Michaele Weissman, THE RYE BREAD MARRIAGE: How I Found Happiness with a Partner I'll Never Understand

Michaele Weissman, THE RYE BREAD MARRIAGE: How I Found Happiness with a Partner I'll Never Understand

Michaele Weissman joins Zibby to discuss her intriguing memoir, The Rye Bread Marriage: How I Found Happiness With A Partner I’ll Never Understand. With wit and candor, Michaele navigates the waters of a marriage filled with cultural, personal, and professional differences. She delves into the significance of rye bread in Eastern Europe, her husband’s unique story as an exile, and the complexities of their contrasting worlds.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Michaele. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Rye Bread Marriage: How I Found Happiness with a Partner I’ll Never Understand.

Michaele Weissman: I am thrilled to be, Zibby. Thank you.

Zibby: It’s so funny because if you had a comma in the subtitle, it would almost be, How I Found Happiness with a Partner, I’ll Never Understand. Don’t choke.

Michaele: I didn’t love the subtitle. Then my editor at Algonquin went like this, “Michaele, it’s not How I Found a Partner…blah, blah, blah. It’s How I Found Happiness with a Partner I’ll Never Understand.” Oh, okay.

Zibby: I get it. It’s perfect. I think the whole cover is great. I couldn’t wait to read it. It was wonderful. You are so funny. I love your sense of humor so much. I just ate it all up.

Michaele: Symphonies just are stringing in the background when you say stuff like that.

Zibby: It’s true. By the way, after I read the book, I went online and I ordered — I know you don’t own the company anymore, but I went and ordered the bread sampler from —

Michaele: — Black Rooster Food. He just has a partner because he needed a young partner who was techie-wise.

Zibby: I’m very excited to try the bread. I also grew up with rye bread, by the way, like most — I’m Ashkenazi. Anyway, tell listeners what your book is about, please.

Michaele: My book’s about three things. It’s about the meaning of rye bread in Eastern Europe because that’s a passionate subject for my husband. It’s about my husband’s remarkable story as an exile. It’s about marriage and difference in marriage. We are quite different. He was a Latvian refugee. He’s not Jewish. He’s a physicist. I’m a writer. He sees black. I see white. We’ve been together for a long time. How does that happen that you can stay together?

Zibby: The moments where you’re sort of on the precipice, I found to be just so interesting, when you’re like, this is the moment where I was like, okay, this is finally it. We’re done. Then something happens. You always go back to each other. You keep rewriting what marriage means. Throughout the book, you’re like, the definition of marriage is this. Then as you age and you age together — not age, but really, as you go through marriage together. It’s not about the aging. You keep refining your definition of what it means to be married. Maybe if you could just talk a little bit about what it really meant to you starting out and where you’ve arrived now that you’ve done this deep dive into not only your marriage, but your husband and his family and your own family and all of that.

Michaele: It’s a good question. You start with thinking the guy is sexy. You start with wanting to be married to someone who doesn’t play golf because your dad played golf. You start in total naiveté. Having written a book, I knew one thing. I thought, getting married will not murder my selfness. I’ve written a book, so I’m somebody. I dare to get married. John, with all the conflicts between us, he likes powerful women. He likes women with brio. That has been a steady thing. I’m going to answer your question. In some ways, I think maybe we’re still married because we both had mothers who loved us. If you tell John that you love him, he believes you. If you tell me you love me, with all my mishigas and craziness, I will believe you, unless you’re lying, so fix that. Anyway, so we started with this attraction and a tremendous naiveté because I thought John would be married to me, and he’d become like me. He wasn’t Christian. He was a rye bread-worshipping — he called himself a pagan, but he was quite in favor of liberal Judaism because of its emphasis on kids and respect for children. That’s an interesting thing. We started there.

Then I find myself married to somebody who doesn’t want to become like me and is so different. These multiple definitions take place as I dig deeper and deeper and deeper over time to understand what it means to be connected. The last definition, and I just love this, has to do with kindness. You stay together if you are lucky enough to develop compassion towards one another as the years go on. We’re still attracted to each other physically. We still like to be in the same room. Of course, you can’t count on that to the same degree, but the kindness — I’ll say something else. I’ve never stopped respecting John’s character even when I want to kill him. He is a good and decent man. Zibby, because I know you’re remarried — I had never had children. I had never been married before. It was so important to me that he was a good dad. His mother had said to me, “John has a good character.” He does. He has a good character. He drives me crazy and will in perpetuity.

