Warning: this post is going to be the sort of soppy emotional wallowing that is probably of absolutely no interest to anyone but me. If you’re looking for clever, witty perspectives today, now’s your chance to escape.
So. When Steve and I separated, my first response was an overwhelming relief. I was so glad to finally just let go of the hopeless struggle and start reconnecting with my own self again. I woke up every morning with a song in my heart, and went about my daily work with a glorious lightness of spirit. The fact that Steve was suddenly putting an extraordinary amount of effort into strengthening his relationship with Luke and Elizabeth — something they have long needed — reaffirmed for me that we’d made the right choice. I felt liberated, buoyant, free.
That lasted for almost a month and a half. Then the bitterness and resentment started creeping in. In some strange way, the happiness and ease of my new life made me deeply angry about all the years of futile struggle and empty promises I’d just gone through. It gradually built up in me, and then climaxed in a solid three days of bitter fighting with Steve. Until then we’d kept our relationship civil, but now the gloves came off. We said horrible, ugly, cutting things to one another, doing our best (or worst) to wound and maim. Almost fourteen years of knowing one another had taught us right where all the tender spots were, and we clawed at them ferociously and without mercy.
It was horrible. One of the most harrowing experiences of my adult life. Those three days of total hostile alienation made me realize that underneath all of my anger and resentment, I actually still valued Steve’s friendship quite a lot. I told him I didn’t want to fight anymore, and he said he didn’t either, and we carefully began to put together a new sort of friendship, based on the acceptance that we are maritally incompatible but not ignoring the enduring bond between us. Being friends felt so much better than being enemies.
Next came a phase of true grief for me. The pain would wash over me at random moments, almost unbearable in its intensity. I remembered the early days of our marriage, before I got pregnant with Elizabeth, and how Steve and I would spend our evenings on the porch at our old home and talk about the wonderful life of self-sufficiency we were going to build together. I grieved for what could have been. I knew that the effort had well and truly failed, and I didn’t want it back, but I wept, a lot, for the all love we’d shared.
And then I pulled myself together and put on my big-girl panties and moved into the acceptance phase. Steve started seeing someone else, and I was glad that he’d moved on and that now we could just be friends with no danger of a misguided reconciliation. Our relationship became easier and happier than it had been in years. He would come by almost every afternoon to see the kids, and we’d chat about how things were going with us, and life was peaceful again. From time to time I would bring up some old marital issue I was still smarting over, and for the first time EVER we were able to really talk things out without his glib self-justifications making the discussion pointless. Heaven knows I have my own faults, and I’ve made as many mistakes as anyone, but at least I’ve always acknowledged that fact and tried to learn from them. Until this latest phase in our relationship Steve had always shrugged off his own misdeeds as just more or less normal behavior that I should have been more tolerant of. Now he began to see those acts in the cold light of reality, and to realize the true harm that his selfish choices had inflicted, and to acknowledge the wrongness of them. I have to say, it was a marvelously healing time for me.
But then…a new pain began to creep in. My brain reminded me over and over that nothing had really changed, that we are still two wildly incompatible people who are completely unsuitable for a romantic commitment, but my heart yearned for him. Desperately, like a hungry, gnawing thing in my chest. It became harder and harder to just be his friend, to accept that he was with another woman now, to be happy about the separate lives we were building.
I started playing with fire. I asked him if he loved her, and he said no, there was only one woman he’d ever loved or was ever going to love, and that was me, and he wished it could have worked out between us, and that he deeply regretted the mistakes he’d made in our marriage. He said he’d made it clear to his new girlfriend that he wasn’t looking for a commitment or to give his heart away again, and she claimed to be fine with that, being in the middle of a divorce herself. I could have begged him to come back then, and he might have done it, but I still retained enough common sense to know better. Besides, I don’t want the kind of man who just takes whatever’s handed to him, and keeps it until something more appealing is handed to him. I need a man who knows what he wants and is willing to work for it.
So things went on that way, and I got more or less used to the heartache. I figured somewhere out there was my Mr. Right, and I just had to endure the pain of wanting Steve until something more real came along.
I think it must have been the barbecue last weekend that brought things to the breaking point for me. I had so much fun there, but the whole time there was this undercurrent of knowing that Steve should have been there with me.
That night I called him. I completely opened up, told him what a good time I’d had, and that even in the midst of my fun I couldn’t stop thinking that we belong together. I suggested very tentatively that maybe we could make an experimental attempt at starting over, and making a new beginning for ourselves. No huge commitments, no moving back in together, just…dating, maybe, like two people who had just met and found one another attractive.
There was a long silence, and then he said he’d need to give it some serious thought.
Two days later he broke up with his girlfriend. He told me he hadn’t made up his mind yet about giving us another try, but that it wasn’t fair to keep stringing her along if there was any chance of our marriage working out. He felt genuinely horrible about how hard she took the breakup, but I actually liked him even better for that. And it wasn’t like he hadn’t warned her not to get attached.
We still haven’t come to any real decisions about where our relationship is headed. Neither of us wants the old marriage back, that’s for sure. What we want is to figure out if there’s some way to create something entirely fresh and new for ourselves. For all four of us, me and Steve and Luke and Elizabeth, together as a solid and unassailable unit of love and loyalty and devotion.
I think we could get there. I think there would be a lot of hard work along the way, but I think the end results would be more than worth the effort.
I have diligently avoided pressing Steve for a decision. I want him to choose us freely and gladly, or not at all. I can’t go back to the numbing half-life I had with him before; I’d rather quit him cold turkey and be done with it.
I mentioned to Luke and Elizabeth that Steve and I were considering the possibility of getting together again, just on a trial basis. I asked them how they felt about that, and they both fell into a thoughtful, slightly conflicted silence. That’s a testimony to how much happier their lives have been since the separation. They’ve been getting more of my attention, WAY more of Steve’s attention, plus they haven’t had to listen to us bickering at each other about our general dissatisfaction. From their perspective it’s been a win-win-win solution.
“He wouldn’t be moving back in,” I felt the need to tell them. “At least not right away. If we try this, it’ll be in baby steps.”
Elizabeth nodded slowly. “You should just start at Level One,” she finally observed. “And see how that works before you go any higher.”
My amazing child has put her finger on it exactly. We need to start at Level One. Master all the little basic stuff before we try to tackle the big stuff again.
Now where’s a good Amulet Of Infinite Wisdom when you need one?