Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Big Long History: My Marriage

I’ve started following a number of divorce blogs, and in doing so I’ve learned that many people start their blogs in the middle, and leave the readers curious about all that stuff that lead up to the divorce.  Here’s the short version.  Okay, it’s really long, but I’ve left out a lot anyway.

A note: I am really trying to live looking forward, not back, but I want to learn from my history.  My goal in blogging is to focus on my present and future, but I do want to make sure that I take the lessons of my past, just not the bitterness and anger that they come with.  A tough road to follow, and I’m open to advice!  Still, I think that the history is important, so here it is.

When Bryan and I first met, I was a tender 23 years old.  I thought I was worldly; I had a job at a major corporation, I’d completed my degree, I’d done some traveling, and I was feeling pretty sassy and independent.  When we first met, I felt no chemistry whatsoever.  Now, tell me, shouldn’t that have been the first warning sign?  I thought he was a nice guy, but not dating material.  We became friends, good friends, and didn’t go on a date for two years after we met.

And then we didn’t date, we fell into bed.  Our first date wasn’t a date at all, it was two friends hanging out and then suddenly we slept together with no discussion or forethought.  At that point I thought, “Oh, he knows me as I REALLY am so maybe this will be a great relationship!” and he thought “Friends with benefits – cool!”  Needless to say, the disconnect was painful.  We spent six months drifting in and out of this, with me wondering why my dear friend didn’t want the whole enchilada with me, and feeling the fool.  This should have made me pay attention, but I was too busy trying to prove that I was worth having to even remember that I hadn’t felt chemistry with him and that any guy who didn’t realize what a catch I am wasn’t worth his salt…..but that kind of understanding was still close to 20 years away for me, and all I thought is, “This hurts!  It will feel better if he wants me!”

Eventually, he decided he did want me, and we officially began dating.  Perhaps I wore him down, which isn’t the same as craving me, cherishing me, but it had the same result: we were officially dating.

I tried to break up with him multiple times during the few years we dated: first, when he was treating me like crap, even though he was known amongst our friends as “such a nice guy!”, but when I told him it wasn’t working for me he begged forgiveness and promised to change his ways; then, when I realized that he never, ever, ever cooked or even made me a sandwich, and that being with him would mean a lifetime of cooking for him and not receiving anything in return (he made one meal to prove he would, and basically didn’t do that again, but I was convinced by the one meal that he WOULD understand….); and then, the big kahuna, he didn’t want to get married or have kids, but I did, so I suggested we date for one more year then part as friends….but at the end of that year he proposed.
Still with me?  We were just dating, the easy times, and there were some pretty big incompatibilities.  But I convinced myself that I was in love, and that settled that.

I was already in the process of switching career tracks and applying to graduate schools when we got engaged, and he decided to quit his job when I did.  I was startled by this – what would he do?  He told me he needed time to think about that question in order to answer it.  I said, “When I’m in grad school, if you sit around eating pizza and playing video games I’ll find it really unattractive and I will be very angry,” and he said, “Of course I wouldn’t do that!”  Guess what actually happened?  I started grad school a couple weeks after we got married…..and he spent the next eighteen months with pizza in one hand and a controller in the other.  When I confronted him about this, as gently as I knew how, he got mad and told me to leave him alone.
Uh oh.

I am a real go-getter, always on the move, lots of ideas swimming in my head, constantly dreaming up plans, organizing friends to get together, doing little projects, volunteering….and I was now married to a guy who really liked to sleep until noon, watch a lot of TV, play a lot of video games.  And eat.  He gained progressively more weight, going from a bit overweight to really overweight.

I convinced myself that it was just like the freshman 15; I was such a good cook he couldn’t resist my mad kitchen skills.  I tried not to think about the fact that he rarely wanted sex any more.

I finished grad school, we moved back to the big city, and we both got full time jobs.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief – the strange time was over, and he’d be his regular self again, motivated and energized.  For a while, I was right.  Things looked good, and we bought a house together.  My dreams were coming true – the guy, the house, the job…..looked good!

