Three (or Four) Questions for Carlin Flora
I was giving a reading about the history of marriage and divorce at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. My piece was about the critical social and economic role that marriage served historically, and how demographic shifts, real material advances and women’s rights have made it largely optional today, a choice, not a necessity. Meaning: as much as we love the idea of marriage, ending a bad one is a choice, too.
After the talk, a woman about my age approached, an artist, liberal minded. “I think you have to acknowledge that many people see divorce as a failure,” she said. “I do. I think it was the best choice in my situation, and for our child, but I still feel a sense of failure for not having been able to make my marriage work, or maybe for having married the wrong person.”
Failure. The other F-word. I was so wrapped up in the attempt to explain divorce in social science terms, I hadn’t give much thought to people’s sense of failure. I didn’t see divorce as failure. I grew up with it. Divorce seemed more a part of life than some aberration. But many people do feel divorce as a failure, as I’ve since learned.
Whatever you think about divorce, failure in general is so universal, you could write a book about it. Many books. Many people have. There’s a recent subset of books on failure promoting its economic upsides, including Fail Fast, Fail Often and The Upside of Down.
Carlin Flora, author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Way Friends Make Us Who We Are, recently wrote a feature article for Psychology Today magazine about failure I caught up with her to get her take.
Wendy Paris: Why did you want to write about failure after writing a book about friendship?
Carlin Flora: “It seems like the message now is that failure will lead to success and you have to fail to succeed. But they’re talking about traditional views of success. ‘You have to have five failed companies before you have one successful one. You have to have 500 auditions before you get the lead role.’ I was interested in instances where failure does not lead to traditional success. A lot of people never have that success. Failure can still bring benefits, even if it doesn’t lead to clear success.