Zibby: I love that. I think everybody has this hope. Okay, we are kind of the same person now. He will obviously become more like me. There he could be hoping you’ll be more like him. You had that whole scene towards the end about the temperature in the room, which is such a mundane thing that so many people fight about and whatever. It’s too cold. It’s too hot. You have this whole thing where you’re like, but wait, John, we are not the same person. Just because you like it cold does not mean I like it. I actually can be hot when you are cold.

Michaele: It’s like a joke about Jewish mothers. Put on your sweater. I’m cold. That’s why the forbearance — there’s something else that I might have gone through my whole married life not understanding at this level if I hadn’t written this book. It’s this meditating on his childhood during World War II and the trauma of that and his parents and understanding his parents’ brilliance in protecting their family, in some regards, better than any other Latvian family I know — they did really well as they fled, as these things go. The more I worked on it, the more he became separate from me. I was writing about him as a character. I saw him separate from me. It’s a huge, huge, huge lesson. Because women, we tend to be, often, emotionally intelligent, we tend to think we understand everything. God knows I do until I realize, oh, my god, I didn’t. I didn’t understand. Now I understand. The other role in life that teaches you your own limitations of perception are being a mother-in-law. I adore my daughter-in-law. I think she really loves me. I have just worked on seeing them as separate, seeing them as separate, seeing them as separate. It’s work. It’s life. It’s work.

Zibby: You’re a mother-in-law. You’re also a stepmother and a grandmother. You wear so many hats in your family. I was really surprised, obviously, by the turn of events with your stepdaughter and the conflicts that that — I won’t give things away. It’s so hard to know with memoir. She ends up getting into a difficult situation. Of course, John feels very torn at the time, which he finally confesses to you when you’re going through this family stress. What do you do about it? I felt such empathy for you in that moment. I don’t know how you feel about that now or what you want to talk about or not.

Michaele: What I feel about it now is I actually feel incredibly proud of our family, that we came through this. She’s doing really well. I guess we’re all tested in life. You say you have these principles, like kindness, compassion for one another, but can you live it? It’s not just me I’m proud of. I’m proud of all of us. I’m giving things away, but this is a joke that John made. John actually said that in 2016 we got two grandchildren and one jailbird. Brief sentence, everybody.

Zibby: It’s a teaser.

Michaele: It’s a teaser, right. Life throws them at you.

Zibby: You never know. You just never know. I love how you summed it all up. It actually brought tears to my eyes finishing this book when you’re saying you just don’t know. I know this sounds so obvious, but the way you wrote it was so good. Just going through all of your story, we all don’t know what’s coming next. That’s how so many people feel. Today, we’re okay. I feel this way all the time. Okay, none of my kids are sick today, God willing. Everything’s okay. Knock wood. Okay, today’s all right. Then you just are sort of always holding your breath. The juxtaposition of holding onto when things are good and knowing that at any moment it can all change and holding those things together, I feel like you did such a beautiful job of saying all that in your funny way and by telling your story.

Michaele: Zibby, you are the reader that writers dream of. Really, to have someone who’s read with that care, I’m really touched. I didn’t know. Does your staff read the book? Do you read everything?

Zibby: No, I read. I read.

Michaele: You read this book.

Zibby: Yes, I did. I loved it.

Michaele: I’m very, very, very touched by that.

Zibby: I just want to throw out to — either I read it or I read part of it, but nobody else ever reads it and tells me about it. That doesn’t help me. At the very beginning when I started my podcast, people were like, you should have people read for you. I had a friend read a book. I was like, all right, tell me about it. She doesn’t know what I find interesting. My relationship to books is so personal. You can’t have someone else read a book for you. I can’t explain. Well, you know. Anyway, so, no, but I’m glad I had time. I had time to read it and everything. I loved it. I also learned more about the Latvian culture than I ever expected to know. I find it very interesting. I had no idea what a tight-knit, displaced group they all are and just this fierce loyalty and connection and the ways you can stay involved with that community and all these dinner clubs or whatever. That was another wonderful scene, where you really didn’t want to go. Then John brought you the dinner leaf and put it on the bathtub and made you dinner. You just quietly got up and went. Oh, my gosh, that was so perfect.