Not too long after moving into our new home, I got baby fever.  There was room in the new house, and I was in my early 30s, and I wanted a baby more than anything.  In hindsight, I talked him into it, but at the time I just thought he wasn’t as vocal/passionate as I was (another incompatibility?) but that he was on board.  When we got the positive pregnancy test, I was trembling with ecstasy – and he completely froze.  I actually had to ask him to respond, at which point he said, “I thought this would take six months to a year.”  Oh dear.

I gained 28 pounds in pregnancy.  He gained 40.  Not a deal breaker, but not a good sign.
After our beautiful daughter was born, for the first time since I’d known him, he became a workaholic.  Our daughter was colicky (is that what you call screaming nonstop and rarely sleeping?!), and he sort of disappeared.  I remember saying to him, on the telephone, “You haven’t even seen her in three days…” and he said, “What does she care?!” and I whimpered, “But I’m so tired, and I haven’t seen you either…”  I was classically overwhelmed, and the transition from working woman to stay at home mom was a tough one, and I felt like I was doing it alone.  I was breastfeeding, and he was working, so I did all of the nighttime care….and most of the daytime care, even when we were together.  He loved our daughter, but he wasn’t terribly engaged with her, or with me.

I felt alone, and isolated, and confused.  Where did my loving husband, my friend, disappear to?  I tried to talk to him, and he shut me down.  I tried to explain how disconnected I felt, and how I wanted him, loved him, needed to be part of a team….and he shut down.

When our daughter was two, I wrote him a letter telling him how unhappy our situation was making me, because he wasn’t helping me out with childcare or the house, and I didn’t feel like we were doing this together at all.  We weren’t going on dates because he appeared not to care, and he didn’t want to have sex with me (even though I was initiating).  Ding, ding, ding, that’s a lot of warning bells!  He was devastated with the letter.  He was shocked by it.  I said, “But I’ve been trying to get your attention all along….” But he couldn’t respond.  I asked for counseling, he was insulted.  I started looking up depression symptoms on the web, and he had many of them….I printed them off to show him, begged him to talk to his doctor.  He told me the doc said he was fine.

A couple of months later, at age 35, I found a lump in my breast.  A whirlwind of doctor’s appointments later, it was confirmed: I had invasive breast cancer, and I’d need intensive treatment, including a mastectomy, chemo, and radiation.  Our daughter was two and a half years old….and I was fighting for my life.

My oncologist assigned me a psycho-oncologist (a therapist who works with cancer patients).  I begged her, “Just tell me how to keep my family together!  Cancer is hard on families, help us to be strong and to grow together!”

Bryan was beside me, silent and stunned.  I asked him to take notes from the doctor’s meetings, to read up the research with me to help me make treatment decisions, to help with our daughter.  He was too stunned to do anything.  I called in my friends and family, and they surrounded us with love and care and meals….and he didn’t do much.  I was in too much pain and fear to really notice at first – I was used to ‘doing it all’ and thought maybe we were just handling things differently, and that he’d come around.  After the first couple of doctor’s appointments, he stopped going with me.  (I would sometimes go to ten appointments in a week, for months on end.  I did many of them alone, some with friends….but not with him, because he was unavailable to me.  Eventually I blew up at him and cried and yelled and said helpful things like "How dare you!" and he started coming with me, but he would stare at me and refuse to connect or talk, as I did chemo, and say, "What do you want from me?!"  It was worse when he was there, actually.)

I had the mastectomy, but they found more cancer than they were expecting, so I had to have another surgery to remove even more tissue (lymph nodes).  By this point I was seriously spinning – my prognosis was worse than before, and I was terrified.  And still not getting a lot of support from Bryan.

