Thoughts, Bittersweet And Kind
When people move away from a relationship or marriage, they become revisionists. It’s a natural human reaction. Because I don’t want hypocrisy lightning to strike me, I will be the first to admit I’ve done it too. When things go sour, we overwrite the good moments, and the sense of wrong and failure fill our heads. Most of us don’t go into relationships will ill intentions. There are exceptions; some people don’t see behind the masks of those they are with until later. It’s not their fault. Love drives us. We all pretty much want the same things. How we traverse the minefields of our own vanities and life determines how successful our relationships might be. When it ends, we’re left with a raw fringe that often transposes into a filter that overwrites all the positive things we experienced.
I haven’t written a tremendous amount about my marriage. In part, it is because I saw no need to inflame emotions or trespass across the boundary of where my right of expression would infringe upon her life.
As time passes, she’s told me more than once that she thought I was there for so long because it was an easy life. Such a comment is an indictment of what we actually shared. There was a lot of love there for most of the marriage. The end was a bitter pie, that’s true. Since I’m the one who added a lot of the bitter, it is my pie to eat.
When we first got together, I was trying to recover from the sudden and unexpected death of my wife. She was ten years younger than me. Her death was a stop sign in my life. The brutal truth is that had she not died, my life would have continued along that trajectory, probably forever. That’s not how life works though. It’s a series of blows, each of which we either confront or bury.
I made the decision to live life. The risk of me not doing so might have been my demise. “Get busy living or get busy dying” was certainly in my head. It wasn’t going to be easy no matter what choices I made.
One of the reasons the accusation of staying in the marriage because it was “easy” bothers me is that anyone who knows me knows that I am not money-driven. That’s both a defect and an advantage. I feel rich in a lot of ways no matter what roof is over my head or what car I drive. Growing up, I lost a lot. Houses burned, tornadoes came, and violent parents made physical comfort an impossibility. Security is never in the things that envelop me. There is no doubt that my conscious decision to ignore ambition has cost me in some ways. That same lack of ambition also provided insurance, flexibility, and more free time to fill in life’s spaces with ordinary moments. We live most of our lives in those spaces rather than in the grand ones that most people prominently use to illustrate their lives.
Before the divorce, I signed over the house to my ex-wife. I did it for a lot of reasons. I could have insisted that we divest everything and sell it. Had I done so, I would have had 40-50K in my pocket when I left. As it was, I left with $5000. Someone motivated by money would have never walked away from that money. She would have needed to move and start over exactly as I did. It didn’t matter who was at fault; that’s just the way it works. I don’t know many people who’ve willingly given up such a big chunk in order to let their ex have peace and security.
It bothers me that the love I had and the gift I gave her by letting her keep the house are now being characterized as untrue. But I understand.
I sit as the villain in her head. If that helps her have a good life again, I can accept it. During the last few months, I stayed as a roommate. Luckily, I was going to counseling. I learned to sleep and I learned that I didn’t need nearly as much sleep as I had been getting before something in my head snapped. Over time, the anxiety I wasn’t addressing built to a point where I had to either succumb or deal with it. I waited too long to get a handle on it. That was arrogance on my part. There’s no other word for it.
I learned some lessons, some of them unflattering about myself. But one of the lessons I learned is that no matter what your intentions, if you don’t express the hard things in your mind when they come up, they fester and burn you from the inside out. It is so easy to walk through each day, letting the details and routine gloss over the things that need to be said. And done. It’s obvious that I didn’t really learn some of the lessons deeply because I repeated the same pattern by swallowing my truths a few times, ignored the little voice inside my head saying “No,” or stopped striving for the demand of a normal kind of affection.
When I had my emergency surgery, it was my ex-wife who came to the emergency room and stayed with me until my surgery started. She got to witness me violently throwing up and yelling in surprise pain each time a spasm of internal tearing got the better of me. She got her karma that night! But despite that, she was there. And that’s not nothing.
I don’t want to ever come across as someone who doesn’t appreciate that or the good years we had.
I also don’t want to be the kind of person who feels like I’m ‘too much.’ I’ve learned that my ‘too much’ is exactly what some people want. And that is true for all of you, too. I was surprised to find that the things that give me connection are these: writing, a buttload of laughter, and the ability to sit in a chair, intertwined, with nothing but the comfort of someone who sees me as me. I’ll get there, in part because of the long past that lies behind me, including all the stupid things I’ve done and the times I let my arrogance or inattention to what matters lead me astray. I don’t want to be right. I want to be happy.
If you have a happy marriage or relationship, please whisper its truth in gratitude or prayer. Don’t let the valleys overshadow the inevitable peaks. And if your relationship ends, try to avoid the pitfall of painting everything as sinister or dark. We’re all complicated people and so often we find ourselves at the end of a road without a clear idea of how we got so far astray. We started in love.
As the noted philosophers of VanHalen said: “If love’s got you down, love can lift you right back up. Get up and make it work.”
P.S. Wherever I end up, there is going to be a swing. Without playfulness, the seriousness of what we experience would drown us.