Category Archives: Relationships

Cliché in the city

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She is in the big city, alone. She finds a popular bar on 7th Ave, one with a crush of young people just off work and ordering Bud Light in bottles. She lays claim to one bar stool, because there is always one solitary bar stool available in a crowd, even in the busiest of bars. This is a universal truth. Some folks think the world shuts out single people, but she actually believes it reserves spaces for them, single spaces that groups are reluctant to fill. 

She orders a Stella and a burger. The Australian tourists next to her are watching the Billy Joel concert on the TV above them. John Mayer is playing guitar, his eyes closed. The bartender takes care of her, with a charming Irish accent and one eye constantly scanning the crowd, anticipating the next order, collecting payment, trying not to drip beer on her sleeve. Thanks, he says with a practiced grin, over and over again, money exchanging hands over her shoulder. Excuse me, his customers apologize to her, as if they are interrupting.

She’s here because she can’t be alone in her hotel room. It’s the silence and the spaces that unnerve her. It’s knowing that Drew is out there somewhere, between the posts, behind the friends they have in common, beyond her barricade, but not unreachable.

Maybe it’s knowing she’s getting too old to be this cliché. Maybe it’s that she’s reached the age at which she feels invisible to anyone who doesn’t know her, who didn’t once truly know her.

This must get easier at some point. 

She gets up quietly, smiles at the bartender, and heads back to the hotel.

photo credit: ek2014

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Teaching love

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What is she teaching them? What will they grow up to believe about love and happiness?

On one hand, they never see her kissing their dad. They never see her touch him voluntarily, and sometimes they notice that she has a hard time maintaining eye contact with him. They see that she can be patient and kind. But they also see that she can be tense and distant. Selfish even. Lately, her oldest daughter pauses on pictures of them together, studying the photographs and wanting her to look at them too. The puzzle pieces don’t all fit together, but she does not say the words aloud.

On the other hand, both parents are there. The girls have a home they know and love, and they never fear that they will go without a meal, or a parent to tuck them in at night. Someone is always coming home. Everything looks the way it looks at other people’s houses. Their parents sleep in the same room, they share the money, and they both do the household chores. They are united, usually, in decisions that involve them and sometimes they do seem to like each other. They still take trips together, and they still go out with their friends. On the surface, it all looks normal. So maybe it is.

But the girls are smart. Maybe smarter than she is. Do they understand longing and regret? Do they know what it means to be restless? Does staying teach them resilience and commitment and partnership? How will they learn about passion?

More and more, she wonders what she is teaching herself about love.

 

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Balance

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The fan revolved slowly in the wrong direction. Others along the veranda turned at a clip, stirring the air, but this one didn’t. She didn’t mind. The breeze off the gulf was warm, and it lifted her hair from her forehead.

The view from their table was of the marina. She watched as a sailboat went out, a skipper at the helm, one passenger sitting quietly at the bow as the boat turned toward the bay, others laughing and sipping drinks in the cockpit. Another boat was motoring back in, the first mate moving carefully along the starboard side, throwing fenders out over the railing. Two pelicans flew in formation overhead, as if mimicking the fighter jets that live at the nearby base.

They ordered the mahi tacos and happy hour beers. Neither said much, content to sit side-by-side, relaxing in their anonymity and the stillness. Sweat from their glasses pooled on the table, soaking their coasters as they ate. She smiled at the child who walked by waving the crayons she’d secured from the waiter. He ordered another beer.

After a while, he leaned back against the bench. She sat back too and leaned into him, feeling the softness of his shirt sleeve and the warmth of his arm under it.  She felt him exhale.

She began to keep count. For every sailboat that went out, another came in.

 

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All due respect

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The weight of his hand disturbs her sleep. She rolls over, out of his reach, and his hand slips off. She is in her subconscious mind now, floating up from a deeper place. Not entirely comfortable on her side, she is near the edge of the bed, but she lays still and maintains an even breathing pattern, hoping he won’t reach again, hoping she’ll slip back into a forgiving slumber. It’s better if they don’t talk about it. She has nothing new to say.

You never let me touch you anymore, Jake will say a few days later. It’s true. And she knows it goes against the Gottman-esque science about marriage stability and the Huffington Post-promoted philosophies about maintaining intimacy, currently in vogue. She just doesn’t want to pretend. The more space she creates, the more distance she gets, the stronger she feels. All due respect to science.

