Saturday, July 12, 2008

ending up

Three years into our marriage, halfway through his senior year of grad school, my husband came home from school one day and told me he wanted out. I don't know if I love you, he said. I don't know if I've ever loved you. We separated. Six weeks later he had a change of heart and we began the long, painful process of putting our relationship back together. Everything about it was agonizing, from the words themselves to the idea of being divorced after only three years of marriage to simply living alone. When we stayed together after all, I took it as a testament to the fact that we belonged together.

We should have let it die right there.

Alright, maybe I don't totally believe that. After all, we have three children we adore who couldn't have gotten here any other way. And I'm willing to overlook a lot of hindsight regrets simply because at the end of the day I have my kids. But the cold hard truth remains. This has never ever been easy. For either one of us. We've turned a Starter Marriage into a twenty year journey.

I'm not even sure how to explain it. There are just so many things we never got. He's been away so much in our marriage and I've had to handle so much by myself that I told myself for years how nice it was that we were able to be so self-reliant and independent. We became so self-reliant and independent that I was almost happier when he was gone, and I suspect he would say the same thing. Every time things got rough we would turn on each other. For years, I pleaded and said Why can't we ever do the united front thing? You know, the one where it's us against the world? Why does it always turn into you vs. me? Everything - from the way we handle money to the way we present ourselves to the world to the way we deal with our stresses to the way we problem solve - is diametrically opposed.

Somehow, somewhere, we stopped wanting to spend time together. I would go to sleep early. He would stay up late. For years, I went to office parties and film wraps feeling very out of place and alone, while he schmoozed and basked in the attention of his peers. Eventually, he stopped asking me to go. Rather than being upset, I was relieved. I would always skip my work parties, and rather than encourage me to get off my ass and go, so he could meet some of the people who became so important to me, he just shrugged and said Whatever you want. It was less work that way. At get- togethers with family and friends, more often than not the kids and I went by ourselves. He hid behind work and I hid behind the kids. We were the couple who sat in a restaurant and had nothing to say to each other. One of my friends said to me last week that she had never once heard me say I missed him when he was on a shoot, no matter how long he was gone. I was always happy to see him get home, but only when I actually saw him. There was no wonderful anticipation of his homecoming, even when he'd been gone for a month.

Even the things we both loved turned into things we didn't do together. Take travel, for example. Between us we've been all through Europe and the United States, been to Russia and Mexico. But almost never together. Always separately. I think I can count the plane trips we've taken together on my fingers. There was the trip to San Francisco a couple of years into our marriage, the "second honeymoon" to Hawaii after our separation, a trip to Vegas to meet up with my dad, and I think there's maybe one more I'm spacing out on. That's not a lot in twenty odd years. There was always something wrong with the timing, or money was too tight or the kids were too little. The last trip we took together was a few years ago when he had a film in competition at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. He was there for the run of the festival and I flew out the weekend the film opened. Even though we stayed in a condo with some of the other workers from the film, and were surrounded by people most of the time, that may have been the last time we really had any time just the two of us. It was nice. There were moments on that trip where we actually clicked.

For years, he had a stock quip when people would ask us how we'd managed to stay together this long. Inertia, he'd say, and then we'd both chuckle. How dense can two bright people be to see that the answer was right under their noses for years and no one ever caught on? And rather than focus on the how of it, what the hell about the why?

We're both very stubborn. We're both children of divorce. We both hate to admit when we're wrong. And, lets face it, it was familiar, and, in its own way, comforting. When your expectations are low, they're more easily met. For years I smugly viewed people who wanted to be with their spouses as clingy. I've given my mother endless grief because she and Stu talk on the phone constantly when they're apart. I've rolled my eyes when a friend would moan about her husband's four day business trip and how much she missed him. I just figured that we didn't have that kind of marriage. We were self-sufficient.

And lonely. Oh, my god, so very lonely, the kind that goes to your bone. I always told myself that I didn't have a romantic or sentimental nature, but my daydreams and my fantasies told me something far different. I'm not talking white horses and heaving bosoms, but something far more elusive. A connection. An intuitive understanding of another person, and, even more intoxicating, a person with an intuitive understanding of me. I've had males like that in my life. Some of them have even been straight. Two of the best friends I've ever had have been males who "got" me, males who were always "just friends", as if you can consider that a bad thing.