The day after this second surgery, I was at home, with nasty drains hanging off my body, difficulty lifting my arm (tough to change a toddler’s diapers like that, by the way), and on painkillers.  Bryan came home and said he was feeling suicidal, that work wasn’t going well, that he couldn’t cope.  I went off the painkillers cold turkey, called my psycho-oncologist, arranged for an emergency meeting between her and Bryan (I didn’t know who else to call!), and took charge.  She told me that she couldn’t treat both of us because of the conflict of interest, and I said, “Take care of him!  Please!”  I stayed on suicide watch.  He was so restless that his legs were flailing in his sleep, so I slept on the floor beside the bed….drains, stitches, wounds, pain, and no painkillers, because I was terrified that our daughter would need me in the night and he couldn’t help, and I was even more terrified that he would need me and I’d need to be clear headed.

He took weeks off work.  I called his bosses, I arranged his leave, and I took care of him.  I started to heal from the surgeries, and that meant it was time for chemo.  I sat him down and said, “Look, we need to figure this out….I am terrified and I need you to be present for me.  I want to help you, but I need some help, too.”  He told me that it was “all about me” in my head, and that I was selfish and only cared about myself, not him.  I pointed out that I’d been caring for him for weeks, and he said, “Yah, and now my time’s up.  NICE!”  I said, “But I have cancer, and I’m starting chemo, and I’m worried I’m going to die….” But apparently my arguments weren’t good enough.  He was angry, and felt unloved.

He eventually went on anti-depressants and began seeing a therapist, but he refused to tell me anything about what he was thinking, and I was on the outside.  From the outside, it looked like his depression was getting worse....he wasn't behaving as if he was suicidal, but aside from that he looked miserable.  I begged him to ask for help with his depression, to change his meds to something more effective, to talk to his therapist about how things were really going....and he told me, "You just want me to be a zombie!"  Uhhh, what?  No, I want you to be happy....but he told me that I just wanted him to be on drugs that made him a zombie.  (Sadly, in the seven years since then, his depression has only worsened as far as I can tell.  He continues to have unhealthy behaviors, self-medicating with food, alcohol, and video games.  He sleeps during the day, he's lost touch with close friends, and he's withdrawn from many people.  This makes me genuinely sad for him, but I am not able to help, for reasons I still don't understand.)
The rest of my treatment was a wreck for our marriage.  He got fired.  He disconnected further from me.  I still managed the house and most of the childcare, and he would stay at home and sleep, while I got friends to watch our daughter so that I could go to chemo.  It was pretty ugly.  It’s hard to write about.
It was hard to talk to friends about it, too.  I put a happy face on, and I told people that I would be okay, and that it was a tough time, but that I loved him and he loved me and that's what mattered the most.  I read my blog posts from that time, when I was not being anonymous (I've learned my lesson: this is anonymous because I want it to be deeply authentic, no "putting on a happy face" when that's not true), and I sound so chipper and upbeat that I envy the person that wrote those posts, because surely it wasn't ME - I was terrified, and I felt so alone, and the blog makes it sound like things were going swimmingly between us.
But PollyAnna kicked in, and I said, “We can beat cancer, and we can beat depression.  Let’s fight to get through this!”  We went to counselors – three of them, actually, for about a year each.  We burned through all of our savings, and borrowed money from my parents and racked up a credit card debt that is still crippling.  He still refused to cook, so if I was too ill to cook, he brought home take out or went to a restaurant.  Debt piled up.  He found a new job, and got fired again (for sleeping in client meetings.....seriously?!).  He told me that I was unsupportive and to blame for his problems.

My cancer treatment involved six months of chemo, three months of radiation, and a total of 15 surgeries over the course of six years.  I did many non-chemo drugs in that time, including Herceptin, Zometa, Femara, Aromasin, and Tamoxifen.  I had two major scares where it looked like the cancer had metastasized throughout my body (many, many scans later, finally surgery showed they were benign – hallelujah!).  I had years where I had pain - side effects from cancer drugs and surgery - that made it difficult to get out of bed each day, but I continued to do what I could....which was a lot.  I think those were my Martha Stewart years: I made gourmet meals, kept a lovely home, took our daughter to the pool or the park or the beach or the library, made cookies from scratch, hosted holidays for family and friends, and tried to prove to myself and the world that I would not let cancer define me.  But when I look at how hard I worked, well, I am exhausted just thinking about it.  Those were some hard times.

