Marriage is tricky.  Love is complicated.  And not complicated.  It’s the uncomplicated kind that I miss the most.  The kind of love that made everything else disappear.  You remember it, or you might be in it now.  I remember falling in love, especially during a cold, Chicago winter.  It was the best thing in the world.  I remember waking up on a freezing February morning, next to that warm skin, under blankets, safe.  It didn’t matter how expensive the blankets were, or where we had gone out the night before.  It didn’t matter that we had to get ready for work or that I had work due but not nearly enough time to do it well.  It didn’t matter if the whole world was falling apart at that very moment.  I was safe, and warm, and happy.  That kind of love makes the rest of your anxieties, insecurities, and ambitions slip away as if they were never valid to begin with.  I remember feeling like time had stopped for me; that the whole world was still running on super-speed, but I was coasting along, like in a little boat, in a calm pond filled with lily pads, sunlight streaming in on me through the mossy trees.  I felt like that even while navigating Lake Shore Drive during a blizzard, cars spinning off to the side of the road, or while trying to keep two jobs straight while going to college.  That uncomplicated love made me feel like I was part of an alliance, one that could take on the world and win.  I miss that kind of love.

My husband and I have been together for thirteen years now, and married for nine.  For a long time, I’ve known that the love between us was gone.  We have a working relationship to care for our children and keep the family traditions.  We have an antagonistic relationship when we have to negotiate anything, from purchasing a home to the way we decorate it.  Resentments build constantly and manifest in strange ways, sometimes in front of friends and family.  Making time for ourselves, without our kids, has been a point of contention for nine years.  The division of domestic responsibilities, for twelve years.  We must have had seven million arguments over that.  I’ve never felt that it was fair.  I told a counselor once that “He thinks I’m June Cleaver!”  We don’t watch TV together anymore.  I go to bed early, he goes to bed late.  When we go to parties, he ignores me completely.  We really just drive there together.  I don’t feel as sorry for myself anymore because the older I get, the more I realize that many women, the world over, are living in marriages like mine.  The question for me is, do I stay? 

If we had no children, the choice would be simpler, I think.  But we do.  Daughters.  Our eldest is almost twelve, and just starting to become a young woman.  She’s starting to navigate complicated friendships, noticing boys noticing her, the balance between difficult school work and extracurriculars, and she feels keenly the tough competition in Chicago for good grades, to get into a good school, to get into a good college, to get a good job.  Life is hard enough without chaos at home.  Our little girl is only four.  She is so open, and she trusts us completely, for everything.  She’s vivacious and eager to discover new things.  She likes to take things apart to see how they work (just like me!).  She is just starting to figure out the rhythms of our family and the world around her, and where she can fit into it all.  I love them both so much, to even think of hurting them breaks me into pieces.  My love for them is completely uncomplicated.  I would step in front of a train for them in a heartbeat.  Their souls are worth twenty of mine, maybe thirty of my husband’s.

Jeanette Winterson said that, “My passion…showed me the difference between inventing a lover and falling in love.  The one is about you, the other about someone else.”  My husband and I may have invented ourselves from the start.  We were in love once, but we got pregnant four months after we started dating.  Our uncomplicated love became suddenly, very complicated.  I thought our love would be enough, but now that I look back, I don’t think that love lasted.  I think it may have been gone for him by the time he proposed and we got married.  We both wanted it to work so very much.  It made sense—we were the right age, we liked each other, we had a baby daughter.  It made sense that it would all work out.  I can honestly say that I tried my best over the years to make it work.  I cooked, shopped, cleaned, planned, hosted holidays for our families, loved our daughter.  I loved him.  I went back to school to become a teacher.  I made friends and hosted dinner parties.  I asked him to watch scary movies with me, to enjoy dinner with me, to experience new adventures with me, though he wasn’t always enthused, less and less so over the years.  I wanted to be a good wife.  I wanted him to love me back.  But it didn’t happen that way.

In the beginning, I tried talking it out, being honest, trying to find solutions to our problems.  He took it as criticisms and felt anger.  I tried reasoning with him, to help me more while I was working and taking classes and taking care of our daughter.  I told him I was drowning in work and feeling constantly overwhelmed.  He felt I was nagging him and made little effort.  The red flags had been there from the beginning, even while we planned our wedding, but I didn’t want to see them.  I did love him once, with that beautiful, uncomplicated love that makes you temporarily blind.  But he didn’t want to put his arm around me on those cold, winter nights anymore.   Dorothy Sayers attests that, “The only sin passion can commit is to be joyless.”  She is right.

The practical side of me feels that the real decision is about one thing—is my own happiness and desire for love, uncomplicated, real love, too much to ask?  By thinking of leaving, am I putting my selfish desires above all that we’ve created here?  Our daughters, the family holidays we’ve been having for twelve years now, the circles of family friends I’ve made (my husband has many skills, but making friends is not one of them), the home that I’ve built and the memories we have as a family, will all be different, past.  Is it really that bad to be neglected?  He told me once, many years ago, that I should be happy because he doesn’t drink excessively, he doesn’t stay out and sleep with other women, and he doesn’t do drugs (like many of his old friends from the South Side).  At the time, I thought that was a ridiculous notion, that I should be happy to be married to him because I could’ve done worse, but in making this decision, isn’t that what I’m thinking? 

