.
Register by calling (573) 443-4585 or at:
www.ParkadeBaptistChurch.org/SurvivingTheHolidays

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