I still believed we could work it all out.  That I could try harder, that I could be the wife he wanted, that he would want to go on dates with me, work with me as a team, have the fantasy life.  Writing this, I realize how incredibly foolish that looks, but I wanted it so badly, and I was prepared to do anything to fight for it.  I thought if he got past his depression, he would be the guy I thought I fell in love with: funny, smart, lots of integrity.  (That’s who I *thought* I fell in love with….)

He got a new job, and I was hopeful.  He got fired again.  I told him I was willing to go to work – difficult when I kept having surgeries and I was wiped out from treatment – but only if he was willing to promise to help with food and housework, because I couldn’t do it all.  He refused.  For once, I didn’t yield: I told him that I wouldn’t work unless he was willing to help out, because I was working hard for the family, and I wouldn’t do two jobs while he relaxed and watched me work.

I still might have stuck it out, because I’m stubborn and foolish and believe in the marriage vows we made to one another, but there was another twist.
Like some foolish fifties housewife, I’d turned over the finances to him.  My excuse for this is that when we went through it together we’d argue, and I hated that, so it was easier just to have him say, “here’s the budget” and to go with his ideas.  Somehow, though, it never worked, we were always short on cash, even when he was working, even when I was cutting every corner I could, even though he made good money, even though we didn’t take vacations or do home repairs, even though we drove an old car.

He kept getting packages in the mail, and I kept saying “How do you afford them?” because any pocket money designated as mine was going to groceries because we were so broke, and he was getting packages every day.  He would snipe at me “I get bargains,” and “I can’t believe you don’t trust me!”

Well, one day I saw a receipt for something for him on our account – when I’d been cutting corners and doing without (I know a LOT of beans and rice recipes!) – and I was peeved.  I pulled up the account, and it had thousands of dollars in spending.  I pulled up the credit cards….same thing.  He’d been telling me I was spending too much on groceries, but he’d been supporting his hobbies in style.

I confronted him.  I was more upset about his lying – he’d been lying to my face, directly, for ages, blatantly telling me that he wasn’t spending our money! – than the money (though I was plenty upset about the money).  I said, “Shape up or ship out!”  He promised to change.  Back to counseling.  We took a marriage class.  We read books.  We got mentors, a couple with a great marriage who promised to coach us.  And I had such hope that finally, we would start again, and get it right this time.

It didn’t work.  He yelled at me, more than ever before.  He didn’t do his marriage homework (assigned by the class….the class that he told me was a great idea).  He stormed.  He sulked.  He flew into rages, and though he never physically hurt me, he frightened me.  He yelled at me in front of our daughter, even when she begged him to stop, even when I said, “You’re scaring Katherine; can we please talk about this when you’re calm?” and even when I refused to yell back.

And by now, I was angry.  Really, really, really, really pissed off.  I accused him of behaving like a child, not a man.  This did not improve the situation.

And one day, almost out of nowhere, I realized that I didn’t want to fight any more.  I realized that I didn’t care if he did change, that too much had happened, that I was too tired of fighting.  I realized that I didn’t feel loved, and that I couldn’t remember the last time I felt loved.  I didn’t want to remind him that he promised to make an appointment with our counselor and that he hadnn't, I didn’t want to keep dealing with his spending issues (which he initially fixed, and then fell back into), I didn’t want to try to break down his stonewalling techniques, and I didn’t want to have to beg for sex (which, by that point, I didn’t want at all anyway).  I didn’t want to be yelled at.  I didn't want to do all of the work, while he napped, only to have him criticize me when he awoke.
What did I want?  Peace.  Joy.  Partnership.  Respect.  I wanted to be cherished, deeply loved, and I wanted a man I could respect and cherish in return.
At our next counseling appointment, I turned to him in front of our counselor, and said my rehearsed words, “I need to say something.”  I asked for a divorce.  I told him that I didn’t want to fight, I just wanted to move on.  I told him that maybe we could like each other again if we weren’t married.
And then our marriage was over.  I was terrified and relieved, all at once, but I was certain.

But there’s  a twist.

