Appreciation. Praise. Approval. Validation. That’s what Jane Pollak sought from her 30-plus years of marriage.
Trouble was she was married to the wrong person to provide it.
In Pollak’s masterfully written memoir, Too Much of Not Enough (She Writes Press), the intrigue begins in the first paragraph in a therapist’s office as Ben, her husband of 37 years, reads from a typewritten note that another woman has become “very important” to him.
She deftly writes, “In that moment, 37 years of a once-sacred union evaporated from the center of my well-ordered universe and drifted into particles that floated willy-nilly throughout a marriage counselor’s office… There we sat. A truth that changed everything in an instant had been revealed. It was all different now. This man I thought I knew was a foreigner. The woman I thought I was had no land.”
As sudden as that passage might imply, Pollak’s vivid description actually puts the exclamation mark on a much longer, drawn-out search to come to terms with a marriage gone south. Throughout her discourse, she struggles to savor even a morsel of acknowledgment from Ben that her life has meaning and that she has value.
Her relationship with Ben, she writes, did not provide “that safe haven where feelings could be discussed and sorted out.” Despite this, she says it was always important to her that she appeared and sounded fine. She then explains her definition of “fine:” “Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional.”
Jane Pollak is an eloquent writer. Her descriptions of times, events and feelings are superb. She uses her skills in an intelligent, thorough, self-examination of her life and of a disintegrating marriage. She explores every nook within her inner self for clues on how it happened, with the eventual (but long surmised) realization that Ben is not the person to give her what she needs to feel whole.
“I wanted to dazzle Ben, something I came to understand was not possible in our relationship, though not until our marriage ended.”
Almost from the time Pollak starts documenting their life together, one senses a fast unraveling. Yet as she finds out, it’s hard to say no. In fact, she withholds that sentiment for more than three decades, all the while raising three children and building a business.
Some of Pollak’s descriptions are priceless. She paints this image of growing up in the 1950s: “…when long sedans and wood-paneled station wagons crawled slowly down neighborhood streets as children lined both sides, creating a wake as the driver interrupted an in-progress game of Spud or running bases….We lined up for Good Humor treats and melted into the dailiness of suburban America.”
Or when she first starts dating, recalling one suitor: “I noted startling differences in our upbringing. His Midwest house had Venetian blinds on the windows, instead of draperies, and area rugs on the wood floors, rather than wall-to-wall carpeting. My vision was so narrow that something as foreign as alternate window treatments could change my opinion of someone I loved.”
The book chronicles Pollak’s efforts at self-help, tracing the various groups and people she sought out for support as Ben was emotionally unavailable. It also documents the process of divorce, moving into her own apartment, and slowly entering the 60-year-old singles scene in pursuit of another mate.
Pollak’s writing is everything from heartfelt to humorous, but always authentic. The reader begs for a happy ending.
There are many lessons in the author’s story, perhaps none so profound as realizing it’s not practical to expect to make anyone else change and conform to what you need in life. The only one you can really change is yourself.
Consider the book’s dedication: “To my future self.”
Too Much of Not Enough is available for purchase.
About Jane Pollak
Jane Pollak was born in the heart of the Midwest, but she inherited the city gene from her New York City-native parents. When Pollak’s marriage ended in 2011, she moved back to Manhattan, where she currently resides contentedly single. She has three grown children and three grandchildren.