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Sixth sense

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On Monday, I passed a burgundy-colored FJ Cruiser on my way to work. And though I know believing a car can be a sign makes me sound crazy, your doubt won’t sway my belief that seeing it meant something. Maybe the truth is that anything can be associated with anything else. But there’s always a point at which frequency tips coincidence toward meaning and I’d crossed it a while ago.

I hadn’t seen this make, model, and color in over a year, which corresponds exactly to the amount of time I’d spent consciously trying to let Drew go. A year is the amount of time I’d spent practicing the art of living without Drew in my head, of not looking to him as my sounding board and savior. It was the amount of time I’d spent practicing the visual equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and singing la la la, trying not to see this particular sign, like a small child trying to tune out what she can’t control. 

At this point, for all I know on any given day, Drew is doing fine. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. And then I heard. His father had passed away unexpectedly. He’d had a heart attack. 

I don’t know which sensation is stronger—the painful awareness that he’d suffered a real loss for which I could offer no comfort or the ache-filled acknowledgement that my sixth sense connection to him is still alive and well.

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Settling

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I cut my hair yesterday. I knew I would feel like Samson losing his locks, the length having represented confidence and a freedom from conformity. But I was weary of caring for that long-haired person’s ego. I felt like she was higher maintenance than she needed to be. 

I thought I would be brave and go short, sassy and stylish, dialing up yet another side of the new, fearless me. But I let my hairdresser talk me into a mid-length cut, a safe cut (her words), one that wouldn’t freak me out (still her words.) I realize now that she was talking to the other me, the one she’s known for almost 20 years. And that me responded in meek agreement.

It takes a lot of energy to maintain momentum. It requires more calories than I can take in, and more space than I can consistently fill. As the barometer drops, dialing back the winds of change, I find that my bravery is dissipating. Never mind being more authentic, or feeling more alive. Complacency is settling back in.

Is my midlife crisis done with me? This settling feels like wind dying down, after a tornado has swept through and lifted the house from its foundation. Everything is dropping back into place, leaving little evidence of the seriousness of the storm.

After all this, will I be unchanged?

 

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Strong enough

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Tucked into the corner of her therapist’s loveseat, watching a float plane take off from the busy lake outside the window, she feels for a moment the vicarious lift and joy of being airborne.  The relief of being above the question before her.

Why aren’t you attracted to Jake?

She turns, and the room comes back into focus.

It’s taken such a long time just to get to this place, to this room, where she can admit the truth, the not-being-attracted-to-her-husband kind of truth. But this question challenges her. Why is harder to put her finger on.

Jake is a good man. Gentle, honest, and giving. Resiliently committed. He snaps back like a rubber band, never stretched to the point of breaking, never pushed past the point of no return. He is a caring and engaged father, a supportive partner, and he wants to take care of her.

Her therapist waits.

But he is vulnerable. And she hates that.

How is he vulnerable?

She thinks back to when their daughters were small. Jake agreed to be the breadwinner so that she could be the stay-at-home parent. This had been a brave decision, cutting their income dramatically at a time when expenses were going up. And for almost two years, they’d played their roles perfectly—Jake, the provider, and she, the caregiver. The girls had thrived, and Jake’s business had been busy and profitable.

Then the economy failed. A two year recession set in, and Jake’s confidence faltered.

She hadn’t known how bad it was at first. Her depression. His despair. The vacillating mood swings that were unsettling and hard to predict, with moments of extreme optimism and pessimism. He wanted her to join him, to be high when he was high, to share in the low, but she resisted. He wanted her to own the weight and responsibility of it with him. She wanted him to fix it.

At some point, she’d grown angry. And then desperate.

This is where it broke down, she says, relishing the clarity. This was the point at which she had no longer felt safe, where she was no longer able to pretend that everything was okay, or that this was the life she wanted. This was where attraction had withered. This is where the “we” had reverted back to “I”.

She pauses. She knows how this sounds. Unsupportive. Ungrateful. But there is a big part of her that finds his desire to lean on her unappealing, unattractive, and downright needy. She wants him to be strong and independent. She wants to know he has things handled, that their family is taken care of. She doesn’t want to be responsible for his self confidence. She wants him to take what he wants from the world, without hesitating.

She’s on to something. It makes her sound selfish. It makes her seem unkind. She feels sad, and embarrassed, and deeply flawed. But in this room, it takes shape. And the contradiction of the guilt and the empathy she feels, the respect she has and the distance she needs, it all suddenly makes sense.

There is a long silence. But her therapist is smiling and nodding her head.

Photo credit: http://www.health00.com

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