For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.
Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ve been separated for four or so years now (strange concept that is, giving one the image of a disconnected skeleton), divorced for one less. It’s funny to me that I can’t remember the exact time, but then I had trouble remembering our marriage date, too. I blame MS. Or the stress surrounding such a decision.
We parted as amicably as two married for almost 25 years people can do, with, as is usual, the real fighting occurring over money. It seems always thus. What is it about money that makes us so bitter, grasping, when otherwise we are kind, giving, understanding?
As the years have gone by, I’ve had my angry moments. Moments where I would write all the reasons I left on a scrap of paper (or several) and then burn them. I’ve had my moments of doubt – could I have stuck it out? Was it really that bad? I’ve had moments of sorrow, as I’ve watched the effect of the divorce on my children, one of whom still isn’t speaking to me. I’ve made decisions based on little information and lost in the process. I’ve got to say it’s been a few years of learning, intense focused learning, about the world and about myself. It’s been really tough.
Toss in a bout of MS and job loss and I figure I could top out the stress scale.
The thing that has surprised me the most is how I relate to men now. I’ve dated pretty extensively and met some wonderful men. In fact, all of them were pretty wonderful – okay, barring two or three. Men of a “certain age” fascinate me. I love hearing about their lives, so different from my own. I enjoy seeing how they see the world – as a military wife, I was not expected to show any interest in any of the men about me – in fact I was told I shouldn’t speak to them, particularly when my husband wasn’t home. Very 1950’s, Mad Men-ish. So now I find I am hungry for knowledge of how men get through their days, with the expectations society puts on them, their doubts and insecurities and hopes and dreams.
But I’ve also found out I don’t trust them. Whether this is their fault or mine, I’m not sure. All I know is that I find it so hard to relax into a love relationship, trust in the future, believe. I trusted once and spent a great deal of my life being told I was less important than this paper or that article or that student. It hurt me. Because of this, I choose to be in control of my relationships. Which I find conflicts with the love thing.
Like many women, I have two bad parts that deny me healthy relationships. One is the caretaker/martyr gene, which makes me want to take on men who need help and support them, despite the resentment that eventually occurs. The other is the people-pleasing gene (the main reason I should never have tried management). So I go along, hiding any concerns, trying to pretend everything is fine when I am quite fed up. I let the line be pushed until all I can can see is the desire for exit. Or, alternatively, I hang on to a relationship for months, years, just because it is so much easier than making the decision to leave.
When I first separated (arms and legs scattering all over), my goal with dating was to have fun. To explore myself as a woman with a foil of another man. I fell in love once or twice, little loves. Inappropriate loves. Trial loves. It stretched my heart. I was used, too, by men who weren’t interested in me really, but that was okay, because I wasn’t really interested in them, either, and was using as much as being used. It was all quite a learning experience and I have to admit I was lucky to come away with heart, body, and soul intact. (though perhaps ever so slightly soiled). But I didn’t really learn how to love. These men I sent away on a whim, I grieved not (well, maybe with one or two), I immediately threw myself into the fray again, ready for a new play partner.
I’m no longer interested in the play, though. I want more. I want true connection.
I just left a long-term relationship because , although I truly wanted to try for a long term connection with this very lovely man, I could see it wasn’t going to happen. He was sweet, kind, etc., etc., but something wasn’t there. Or rather, too many things were there. Complications. Concerns. Not his fault, but not mine either. Sometimes the pieces of a puzzle look like they fit and you can even squeeze them into the place they look like they belong, but when you get further in the puzzle, you realize that the piece you’ve shoved in place really belongs somewhere else. The nubby bits are slightly off, the colours don’t quite match, and no matter how much you wish they would be right, they just aren’t.
I’ve learned more about myself and about relationships from my time with this man than I expected. And I thank him for his patience with me. It is humbling. I still have so much to learn.
A good friend of mine once advised me: “Never make a decision by not making a decision”. It was good advice, and though it was given over 30 years ago, I can still hear it in my head. Not that I’ve always listened…He was right, though – deciding by letting things slide is never as satisfactory as when you move consciously in the direction you need to go.
Perhaps I am doomed to solitude, or multiple cat ownership. But by making the decision to move forward, maybe I’ve opened myself to opportunity.