Jo Piazza's new book, How To Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage, reads like an epic evening cocktail. A perfect mix of travel memoir, anthropological research, and personal journey, I could have savored it over a long evening but instead found myself gulping it down as quickly as possible. Piazza takes readers on her year-long journey around the world, as she investigates the hows and whys of sustaining long-term relationships — and the first year of marriage — by asking questions, a lot of questions.
"No outsider can understand a culture any better than a mere bystander can understand the inner workings of somebody's marriage," she writes in the opening of her memoir. Through her investigations of a celebrity marriage guru in Tulum and a matrilinear society in India, it's clear that Piazza loves adventure — not just in her research but in her relationships, her writing, and her travels. Piazza is a natural-born writer, deftly analogizing a make-or-break climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro to heart-wrenching, make-or-break moments she foresees in her relationship.
Perhaps not surprisingly, she learns that there is no single answer to how to create and maintain an ideal marriage, which is one part of the takeaway that underlines every chapter and every person she speaks with. The other part is that "ideal" and "perfect" are too much weight to burden any relationship with. I read each chapter as an exploration in travel and as an opportunity to reflect on the wisdom she learned through the filter of my nearly nine-year marriage — examining what I think is not working and readjusting to see how it is and what we can do to keep it working.
I've also felt myself applying the lessons to my friendships, because every strong relationship is based on friendship. And in order to have a strong friendship, there has to be invested dialogue, even if the distances are far. As I was reading Piazza's travel tales — some with her husband, some on her own, and some with her friends — all I wanted to do was call old and faraway best friends and just talk.
The best part of Piazza's take on how to be married is that it doesn't begin and end with her new husband but rather with the relationships that are woven around them. The book is a terrific read for anyone pondering any kind of relationship — whether long-term or fleeting, whether newly engaged, newlyweds, or lifers. Piazza's investigations reinforce the idea that relationships are a constant work in progress. When set against the backdrop of a travel memoir, you really get an idea of how true an adventure marriage is, no matter where in the world — and in life — you are.
Don't stop there. Buy How to Be Married, by Jo Piazza.