I read a post in this morning’s The Elephant Journal newsletter and felt moved to write. (This post actually started as a message to Waylon, but I’ve now rewritten it as a blog post.)
I was approaching 30 and felt much the same way about time shrinking. Back in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s I think maybe a woman’s time clock ticked a little faster than it does now (although in my case my mother was my example of what was possible – she had been an anomaly as she birthed me, in 1964, at the age of 45). I was intent on finding someone to share my life with because I felt that my real life – the one we’d build together – wouldn’t / couldn’t start until that moment that co-creative union occurred.
Well I’d finally met someone who I thought would make a good husband and a father some day – I’d scrutinized his family and how they related to each other (because much can be learned from family dynamics) and marvelled at how few vices he had (because I’d dated far too many pot smokers and party animals in my time). The fireworks weren’t going off gangbusters but I always figured that sex was something that improved with knowledge and intimacy (and I was right).
We married in April of 1993. I moved from Montreal to California, not to L.A. as I had initially expected, because my new husband had taken a job up in the south South Bay and he’d found us a place to live in Gilroy, garlic capital of the world. The truth was, I wasn’t prepared for the shock of marriage, for the trauma of moving away from the place I’d lived in for 29 years (which was so familiar that I could almost navigate it with my eyes closed), where my family (though dysfunctional) lived and for the loss of the friendships that I had, which had begun long ago and still thrived (the distance would make it much more difficult to maintain).
I think I knew almost immediately that we’d made a mistake. Although he was a good man, my husband and I couldn’t seem to communicate in a way that we both heard each other, in a way that we both felt held and safe to speak and listen, and we both lacked the ability to come up with mutually beneficial solutions. We were both intrinsically selfish. I had a long ways to go with growing into myself, and I really can’t speak for him. We plodded along; marriage was a life long commitment, to my mind, and I was determined to figure out how to make it work even if I had no idea what I was doing or how to achieve success.
My husband became a workaholic. Perhaps he was always one, but the initial distraction of having a regular sex life had come to wane and with other issues encroaching (financial ones, because money is one of the greatest sources of marital discord, probably right up there with sex) he threw himself into work even when he didn’t have to. I felt abandoned, mostly, and he became more emotionally distant.
Despite that, we decided after a couple of years that it was time to have a child. I’d turned thirty-one and by the time I got pregnant (it didn’t take long) I would be delivering right around my 32nd birthday. My son was born in 1996 by c-section, one week earlier than his due date because the doctor felt he would grow too large. We’d bought a home even farther away from my place of work; the house was in Hollister while my job was in Sunnyvale. Back in those days family leave was perhaps three months, from start to finish. My heart broke every day that I drove away and left my son with my very reliable neighbour, who had also recently become a new mom and my $100 a week for having her watch my son was helping to supplement their income. In many ways I felt envious of her, that she was able to be with her child (and mine) and have a husband who would step up to the task of supporting the family.
The gruelling commuting, heavy and demanding workload, nursing/pumping, care-taking eventually undid me. I held in until another move elapsed (this time back down to Southern California, where I had merely traded one long commute for another one and 500 more square feet of house to clean), and our financial stress (because I’d taken on being single earner so that my husband could try getting a freelance photo business off the ground without having any savings to supplement the lack of a regular second income) shattered what little composure I had left.
I had a ginormous meltdown. I was contemplating suicide, and admitting this to my husband was tantamount to saying “I don’t care about you or our son” and he thought I was the most selfish human being alive for even considering it in my thoughts. And there was the matter of dropping the financial ball and pushing our house into potential foreclosure (we sold before it got there, for a profit, but it marked our credit with a big black X and it was something that he never forgave me for). Things weren’t looking good. We split up shortly after and were apart on a trial basis. I think if I had not lost my job nine months in, and teetered on possible homelessness (because I couldn’t afford a decent place to live on unemployment), we may never have gotten back together, but we did.
My mother died shortly after we had moved back in together and I felt truly orphaned (my dad had passed away in 1991). I did a lot of self-exploration. Spirituality had always been of huge importance for me, but when death comes knocking, especially with the loss of significant people in our lives, we are compelled to re-examine our own.
I grew… the situation made it so. For several more years our relationship ground along, like metal to metal. I held out the hope that perhaps he would come to see me as an asset rather than a liability, but I felt intuitively that his feelings toward me had changed and he had lost interest in rekindling them. Our relationship finally ended seven years later when I finally had the nerve to ask him whether he still loved me, to which he said “I care about you, but I don’t love you.” I think maybe that was the crux of our relationship – we had become friends with benefits – and had created a child together.
After a 16 year hiatus, I returned to Canada with my son. I tried dating for the first couple of years. It was never a simple thing to do, but at this age I find it even more complicated. I’ve learned more about myself. The learning process is endless, but relationships are interesting beasts.
We want different things at different times of our lives but at their core, when all the other things are stripped away, we want only to be heard, understood and loved, despite our flaws, despite the angers and disappointments that come and wash over us when the expectations we have set for ourselves and each other fail to reach acceptable levels, when the kids are tucked in or are growing hair on their face and looking to launch themselves into their own lives and we find ourselves alone with each other or ourselves… that is all we want.
It is the most difficult thing to find, even if you are looking. For the most part, I think, the only way to find it is by selectively looking – or not looking – because looking too closely will surely show the things that you don’t want to see. The inevitable failings of every human being that is so much less than perfect.
I wish all you brave ones who soldier on luck, though…. from the heart. I hope you find that impossible love. I’ve yet to see it… I’ve yet to see others find it. Relationships take work, no matter how we cut it. They gain an aged patina and must be polished every once in a while to keep them shiny. Love is sustainable only if two people lean in to each other’s wholeness and pull each other through failings and triumphs with appreciation, kindness and compassion.
The picket fence vision was a far different experience from what I thought it would be. I had to factor in myself – who I am, at any given time – and the Other… who for so many reasons is unquantifiable… the “unknown” in a math equation.
I have learnt a lot about myself though. I’m at once humbler and more full of myself than I’ve ever been.
I know that gentle persuasion works better (with me and others) than does passive aggression or outright aggression. I can learn and lean in and feel safe even when exposed to someone intimately (not only in a physical sense).
I’ve learned that many people have a similar reluctance to allowing that breach to occur. And it’s probably the cause of most of what ails humanity – breaking down of a sense of community, and of having differing visions of what that entails. A distinct need for autonomy and self-actualization.
I entreaty you to enjoy your walk in this world… I know you do… but anxiety for something other than what you have is inevitable… we humans are always desiring things, even if what we have is awesome and once one desire is met another emerges. It is our duty to ourselves to visit these desires and determine whether they serve us well, whether they fit into the core of what we want from our lives, holistically.
I am fifty now and I still don’t know shit. After several attempts at dating I’ve given up on it – for now. I think I have more figuring out to do in relation to how I fit into the world before I want to explore that some more. It gets lonely, sometimes. And even peri-menopause doesn’t alleviate the longing for intimacy. But that will have to wait a little while longer until I grow up a little more.
Happiness to your heart and blessing on your feet…