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But You Seemed So Happy by Kimberly Harrington
Essays

But You Seemed So Happy

by Kimberly Harrington

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Quick take

In these witty essays, divorce is an onion—it's got lots of layers and is bound to make you cry (with laughter).

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Quirky

    Quirky

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LOL

    LOL

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MarriageIssues

    Marriage issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Writerlife

    Writer's life

Synopsis

Six weeks after she and her husband announced their divorce, Kimberly Harrington began writing a book she thought would be about divorce, heavy on the dark humor. After all, she and her future ex had chosen to still live together in the same house with their kids as they slowly transitioned from being a married couple to single people (someday) living separately.

Over the course of two years of what was supposed to be a temporary period of transition, Harrington sifted through her past—how she formed her ideas about relationships, sex, marriage, divorce—and dug back into the history of her marriage—how they met, what it felt like to be in love, how she and her husband had changed over time, the impact having children had on their relationship, and what they still owed one another.

But You Seemed So Happy is a time capsule of sorts. It’s about getting older and repeatedly dying on the hill of being wiser, only to discover you were never actually all that dumb to begin with. It’s an honest, intimate biography of a marriage, from its heady, idealistic, and easy beginnings to its slowly coming apart to its evolution into something completely unexpected. As she probes what it means when everyone assumes you’re happy as long as you’re still married, Harrington skewers engagement photos, small-town busybodies, Gen X idiosyncrasies, and the casual way we make life-altering decisions when we’re young. Ultimately, this moving and funny memoir in essays is a vulnerable and irreverent act of forgiveness—of ourselves, our partners, and the relationships that have run their course but will always hold permanent meaning in our lives.

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But You Seemed So Happy

Preface: My Little Homewrecker

When you tell people you’re writing a book it’s not unusual for them to ask what that book is about. I’ve found that their reactions to my answer provide a peek into what I can expect out in the larger world. Because people can’t control what their faces do, no matter how hard they try. They think they’re modulating their tone of voice, but they are surprisingly . . . not. And depending on the topic, the reactions are so automatic and visceral that they’re just suddenly there, subconscious verbal burps.

When I was writing my first book focused on motherhood, I would say as much: “I’m writing a book of essays and humor pieces focused on motherhood.” Boom. Straightforward. The reactions told me everything I needed to know. Most women who were mothers drew closer and asked questions. Most men, regardless of their parenting status, usually responded with a very uninterested-sounding “Oh!” or nodded in a way that said, “I will never read your dumb boring girl book.”

Those reactions neatly summed up what was at play in the world, that women writing about women’s experiences would only be interesting to women. And motherhood specifically? Forget it. Only in America could something experienced by eighty-five million people be considered niche.

But those reactions couldn’t have prepared me for the reactions to this book. Because when you’re writing about motherhood, it is safe to assume motherhood is an experience some women want to have on purpose. And it’s an experience, at least on a superficial Hallmark-card level, that our culture approves of. Or to put it another way, a book about motherhood is harmless. It’s a book that will affect the world not at all. But when you tell people, as I haltingly did, that this book would be about “Marriage . . .” then mumble “. . . and divorce, uh, my divorce”?

Well.

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Why I love it

Of all the world’s touchy subjects, divorce is one of the touchiest. When a couple decides to split up—especially if there are children involved—the entire community gets spooked. Friends and neighbors speculate—what went wrong? Who’s to blame? And most importantly: how do I keep it from happening to me? Divorce stories often read like post-mortems, forensic re-litigation meant to expose and explain the failure of a marriage, and more often than not, exonerate the author.

This is not that kind of book. While certainly forensic in its detail, Kimberly Harrington’s But You Seemed So Happy is so much more than a trial-by-essay. Absolutely unstinting in its honesty, Harrington’s work serves more as a meditation on the nature of marriage itself and what it means to be tethered to another person. Her ruthless excavation of her own interior landscape yields a portrait of semi-feral humanity that made me gasp in recognition—in the process of exposing her own emotional life, she shines a light on the reader’s as well.

But You Seemed So Happy is thrilling, daring, and a complete departure from the expected. With humor, heart, and dedication to telling the truth the best she can, Harrington throws a lifeline not just to anyone going through a divorce, but to all of us here dealing with our own messy humanity.

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Member ratings (1,218)

  • Alexys O.

    Elkins Park, PA

    I appreciate Kimberley’s honesty and well timed humor. I had husband read “DIY Marriage Therapy”, and he was shocked by the countless similarities and we’ve only been married for 2.5 years. Loved it!

  • Marie H.

    Dallas, TX

    Funny. Poignant. Well written. Made me want to take a closer look at marriage and if that’s even something that I want (I’m currently engaged) and has sparked wonderful conversations with my partner.

  • Olga G.

    Saint Marys, GA

    This book was unexpectedly funny but also very vulnerable and insightful on the author’s part. Not just for relationships in trouble but helped me self examine what I can do to be a better me overall

  • Kathleen S.

    Napoleon, OH

    Didn't expect to be so impressed, but curious about what she had to say. Every essay special, and relevant to all of us living in relationship to other human beings, married or not. Laughed and cried.

  • Casey E.

    Latrobe, PA

    i actually took a highlighter to this book because there was so much i took from it. Going through something similar i really enjoyed her POV, even though we differ a lot i found myself very inspired.

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