"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Love and Marriage

When it comes to relationships, I have no idea what I'm doing.  I'm no good at them.  And why would I be?  It's not like I had strong, healthy relationships to learn from when I was young.  My parent's marriage ended in a bitter, contentious divorce when I was thirteen.  The years leading up to their divorce were filled with the worst kind of fights imaginable.  Although I'm sure they sat down and constructively worked something out a few times during their marriage, I have no memory of such peaceful problem solving ever occurring.  

Their divorce was rapidly followed by my dad's remarriage to a much younger woman, the "other woman".    That didn't exactly lead to peaceful post-divorce family dynamics.  That marriage was also contentious and far from a shining example of a healthy, mutually supportive relationship.  I lived with my dad and stepmother, so I was a first-hand witness to their short-lived marriage and ugly divorce.  Naturally, I did what most teenage girls do when faced with such depressing home lives, I found a boyfriend!  

I stayed with my high school sweetheart, S, from the moment we met, all throughout high school and after.  We married when I was 19.  His family was my surrogate family, his mom the mother I lacked, not because I didn't have a mom, but because mine lived 600 miles away.  Without him and his family, I don't know where I would be today.  Their home was the shelter from the storm for me.  

When I married S I knew our marriage was ill-advised, but I did it anyway.  In Utah, getting married at such a young age isn't at all unusual, and after five years of dating it seemed the logical next step.  Except deep in my heart, I knew I was making a mistake.  Even then I understood I wasn't ready, didn't have the skills, was marrying for all the wrong reasons.  I forged ahead anyway, too scared to end our relationship and lose my best friend, and terrified to pursue my dreams alone.  

Within five years our marriage was over.  Despite all the outward appearances of having it all together, good jobs, well-funded retirement accounts, plenty of savings, college behind us and a brand-new home, we were miserable and destroying each other with our misery.  Mostly, I was destroying him and he deserved better.

Moving back into my dad's house and then into a dingy furnished basement apartment put me into a deep depression.  I'd had it all and thrown it away for this?  I was faced with the realization that being a single woman at 24 trying to make it on my own was really, really hard.  I struggled financially and couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel.  So what did I do?  I gave in to the older man who'd been pursuing me, begging me to start a life with him.  Again, I knew it was ill-advised, again I did it anyway.  I'm stubbornly stupid that way.

So, J and I married and I became a stepmother to his three teenage children.  Sound familiar?  Funny how history repeats itself isn't it?  We also endured two rounds of in-vitro fertilization because I'd decided it was time for me to have a baby.  Our second attempt at in-vitro was a success and our daughter Gillian was born.  Predictably, our marriage failed in the face of struggling with our 14-year age difference, blended family challenges, financial stress, verbal and emotional abuse and vast religious differences.  

When I divorced J and moved out on my own along with my daughter, it was honestly the first time I was seriously committed to making it on my own.  I realized it was time to get my shit together.  I couldn't afford to keep starting over, emotionally or financially.  I made sure my divorce settlement was fair so I could afford to give Gillian a stable home.  I bought a house not far from our previous home so that her surroundings would stay as familiar as possible and she'd be close to her dad.  For the first time, at age 34, I bought a house alone.  I'd handled the entire process myself.  It was just me who had done the negotiating, me alone at the closing table, and me, along with Gillian, setting up our new house just the way we wanted.  It felt good!  The sense of freedom and competence it gave me was thrilling.  

This time around I loved being single.  I was actively volunteering in my community and meeting new friends and discovering new things to do.  Life was good.  I was also seeing a guy I met at work, B.  Yep, you know where this is going, don't you?  

After dating for close to a year, B and I were spending quite a bit of time together.  We were usually at my house since he lived in a small apartment.  Things were comfortable between us, but honestly, I had no desire to mess with the status quo.  That is until my ex-husband started threatening court action because occasionally B stayed at my house until the wee hours of the morning when Gillian was there.   Much fighting between the ex and I ensued.  I'd signed certain provisions in our divorce under duress and against my better judgement, assuming I could renegotiate them later.  There was no negotiating.  Rather than take a step back and re-evaluate my motivations, B and I decided to get married.  It was a marriage of convenience, not love, and we both knew it.  I never should have done it.  In fact, as we left the Justice of the Peace's house (ironically named Reverend Love!) I fought the urge to turn around and tell him I'd just made a horrible mistake and to please not file the paperwork.  

We were both miserable.  We toughed it out for a little over two years and then went our separate ways.  Splitting the sheets was easy because we'd never combined anything.  We were married in name only.  My attorney called me while I was vacationing in Colorado for the 4th of July to let me know my divorce was final on July 3.  It was a good Independence Day celebration that year!  We even had caviar during the fireworks at the park.  

