What makes seemingly happy relationships go sour? And once a marriage crumbles, is it possible to find love again? Dana Adam Shapiro, a single, never-married, Venice-based filmmaker, traveled the country to find out for his new book, You Can Be Right (Or You Can Be Married).
Released last month, the book is a collection of frank interviews with divorced people ranging in ages from 20s to 90s, concentrating on Shapiro's own age demographic of 30s and 40s. All interviews are done anonymously and, except for his decision to interview his former flames for the chapter introductions, no “other halfs” are questioned, making this book less a he said/she said and more what Shapiro says are “arguably about the facts of the case and not one person's experience.”
This is also a different medium than the one for which Shapiro is known. In addition to directing the Oscar-nominated documentary about paraplegic rugby, Murderball, he directed and co-wrote the 2010 Chris Messina-Rashida Jones drama Monogamy, which he says was inspired by these interviews. But he says it was necessary to go the book route this time.
“I don't think that anybody would have spoken so candidly if they're being filmed because not only are they showing their own face, they're outing their ex as well,” he says.
The interviews are divided into three sections, ones that, as Shapiro writes in the book, he “now considers to be the golden triangle of relationship advice: Accelerating the Inevitable [i.e., self-actualization], Discussing the Dirty [sex] and Engaging the Elephants [verbal communication].”
The sex part features the most interviews from men. It's also the best example of how willing these subjects were to open up to strangers, particularly when it comes to their feelings on oral sex — or lack of it.
“I guess when you break it down there aren't that many sexual acts,” Shapiro says. “There's intercourse, there's oral sex, there's a few other variations on that. It was odd to me, surprising to me, how many people brought it up when I'd ask specific questions like what was wrong with your sex life. It really became this very constant complaint.”
But what Shapiro found the most surprising was the fact that so many of his subjects had been hurt, yet still wouldn't mind another opportunity for a relationship.
“The most shocking things are … our capacity for complicity, our capacity for lying,” he says. “And also … our capacity to forgive … to see people's optimism. Very few people, no matter how bad things got, said I don't believe in love anymore, I'm taking myself out of the game. One woman said 'my dog is enough for me'. Almost everybody else was still looking for that person and not only that, believed they were going to find it.”
And, after all these interviews, what does Shapiro think of the idea of marriage?
“I think it's expanded,” he says. “I think there are a lot of different ways to live now. I think a lot of people are living alone, people are living with friends, they're living with their girlfriends or boyfriends without actually getting married. There's way more single parents. There's polyamorous relationships. I think what's acceptable for an adult to do, in terms of how they live their lives and their love life, we're right in the middle of exploding.”