by Margot Wheeler
I’ve been away. Not away away. But absent from my life. And now I’m trying to put it back together after separating from my husband of 15 years. True, it had been rough going for about half of those years. True, I was unhappy, tearful and lonely. And angry. Boy was I angry. And yes, I instigated the split. But still, no matter, it all came crashing down.
I moved out, less than a mile away, into a place I love, though perhaps one that costs more than I should have bitten off. Being close makes things easier with the kids. And I love our Seattle neighborhood so no need to start over somewhere else just because we’re not together anymore. We have two kids – a girl and a boy. Conceivably they could walk back and forth themselves. But then I’d have to grant them more independence than I’m ready to, wanting to believe they are still small children that need their mommy. Which they are, and they do. But not like a few years ago.
The long and short of the relationship and the “breakup” is this (and I know he has a different perspective, but this is my column and my space and I will share it as it feels to me): we met, we fell in love. He was smarter than anyone I’d ever known. Still is. I doubted my intelligence and the low-hum-paranoia of being “found out” was always just beneath the surface. What would happen when “they” found out how dumb I really was? My fancy college diploma would be revoked! My job would be snatched! He validated me. If someone that smart wanted to talk with me, how dumb could I be? And he was beautiful. Still is. And he made me laugh despite his darkness.
We went on to date and live together for three years. And then we married. Early on (very early, with only six months under our belts) I got pregnant. Not happily. Along came our daughter, and made us a family. Happily. Within the first year of her life, my husband’s start-up, well, it stopped. He took a break from full time employment to gather himself. It lasted the remainder of our marriage.
We are a liberal, modern couple. She works, he stays home, who cares?! Apparently I do.
In the end, perhaps we bit off the big proverbial bite and choked on it. I went to work, slogged away. Moved up the ladder. Hated it. Then started to like it. Let go of some, not all, of the resentment in not taking time off after the birth of our second child. That bit that I didn’t let go of? Well, it festered. The not very well concealed resentment made itself known. I felt enormous pressure as the breadwinner and craved the offer of relief, if not actual relief. I was disappointed in not feeling I had the choice to stay home with my second child for a few years of toddlerhood. Whether I would have taken him up on the offer or not can never be known, but I wanted to be invited. Not having had the opportunity to be at home with either child, prompted the desire for a third. Which, as the stay at home parent, was not something my husband was up for. I get it. He was finally getting himself back after having had a baby on his hip, if not on his boob, for a good number of years. The baby conflict went unresolved. There was no baby. And no mitigation in my desire to have one.
I felt desperate loneliness as we both retreated to our own, ever more distinct worlds. He’d never been expressive or outwardly affectionate. As his introversion, lack of confidence and depressions became more salient in the cave of stay-at-home fatherhood, he withdrew from me even more. Which made me madder. And lonelier. And more resentful.
The role reversal that we thought we were high-minded enough to handle was tough on him too. He wouldn’t ever say so, but I think it’s hard on a man when he doesn’t financially provide for his family. He feels emasculated. I was blamed for being emasculating. But I suppose I felt the inverse, what’s the word for that? I felt my girl-ness was denied me. I liked going into the world and getting paid the same as the men, getting big titles right beside the boys. But I wanted to come home and feel like the girl. To be cuddled and snuggled and taken care of. He rejected this notion on the basis of rationality. He took care of me in practical ways. He paid the bills, he made the food, he walked the dog and took out the garbage. He fixed things and bought me electronics and acted as my own personal fix it guy. But I wanted my heart to be tended to, not my glitchy software. I would have gladly paid for Geek Squad to figure out my printing and iTunes issues. Or simply gotten rid of the damn computer altogether. In exchange for some romance.
Ever practical, ever rational, ever viewing us as equals, it wasn’t in the cards for us that he would get on bended knee with roses and profess his undying love, just because it was Monday. Or even pick me up at the airport without some major guilt tripping on my part. It was the over-thinking all of it that became tiresome. And then I screwed up irreparably — my heart strayed — and the rest is the story of another fucked up marriage, doomed if not from the start, then from the point that we decided that we were bigger than the world’s expectations around gender roles.
In the aftermath of Courtney Cox’s split with David Arquette, I read that she said (and I paraphrase): the thing you fall for will be the thing that ends up driving you mad. I feel that. The big brain, turned into a big stumbling block, for me. Stop thinking so much and do something, might sum up my general orientation. Make a dinner reservation. Call a girl. Buy her flowers just to cheer her up. Or just because. Just do it because I would like it and oh by the way, you’ll be repaid en kind with blow jobs. Didn’t go down that way for us. The big brain prevailed. And Miss Lonely Hearts blew it.
And now here I am, on a flight to somewhere. With no one to call when I land. And no one to pick me up when I get home. So in a sense I’m back where I was. Without anger as my constant companion. Better or worse? I don’t know yet. We shall see. I’m in the thick of it. The failure, the guilt, the rehashing of the seemingly innocent decisions that apparently had dire consequences.
I’m luckier than many. I’m financially solvent, though less so than before. But money comes and goes. (I know: that’s something people with a financial cushion say. So yes, I’m lucky.) I’m capable and will continue to work. And I live nearby so the kids go back and forth with surprising ease. But I am alone and I must sit with this and ponder. And try, try, try not to incessantly berate myself for not being so much better than I am.