Navigate to Arts & Letters section

TomKat’s Contract, and Mine

The ketubah—the prenup’s antecedent—proves that, although love is ephemeral, a signature is forever

Rachel Shukert
July 06, 2012
(Margarita Korol)
(Margarita Korol)

Well, it happened. The mortgage bubble burst, and the stock market crashed. The war in Afghanistan continues to rage (or at least sputter), Iran looks every day dismally closer to having the capability to wipe its entire region off the map in a bout of dictatorial PMS. And finally, the last mess created during the Bush Administration is ready for President Obama to clean up, as if he didn’t have enough to deal with this summer: Katie Holmes has filed for divorce from Tom Cruise.

My bubbe always told me there was nothing less attractive than feigned shock (although she didn’t quite put it that way, and it was mostly in regard to grave misfortune, like your house being burned down by Germans or Poles or Cossacks), so I won’t pretend to be surprised now. We’ve had enough years of paparazzi photographs of a wan, gray-faced Katie listlessly wandering the streets of New York with seemingly no purpose other than to dispense to young Mistress Suri cupcakes, ice creams, and—in the creepy parlance of the Daily Mail—cuddly toys” to know that life in Cruiseland isn’t exactly Risky Business, or even that scene in Rain Man where he teaches Dustin Hoffman to dance.

I’ve always said that the only thing that keeps me from total despair about the future is that at least we’ll have Suri’s tell-all autobiography to look forward to, but from the way things are going—no less a source than TMZ reports a decided “nastiness” apparent in the proceedings—we may not have to wait that long. (Have fun wandering the dystopian nuclear wilderness with nothing to read, folks.)Of all the bizarre details leaking out of the Cruise/Holmes camp: Tom told her what to wear! He wouldn’t let her do the Dawson’s Creek reunion! Her conversion never took and she was terrified of Suri being raised a Scientologist, hence the divorce (the dangers of intermarriage!). And then of course, the alleged contract.

The rumor of its existence, persisting from the very earliest days of their relationship, is always presented in shadowy, sinister terms; a kind of incontrovertible proof that nothing about the couch-jumping, private plane-hopping, zombie-interview-giving couple could possibly be genuine, or even affectionate. This is an attitude that has always puzzled me, since I too have a contractual marriage. So does my mother, my father, my aunts and uncles, and virtually all my married friends. It’s called a ketubah, and it’s pretty much the great-great-great-great (etc.) grandmother (of course it’s a woman, why wouldn’t it be?) of the prenup.

There’s a kind of scene that’s familiar from a certain kind of movie: On the brink of marriage, a wealthy person, usually surrounded by a claque of unsmiling lawyers, demands a signature from his or her intended; said intended is shocked, shocked (remember what my bubbe said?) to be so insulted, and they tear it up (or burn it in a wastebasket, or eat it), which is generally meant to seem like some kind of wild gesture of love instead of what it is: an act of sheer stupidity that will ultimately wind up injuring both partners. I understand sealing the deal with a signature instead of a kiss can seem a little dry to inveterate romantics (i.e., people who have never been married). Yet much to my surprise, I found the signing of the ketubah to be the most moving part of my entire wedding. What started out as a sarcastic lark—I had my agent serve as my witness, because hey, she looks over all my contracts—was soon taken over by solemn tears. Not just at the thought of our life together—I’d gotten used to the idea of that—but because my husband loved me enough to put it in writing. Anyone can say “I love you,” and they do, but a signature on an enforceable legal document is forever.

I don’t know the terms of Katie’s contract any more than I do mine (I was busy worrying about my mascara when the rabbi explained that part), but it seems like she’s done pretty well for herself. All I have to show for my contract so far is a nice watch and some shared debt (and years of happiness, but don’t tell my husband); if the rumors can be believed—and in this age of 24-hour Internet surveillance, it seems increasingly that they can—she’s getting $3 million a year and a $35 million mansion where she can busily set about turning her kid into Chica Barnfeld from Troop Beverly Hills. Nothing says “I loved you” quite like that.

Let’s just hope she was half as lucky negotiating her billion-year contract with Xenu. I hear he’s got a hell of a lawyer.


Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

Rachel Shukert, a Tablet Magazine columnist on pop culture, is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great. Starstruck, the first in a series of three novels, is new from Random House. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.