Going back to 1965, a history: Part 1 of 4

Estrangements in the News, June 3, 2006

Difficult Choices - Part 2 of 4

Part 2 of 4: On marriage and trying to make it work.

An aspect of the marriage that I loved was that of being her mother. I enjoyed knowing her, seeing her grow, just knowing her. She thinks now that i wanted her to be like me. Not true. If she was like me, that would have been okay but being unlike me was as okay as being like me. When she was older, she became a musician for a time. Guess what I am not good at? I have no ability when it comes to playing an instrument. Was that okay with me that she was interested in pursuing music? A hearty YES is the answer! Oddly enough my own parents had wanted me to play an instrument, the piano, which I had resisted vigorously.

I approached marriage then as a relationship that once you were in, you stuck it out, no matter what. Also, I saw us as parents together and that being a parent by myself was dangerous, scary, threatening, and impossible if he, being the parent who had the better paying job, could get custody and refuse to let me be her parent too. So yes, I was too scared to go it alone and did things that, if I had to do it all over again, I would not do.

At the beginning of the marriage, I was 19 years old, more naive than I had any idea that I was, penniless, and the only child of a mentally ill mother and a raging alcoholic gambling addicted father. It was a nightmare that I lived through as best I could. I only gradually got through the naivity to a more mature outlook on myself and life over many years. In fact, this process is ongoing. I still have a lot to learn and this will continue to be true even if I ever get to be 99 years old.

Learning is lifelong. God, we're naive when we're nineteen years old! The things we do! But then there are 19 year olds who do far worse things with their lives than I did with mine. And my story back then was a pretty common story ... being pregnant and married at a young age to someone whom I hardly knew in a lot of ways. We were both unformed, both naive, both scared.

The marriage lasted, unwisely in retrospect, for 18 years. About every six months we'd have a big argument. The arguments never ended satisfactorily. The problems would remain. The arguments were about sex almost all of the time. Many years later I learned that my daughter eavesdropped on some of the arguments by listening through the heating vents in the floor upstairs. That is a horrifying thought! She was an adult when I learned about the eavesdropping. So as a child she had an imperfect, incomplete, inappropriate, and, I am sure, uncomfortable knowledge of personal details that neither I nor her father would have wanted her to have. What the longterm effects of that kind of knowledge are I don't know. But it would be like knowing about a story only from intermittent bits and pieces and trying to interpret it with the mind of a child and no one ever giving you the rest of the story ... which you really wouldn't want to know.

For eight years, from when we were 27 to 35, from 1974 to 1982, her father and I were almost celibate. I was not happy about this. I would bring up the topic. We would argue. He would say that things would change but they wouldn't until finally I said I was leaving which was what eventually happened later in this story.

Neither of us were happy although we both did give it a good shot at trying to be. We were one of those couples whom our friends thought of as being perfectly happy. The kind of couple who surprises everyone when they break up. Few, if anyone, saw it coming.

The arguments weren't the cause of the breakup, of course. They were a symptom of the underlying poor base for the marriage. We married in desperation, not out of love and passion. There never were common interests other than the desire by both of us to be good parents to our daughter. Well, maybe one other interest. We both liked our pets: cats and a dog named Major. My ex liked tennis. I hated tennis. He liked sports. I had no interest in sports. He liked sports car racing. Same old refrain. I liked intense thought provoking movies. He didn't and it was torture for him to go to one. He liked Cheech and Chong. It was torture for me to have to watch Cheech and Chong. He wanted to be a teacher and he wanted me to be a teacher. I hated being a teacher. He didn't want me to drive more than fifteen minutes from home when I learned to drive. Then I got into a profession where I needed to drive long distances and work on weekends .... which were his days off.

Neither of us were good at dealing with our feelings, especially the difficult ones like anger. Late in the marriage I realized that he was not telling me how he really felt about many things that occurred. Something might occur that would cause him pain. It might not even be anything related directly to me. He wouldn't mention a feeling about it at all or would tell me six months later that he had a feeling about it. In a past post I referred to him as "emotionally constipated". That describes how he held onto things.

I haven't spoken with him since 1985. He may be different now. He has remarried as mentioned in past posts. I have no idea whether he is easier to be married to now than when we were married. But however he was about his feelings, that doesn't change the bottom line fact that we had so little in common in our interests and approach to life.

So when we argued, we argued and argued and argued and nothing was resolved. I know the difference now between that kind of arguing and a healthy argument. In my second marriage we do have arguments but we resolve things! I noticed this early on in my relationship with my current husband. It is such a relief to have an argument that can be resolved, where you feel satisfied that something has been figured out, where no one leaves the argument feeling frustrated that efforts to communicate have been in vain.

In 1981 a close friend of mine died of cancer. She was unhappily married to a man who beat her. She had thought of leaving him many times before she died. Then she died, still wed to a man who beat her and even raped her. Her death in August of 1981 was my wakeup call. Six weeks later in 1981 I met the man to whom I am now married. We talked for many hours. I drove back home that same night because I was married and didn’t want to be around someone I liked that much and to whom I was not married.

My friend was dead and that fact was the catalyst for my wanting to do something about my own situation. I didn’t want to die young in an unhappy marriage. My friend who died was only 40 years old. I began a correspondence with my new friend. I began to go to a therapist to work things out in my head. Eventually, when things didn’t change in my marriage, I made the decision to get romantically involved with the man I had met and liked. I didn’t make it a secret. I immediately told my husband that I wanted a divorce and why.

I told him that I was going to leave him, not for someone else but because I had learned that our relationship was far from what I wanted in a marriage and I hadn’t figured it out until then because of my naivity.  Having married at 19, I had no idea what a relationship could be like. When I realized what the difference was between what we had and what I might have, I knew I had to leave. I did not tell Robin about any of this. She was in high school and she was my daughter, not my advisor or my friend. I didn’t think that she would want to know the details of any of this. But her father knew because I told him.

My husband’s reaction was to go to a therapist too and to promise to change. He didn't want me to leave. He became more interested in me sexually. He brought me a fresh rose every week. I didn’t want the roses or the attention. The entire situation was painful. What I wanted was to leave. I was having a hard time giving myself permission to do that. I hated the idea of hurting anyone. It was almost impossible for me to set boundaries as long as I was married to him. I was horrified by the idea that my leaving would hurt my in-laws ... which may seem strange to some but I was. I had this idea that my leaving might kill them. (Talk about having a sense of overresponsibility!) I didn’t leave until 1984.

To be continued ...

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