Our society has accepted divorce as a valid life decision.  I know the repercussions personally because I am a child of a dysfunctional family that resulted in a messy divorce.  That gives me pause.  My parents’ divorce was a nightmare for me.  Yet it is still so common.  Parker already has two close friends from school whose parents have divorced.  I know that children are resilient.  I know that it would be worse for them to hear us fighting and to feel the tension between us when we disrupt the façade of our working relationship with actual life.  Divorce.  It feels strange and incongruent, dissonant, just to write the word.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning tells me that, “If thou seek roses, seek them where they blow in garden-alleys, not in desert-sand.”  She may be on to something.

Views: 264

Comment by Rosigami on October 14, 2016 at 9:26am

Annmarie, I feel for you. You've written bravely and honestly about the workings of love and marriage from your own experience.
There are many things I can relate to in your writing.
I didn't stay. It was just as complicated as if I had, but in different ways. The echoes of a loveless marriage will follow in any direction you go, and make themselves known .
I hope you will continue to make a life for yourself, because the kids will grow up and your outlook and options my well change.

Comment by Zanelle on October 14, 2016 at 9:47am

oh yes....many of us here know this pain.  I didn't stay either.  It seemed a religious difference as I look back as he is now a born again christian and married to someone who doesnt question anything.   We had been in love...not lust but real love...and it lasted for about five years.  The kids made everything different but it wasn't bad...we just grew apart and I wanted to know what an orgasm was.  sigh.   

  Yes it is complicated.  Many stay and go into vanilla mode with no desire on either side but a good working relationship.  Didn't Tina Turner sing...What's Love got to do with it, Baby?"  It is the bickering that weighs on a person...when nothing is resolved and the tension is thick without any fun except with the kids.   Kids have a difficult time with divorce.  Mine was very civil and we both took off in opposite directions.  I had made it to when they were teens but it was still messy.  My kids are grown now and have troubled relationships.  I wonder if I should have stayed for them and just looked for love in other places.  I was looking for intimacy..I found it but it was always dysfunctional in some way and now I am on my own.  sigh.  I didnt really plan it that way.  

   Good luck to you and thank you so much for writing here and making me think and wonder.  

Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 14, 2016 at 11:04am

I've had the good fortune (or misfortune) to fall in love with five women in my life. None of them worked out.  I've married two women and didn't fall in love with either of them.  I'm still technically married to my second wife after 25 years of legal separation.  I still love her in my own way, she not so much for me.  R&L ;-)

Comment by nerd cred on October 14, 2016 at 11:26am

You write this so movingly, so clearly describing your problem.

When I told my kids we were separating, the oldest said, "It's about damn time." But she was 20 and away at school and our chaos had made all their lives a living hell. (The only thing that could stop his hours of screaming was me completely falling apart. Though the divorce was ugly and mean, it was better for the kids. The time at home became peaceful and predictable. At least once I changed the locks. Only the youngest had to see him at all and he hated that until he could stop it.

There is in that no advice at all for you! (A rare thing for me.)

I would ask if he's a good father and how much can you go your separate ways while remaining formally together. It seems like your kids' interests are paramount to you. Don't discount how important that is.

People still will say things to me about being civil, working together around the kids, even discussing things. My response is always: if we could do that we'd still be married.

Comment by Myriad on October 14, 2016 at 11:47am

I waited until my two kids had left and then buggered off.

In retrospect I should have done it years before...but every case is different.

Comment by Dharmabummer on October 14, 2016 at 1:37pm

This is terribly sad and (as others have noted) courageous and honest. You've done justice to the complexity of the situation.
Jorges Luis Borges said, "Love is a religion, organized around a fallible god". That used to smack me in the face as being so profound but these days I think of love as a verb-- it's a thing you do. I wish your husband was doing it for you..
Some of my clients have found the book "Should I stay or should I go" really helpful.
Hugs to you.

Comment by koshersalaami on October 14, 2016 at 2:03pm

I didn't think I had advice but I guess I do. Really, two things.

I would be worried about infidelity. If he doesn't love you, you could be blindsided. 

If at all possible, I would absolutely seek couples' counseling. I'm not telling you it will save your marriage. Listening to your description, what strikes me most is that he's not interested in listening. My guess is that he hasn't figured out the extent to which things are not equitable. The thing is, I don't think you can tell him, at least not alone. Someone else has to be in the room telling him No, there are ways in which you are not carrying your weight. He may not want what you want, but I think getting the resentment out of the way may be the best first step before you figure out where you're going or what you can tolerate.

Comment by Keith Joiner on October 14, 2016 at 2:30pm

Oh my, I have been there and done that Annmarie. Most painful thing I've ever been through was ending my marriage. It needed to end. I wouldn't dream of advising you what to do. I'm with Dharma. Love is verb. It isn't a place or an emotion, it is what you do, how you behave. 

When mine ended, we were successful in transitioning from spouses to co-parents. If yours ends, I hope the same for you.

Comment by alsoknownas on October 14, 2016 at 2:51pm

My parents married each other twice.

They divorced each other twice also.

What I could say about it would fill a book. In fact the one I'm working on.

But it won't have answers.

Comment by Annmarie Handley on October 14, 2016 at 7:03pm

Not feeling so alone is not something I thought I would feel for some time.  I can't thank you enough for your sentiments and thoughts.


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