I love my husband. I do. I always have. I always will. He's a good person who is passionate about what he does, and very focused on the things that interest him. I'm just not one of those things. I haven't been for a long time. Once upon a time, we met on a film shoot. He stayed in film and I ultimately went on to the field I always wanted to be in. Sometimes I think it would be easier if we both worked in the same field still, but I don't know. He's always been competitive, and I've always thought I wasn't, but am realizing now that that may not be so true anymore. I think with us, with the way we are with each other, it would just be one more rock in the road. I'm the woman who started out being his partner and somehow, over the long haul, became the woman who took his freedom away. So many of the choices he's made in his life that he now regrets have been laid firmly on my doorstep. Well, you can't change the past. It's such a cliche, but it's true. All you can do is try your best not to make the same mistakes in the future.

There was a pivotal moment in our "marriage" counseling that should probably be engraved on the headstone of our union. I had, in a moment of anger, made a snotty comment about what would constitute his "perfect day". I didn't give it a second thought. But for him, it was the dawning of the end. He explained it to me last week. I'd never realized, he said, how well you know me, how much you understand me that you could say that and be absolutely right. But I also knew that if you knew that was what I wanted, and you weren't doing it, it must mean that you never would, because you didn't want to. And I said, Why in the world would I go out of my way to make your life everything you want it to be when you won't go out of your way to make my life anything I want it to be? Consider yourself lucky that I know you that well, because at least I know what would constitute your perfect day. You don't have a clue what would constitute mine. When he agreed with me you could almost hear the coffin slamming shut.

We've had some good times, he said. We really have. I know, I replied, but you shouldn't have to work so hard for every one of them. Later I thought maybe with someone else we won't have to. In a strange way, I owe him one, and I told him so. I would never have left this marriage, whether it was from a sense of obligation or a need to protect my kids or whatever. I would have ridden it out to the bitter end. I would have continued to convince myself I was happy forever. He took that option away from me. And I can't thank him enough.

For years I've said that if my marriage ever ended I would never again venture into the male-female waters. I would become the crazy lady who lived on the corner with big, scruffy dogs and countless knitting projects. I would spend my days with books and friends and writing and of course my children. But no men. Never again. Strike one. You're out.

I mentioned this to a dear male friend who has gone through a divorce of his own in the last few years. I could see all kinds of emotions swirling on his face as he contemplated what a newby I was to the whole divorce game. In the end he spoke kindly, but with years of experience I don't yet have. You might want to wait a while before you decide that, he said. You may be surprised.

And I am. Already. I'm not talking today. I'm not talking tomorrow. Not next month or even next year. But I want to experience it before I die. The connected marriage. To a guy who "gets" me. To a guy who loves my independence but pulls me back when I get too far away. To a guy who thinks I'm more exciting than work, and a hell of a lot less confining. To a guy who loves me for me. And lets me love him the way I'm dying to love someone.

Is that too much to ask?


Aoj & The Lurchers said...

RC, I read your post on Friday and sat and cried. I've read this post and sat and cried again. Some of those tears have been for you but, selfishly, some have been for me too.

I've read these posts and seen my life unfold in front of my eyes. That's my story you're writing too. Except we haven't yet got to the point where we can both admit it.

Thank you for sharing RC. I'm guessing it was a cathartic exercise for you, but it's given me some food for thought too.


Aoj & The Lurchers said...

Sorry, that should be Thursday's post.

belle said...

No, honey, not too much to ask. I hope that despite the pain, this turns into the start of something wonderful.

WT said...


Maggie May said...

I'm sure you will find the happiness that you are looking for. Take things very slowly.

Akelamalu said...

How sad :(

But not a total waste of time honey, not when you made beautiful children together.

I hope you find what you're looking for, marriage/partnership can be wonderful. x

softinthehead said...

RC = a very illuminating post. As aoj says I am sure a lot of us can see similarities. I just want to give you a big hug but I have a feeling just writing about it has made it a little easier. :)

Jen said...

Having been...absent a while, I'm catching up, and look what you've given me to chew on.

Thank you.

And no, it's not too much to ask.

Rose said...

No, it's definitely not too much to ask. We all deserve it whether we get it or not. We deserve it. You deserve it. And if you're clear about what you're looking for, you might just get it. I did, finally, and it is wonderful. You will too, but meanwhile enjoy the getting there. Even the crappy stuff means something. Good, good thoughts to you.

Amy said...

I hope you find that connection. Someday, I expect to read about your eyes meeting across a crowded room. It's real. You deserve it.

aims said...

The freedom to love and be loved? We all should ask for that - and get it.

Go girl - go find it. Go find a good life.

Kaycie said...

Peter's an ass. Funny, but what an ass. And he's dead wrong.