Michaele: He really is a very loveable guy. Now when this podcast is over, I’m going to have to go tell him all over again that he really is a very loveable guy. He has an innate sense about me. Again, this is a thing that women always think. We are the ones who know, and blah, blah, blah. We do know a lot. He has a sort of sense when I’m in trouble. He really rises to the occasion. I hope for everybody in a long-term marriage that they can feel that way. I can’t speak for everybody. I think that some marriages are more ambivalent than others. There’s always competing emotions. I think our relationship has more ambivalence because of the cultural differences, and also professional and that he’s so numeric. He gives directions. What are you talking about? Then there’s that other piece where he gets me. He doesn’t want to flatten my enthusiasm or my bigness in terms of personality and stuff. That’s really unusual. I think I’m very lucky that way. Generosity begets generosity. If you feel that you’re receiving that, you work harder to be. Believe me, I am not always that.

Zibby: I think you were pretty honest. Obviously, I don’t know you except from your book, but you seem very honest about your shortcomings. You show us moments where you’re like, this is not flattering, but I’m going to put it out there. Who is always perfect? Nobody. Nobody is like that.

Michaele: No. Who wants to read a book with that kind of falseness? I think that as a fellow writer, that’s the work. Early on when I wrote first-person things, I wrote this stream of consciousness, how I felt about it and defending myself. Then you move into what you’re doing. You realize that the work, the artistry is to show, as they always say, is to show what goes on between people. Maybe I am driven to do that about marriage because I grew up in that late fifties, early sixties world where everybody — the exteriors were so polished. I was born with this sense of understanding when I was in the presence of lies or incomplete truths. I understood my own parents’ marriage at a shockingly early age. I think that’s the writer. You see things. It wasn’t that their marriage was so horrible. It’s just, I saw the complexity. It confused me that people don’t tell the truth about human experience. I think that drove me to be a writer. There’s also the intellectual piece for me, but that’s a big piece of what drove me to be a writer. In high school, it took me a while to grow into my personality socially and become really socially comfortable, as it happens for so many people. Then sometime in my mid-twenties I realized that everybody was as insecure as I. It totally changed my life. I will address that in the room. I’ll walk up to somebody. You really must be going through a time, or something more subtle than that, I hope, but just making reference to the reality of life instead of all that kind of country club chatter and cocktails that was the life that people lived then. We live a different life, happily.

Zibby: I remember my mother telling me this when I was totally insecure and shy and feeling awkward in sixth grade at a dance and things like that. She would be like, “You know Zib, everybody feels the same way.” I’m like, “But they don’t. They don’t feel this way. They’re running around confident and playing games or chatting with all the boys. There’s no way because I can see that they’re fine.”

Michaele: What she said was both true and not true. Some people do high school better. They’re not necessarily the most successful human beings.

Zibby: I was talking middle school here. I’m really taking it back.

Michaele: The really painful time.

Zibby: The really painful time, for sure. You also, with John — I don’t feel like this is a spoiler because it comes up pretty early. John also is bipolar. You have to deal with the added complications of that. You talk throughout the book about different times when he’s having a manic episode. You’re just like, “John, you’re manic today. Cut it out,” as if someone’s like, you have the music on too loud, or something.

Michaele: That’s really a great metaphor. He is bipolar. We have lived with that our whole married life. I will say this. That’s where being such a disciplined person and the training as a scientist — he takes care of himself. He gets exercise almost every day. He has for the whole life of our marriage. There are times when he’s manic. It’s difficult. I’m constantly trying to learn how to negotiate that and not blame him for it and understand that at those moments, his thinking is very rigid. He doesn’t understand that another person is another person. That’s the nature of the illness. I have always felt that he was working hard to be solid. He was hospitalized once before we were married. I haven’t gone through the horrors of that that people do.

Zibby: Still, it’s just another thing to contend with. Thank you.

Michaele: Thank you so much, Zibby. I’ve had so much fun.

Zibby: You too. Thank you so much for coming on. I loved the book. Take care. Let’s stay in touch.

Michaele: I would love that.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Michaele: Buh-bye.

THE RYE BREAD MARRIAGE: How I Found Happiness with a Partner I’ll Never Understand by Michaele Weissman Purchase your copy on Bookshop!

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