Because of all of our debt, and the fact that I’d been a stay-at-home-mom-cancer-patient for years, we can’t afford two households.  So, since May of 2011, we have been not-separated: our marriage is over, but we continue to live in the same house, separate but together.  He has a room downstairs (and also the family room and a bathroom), and I stay upstairs; we share the kitchen and main living space.  There is, however, a heck of a lot of overlap….an uncomfortable amount of overlap. 
Because we have a daughter, our lives are tangled together forever.  When I asked him what parenting plan he imagined, he said, “I’ll take alternate weekends and Wednesday nights.”  This is great for me, because I love being with our daughter and the idea of having her only half time was really hard for me.  I’m delighted to be the primary custodial parent….but at the same time, I ache for our girl that he is willing to offer her so little.

I continue to cook and clean, to grocery shop and do laundry.  I am the parent who does the homework projects, walks the dog, cleans the kitty litter, weeds the garden, organizes the birthday presents, throws holiday parties, manages our daughter’s social calendar, takes her to the doctor and dentist.  I get up and get her ready for school, and I make sure she’s in bed on time with her teeth brushed.

I’m working now.  I’m learning that I *can* do it all, because I have to.  It is deeply satisfying – I’m starting to provide for myself and our girl financially, and I’m still able to keep the other balls in the air.  Once again, I am deeply exhausted....but I can do it.

He is on the bench (consulting), and not working.  He spends his days playing video games, reading, watching movies, and surfing the net.  He participates with our daughter on his days, and sometimes reads her a story or takes her out to eat, but mostly they watch movies, or she entertains herself while he goes into another room and plays online.  (That is what is going on right now; it's his weekend with her.)

I’m working on figuring out why on earth I would have agreed to this life of mine, why I let it get so bad, why I thought I wasn’t worthy of more.

I am very glad I’m getting a divorce.


    you have amazing resilience
    I'm ready to run away-nowhere to go........

  2. 001mum, thank you for the compliment about my resilience - I think it is my favorite trait about myself. I ache for you that you feel you have nowhere to go, and I looked at your blog, and saw how much you are hurting. I do not have easy answers for you - oh, if only life had easy answers for complex problems - but I will say that you DO have options, even if you don't know what they are yet, and I hope you never give up until you find the path that is meant for you. You will know what the right thing to do is - stay, go, how to leave, how to stay - but I hope that you can fight the misery and find your joy again.

    Your foster dogs (I saw on your blog) are beautiful. :-) I have a black lab mix, who is the dog of my heart. I tell everyone that he is the dog of a lifetime, one of the world's truly great dogs, with a kind and gentle heart and such a good soul. And I feel so safe when I walk in the woods with him, which is a nice bonus!

    1. yes, I know my time to make changes will come. I have fabulous intuition (but not listening to it 31 years ago has put me in this spot).
      waiting for the signs............

  3. Damn, lost my comment! But I obviously should have read your backstory before I complimented you on your tidy divorce...

    You are amazing! I know my ex thought I would tuck tail, abandon our farm, run home to mom & dad when he sunk the knife in MY back...

  4. Thank you for sharing.
    I am in your place right now. Changes need to be made and something you said rang true for me,
    "What did I want? Peace. Joy. Partnership. Respect. I wanted to be cherished, deeply loved, and I wanted a man I could respect and cherish in return." I ask the same, I see couples who have this love for each other and I want the same.

  5. Chez Zizi, if you're reading my blog, you know this hasn't been easy for me, and that I do NOT have all of the answers, but I am certain with this: life alone is better than life with someone who doesn't believe in me, or in the life I dream of. Do everything you can to save your marriage, to make sure that you have done your utmost to honor your marriage vows. However, if that doesn't work, end it. Being alone is so much better than being lonely and married.

    I haven't found my Prince Charming yet, and I haven't even started looking for him. But I am so much happier than I dreamed possible. Putting energy into myself - and reaping the rewards - is so much more beautiful than putting energy into my divorce that drained me dry with no results.

    I believe that love is out there for those of us who seek. I wish you the love that is waiting for you.