I know that marriage you're describing. That was my first marriage with little changes in passions and venue. Mine only lasted ten years, and the last two or so of those we didn't live together at all. There are two major differences. I don't love my first husband any more, not the way a woman loves a man. I look at him and can't remember what I ever saw in him. The other one -- I think your husband is probably a better man than my ex.

RC, you aren't asking for too much. I found what you're looking for the second time around. I've been married to a man I love, a man who loves me, for over eleven years now. It's far from perfect. We fuss, we have hard times, we both have faults and weaknesses. But we know each other. We love each other. His favorite thing to say is, "It's you and me against the world, babe."

You'll find it, sweetie. I know you will.

laurie said...

well, this resonates.

it's my first marriage, too. i was married to Scott Baio for four years--the first two i worked nights and he worked days, and the second two he lived in minneapolis and i lived in duluth.

it worked great. until he had that affair...

i think that, like you, i liked "being married." you know? you don't have to fuss with dating or looking around, you're settled, you're secure, and yet you still have virtually all the freedom you did as a single person.

that's not marriage, though. that's roommates.

second time's the charm....

Rudee said...

I hope you do find the type of relationship that will fulfill you in a more meaningful way. And no, it isn't too much to ask.

Devon said...

How wonderful to have such truth in you life. For both you and your husband. I am going on 22 years in my marriage and see almost exactly the same pattern.

Lately I have been wondering if this is inevetable in long term relationships. Maybe I don't work hard enough to stay connected.
Recently my spouse said if I died he would never remarry, he just doesn't need other people that much. Ouch... but it explains a lot.

You have alreadly learned so much and come so far since January... I have worked hospice nursing and I like those patients. They only focus on the things that really matter, in a way divorce is that way for the lucky ones.

Sandy said...

It is not too much to ask, nor to expect. I am blessed to have such a marriage. It is not my first, nor is it his. It is the one, though, that is 23 years and still glowing - maybe it's just the nuclear power plant down the road but maybe not. Not all of the years have been great. Some have not even been good. But I am his "best beloved" and he is mine.

Someone just this morning told me that, while pain in your life is inevitable, misery is a choice. I like that.

Nearlydawn said...

I'm sad to say that this resonates with me too much for my own comfort. It has me thinking. Really.

I've been through the "starter marriage" and I was misserable. Totally. I ended that one though, because I just couldn't see any way I would ever survive otherwise.

With my current marriage... I don't know. We aren't happy anymore. We aren't totally unhappy, but there seems to be very little "us" anymore.

I am very sorry that your marriage didn't have that all-important connection. I sure hope you get the chance to experience that in the future. I really do.

the mother of this lot said...

Hope you find what you're looking for. Soon.

Anonymous said...

You have no idea how much your posts have meant to me. I appreciate your honesty. So much of what you write resonates with me. I am in a difficult place right now, with my own marriage. We have been married 21 years.

You do deserve a relationship where you are a priority and the love of someones life. It is not too much to ask, in fact it is the way to go. I know you will find that love/happiness down the road. Take it slow and keep nurturing yourself.

Love you.

ciara said...

i have read this post & the last...all i can say is that i've been there. i know what it feels like. so i really felt for you. there are things i wish i could say, but can't. some family members tend to find my there are days when i think i was never meant to be married. i know you don't come around much anymore, but you know i'm here for you if you need me. xo

Frances said...

Your honesty and clarity are wonderful. My 2 cents - Yes it is possible, but I think it takes concentration. Falling in love, romance and passion are the easy part - staying with someone and really giving a damn about that person as a person is the hard part. Once they are just part of the security they are no longer that special separate and different person, so no longer interesting. It's no longer ego-boosting and thrilling to be loved and found attractive by them... It is the sustain that's hard for all of us busy people. Sometimes it is less tiring to let things slip and not bother. Both ways. No blame on either side.

CrazyCath said...

Writing through misty eyes - just beautiful, balanced writing. Perfect. You know each other so well, and now, you are coming to know yourself.

Welcome home girl. *hugs*

Lil Mouse said...

oh CR it is NOT too much to ask. I know I have it good. I know I do, sometimes I get frustrated and sometimes, I want to beat the man I live with and nail him to the wall, but most of the time, I feel like we're such a cohesive team that it's disgusting. It's gotten a ton better since the stick turned blue as well, he's stepping up just like I always knew he could. Your post makes me feel VERY lucky.

And I say, there's always a chance for romance for everyone. Never say never. I did, and, well, I was wrong.