After B, I swore I'd never humiliate myself by getting married again.  I was beginning to become a joke.  Comparisons to Elizabeth Taylor weren't uncommon.  I'm so humiliated by my three failed marriages that many acquaintances don't even know I've been married three times.  Since B, I give full disclosure to any man I meet within about the first 15 minutes, letting them know that despite outward appearances, I most definitely am not a good relationship risk.  Despite being in relationships since the age of 15, I know very little about how to make one succeed.  I know quite a bit about what not to do, but knowing and doing are two different things.  

When I look inward and think about my future, I picture myself alone.  I'm at least self-aware enough to know that I make a horrible partner and I end up hurting people, badly, despite my best intentions.  That's the really hard part.  I know what I need to fix, but overcoming a lifetime of bad examples and deep emotional wounds is very hard work.  It's harder still when you throw another person into the mix with complex emotional baggage of their own.  

So that's where I'm at right now.  Mike and I are almost two years into a relationship that we both started with no expectations and no desire to make it anything but what it was, right then, in the moment.  When I met Mike, I was truly, blissfully happy being alone.  I wasn't looking for a relationship.  I'd changed my mindset about dating and started going out with people I found interesting, nothing more. That was the only qualification.  Just because they might have expectations to the contrary didn't mean I had to meet those expectations.  I was becoming skilled at establishing boundaries so I could maintain my freedom.  

Mike was interesting, in spades.  I was, and still am fascinated by his mind.  He looks at and approaches the world in a completely unique and different way than I, which is both good and bad.  We are polar opposites in almost every way, but do share unique, quirky observations about the crazy world around us.  Our fast, easy friendship was quickly changed into something much more only ten days after our first date when my sister killed herself.  Even then, I trusted him so much that he was the second person I called to share the news with.  He responded in exactly the right way.  Our relationship has lived in the shadow of her suicide ever since, with both of us questioning the authenticity of our connection and desire to be together because of it.  It's all but impossible to separate the two.  

Now we're at a crossroads.  We're both unsure and terrified about which way to go.  We both know that it will require an enormous amount of work, strength and commitment to build a healthy relationship.  We both come from backgrounds that taught us almost everything to do wrong, but very little about what to do right.  We're both headstrong, stubborn and prideful--foolishly so.  Deep inside, we're also both hopeless romantics that want nothing more than to be loved and accepted by another person,  despite all of our bad traits.  We care deeply for each other, enough that we don't want to destroy each other.  The jury is still out on whether that means we'll end up together or go our separate ways.  Not knowing which way to go is agonizing, so right now we're giving each other space and taking it one day at a time.  


  1. No advice, because this is yours alone. Unfortunately. But I will say it sounds as if you have learned a lot about yourself, and I think you'll make a considered decision. Meanwhile, may I hold you and your happiness in my heart? Never mind, I will anyway. Good luck, dear girl. :)

  2. Why the agonizing? Just enjoy the moment. I remember my father telling me when I was about 13 that just because you love someone it doesn't mean you have to get married. Of course this comment was in the context of the affair he was having, but I remember being stunned. I always had thought that love meant marriage...too many fairy tales for me! Good luck sorting it out. I hope you enjoy the ride.

  3. Keicha, I so admire your ability to look at yourself so clearly -- at your past, present, and yes, future -- the good and the bad, the errors in judgment and the exuberant feelings -- and share it so honestly. I always used to think that when you loved someone you got married and that was that. Then I met Rick -- 16 years ago (well, we met before that, but 16 together). He had a childhood of split family and his divorce was very bitter. I didn't know him when he was married, but several years after and he still had issues. This man wasn't about to get married again, and when I thought it about it -- I wasn't sure how I felt on it either. We had different living styles (you haven't seen my clutter!)and I had grown pretty used to living independently and he was finding he liked that too. Our solution isn't everyone's. Sixteen years later, we live two blocks away from each other and are as committed as though we lived in the same house. But we have our spots where we can be us and us alone. Yes, we see each other most days -- maybe only for a few minutes as one or the other stops by, sometimes more -- and spend weekends. And that works for us. We love each other a lot; I helped raise his boys and think of them as mine. Maybe when we're old, we'll share space, not just hearts.

    I have no "advice" and I'm not sure you want it. Just think outside the box and cherish the moments you have, the things you share. It sounds as though you both care tremendously and you neither want to hurt one another nor "destroy one another's lives." I'd say that's one hell of a good start. One day at a time, my friend. Live that day with love and it's a grand start.

    (And on another note, I hope you got my note in the mail! Three words -- I adore it!!!) Two more. Thank you!


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