I have finally separated from my husband. For years something had been gnawing at the edges of my consciousness, an insistent little rodent of truth eating at my denial. This last week, the signs became impossible to ignore. But let me give you a little background…
My husband has always been what Woody Allen once called Mia Farrow – “passive-aggressive.” Of course that was before he married their adopted daughter, which seemed to bring out Mia’s “agressive-agressive” side.
For the first ten years of knowing my husband (eight being married to him) I was in the grips of a romantic, but nevertheless completely unrealistic obsession. He could do no wrong. I never complained about him, even behind closed doors to a therapist. People thought I must be faking this level of adoration, no one was this happily married. They were wrong. I wasn’t faking, I was an idiot.
For one thing I was charmed by the fact that my husband never said anything awful to my face, simply smiled tolerantly and nodded his head saying “Mm hmmm.” Then over time I noticed that that smile had turned into something more menacing, like an animal baring its teeth. Sarcasm crept in, followed closely by exhaustion and the cracking of the perfect veneer, with dare I say “human” character traits showing through underneath.
I did not take it well. Overnight I stopped exalting the name of my Holy Lord and Master Spouse, and started talking to him (and about him) as if he were the lowest form of pond scum, while his smile got tighter and tighter. I became one of those women who complains about her husband, the kind you can’t wait to get away from at parties (that is if I actually went to any parties.)
“Get angry, already,” I thought. I didn’t have time to wait until I could provoke him by marrying one of our sons…
So I dragged him to therapy a few months ago. He didn’t even think we needed it, would have kept plodding along in his ostrich-like fashion, smiling rage-fully at me for eternity. He’s never been a fan of confrontation and even for me, I must confess it has lost some of its luster.
A few weeks in, our therapist began gently suggesting that my husband start “expressing his anger directly.” She made him ditch the phony smile and start digging into fourteen years of being annoyed at me. And I found out something. I am not comfortable with my husband expressing his anger. (Directly or otherwise.)
Turns out couples therapy is not nearly as fun as you might expect and in fact is a euphemism for “having your liver eviscerated by a meat-hook.” You sit there and watch the love of your life say absolutely horrible things about you to a total stranger who nods thoughtfully as your hopes and dreams circle the drain, anti-clockwise.
I thought I had married a saint. A kind of benevolent robot – able to get up and work after I had woken him ten times in the night to mention some important detail. He was endlessly patient with my moods and unceasingly worshipful of my ever breath. Sure it was a romantic fantasy, but what can I say? As a girl, I really swallowed that princess shit.
And in those stories, I notice neither Snow White, Cinderella nor Sleeping Beauty ever had a mortgage. The Prince never had to worry about work because he was “independently wealthy.” Those co-dependent bitches would be wishing for the wicked witch to bring a poison apple, probably swallow it in one bite, and after they got their stomachs pumped, would end up on medication just like I am.
Last Monday I sent my hubby to therapy alone, seeing as I already spend my entire life in “Everything Anonymous” and researching my suspected personality disorders, I figured it might be time for him to take a little analytical look at himself, really find out what makes him tick. We had a fun movie date afterwards, and got into separate cars to go home. That’s when my “soul-mate” figured he would lay out to me on the phone some things he had “discovered” in therapy. I listened for a while, stopped breathing temporarily (as I was behind the wheel of a speeding vehicle on Pacific Coast Highway, this was probably not a good thing.) In that moment I decided to do what comes naturally to me as a woman – wreak revenge.
I packed my pajamas and face cream and moved out… Or down a level. Into our guest room to be precise, where the bed is hard enough to support my neck, children don’t jump on me at 6 a.m. and the person I wake up next to cannot disappoint me. Then I stayed up vengefully Googling “legal separation.” Turns out it’s almost like divorce, and you have to move further away than your spare room. Plus you have to file it yourself, or pay a lawyer, and I’m just Cinderella, why would I have a penny to my name? Plus there’s a fuck-ton of Latin phrases involved that happily put me to sleep drooling over my iPhone.
In the morning, the kids didn’t mention that mommy wasn’t sleeping with daddy (I mumbled something about my neck) we just kept “co-parenting” as usual. I was intent on punishing him, and so I spoke cordially, but impersonally, refusing to even say “I love you” back when he left for work.
I did this for four full days. And I noticed something very strange. When I stopped relying on my “soul-shackle” for my emotional needs, I didn’t have to resent him for not fulfilling them. As the couples therapist had noted, “Susanna, it sounds like what you need is a caretaker…” Also someone to sit at my feet, feed me grapes and bask in the warm glow of my divine perfection, I wanted to add but didn’t. What did that bitch know anyway?
It occurred to me in those days that I sulked in the other room, that I met my husband when I was twenty-three, so it stands to reason that I don’t know how to nurture myself. This poor fucking guy has been my oxygen for over a third of my natural life, no wonder he might be getting a touch of carbon dioxide poisoning.
For me the sad fact is that I have to grow. Staying the same is against my nature. I’m like an orchid – if I’m not growing, I’m dying.
So on Thursday night I dragged him to the Kabbalah Center (notice that I’m always dragging him somewhere – like a donkey on a short leash) for a special “soul-mate connection” for the High Holiday of Tu B’Av. The folks over there are trying to sell this stuff as “non-denominational” but I can assure you that this was the same Tu B’Av that I’d learned about in Religious Day School as a child, just without all the hippie stuff. And despite the fact that that touchy feely L.A. crap is about as appealing to my husband as a shit sandwich, he went.
And we listened to a lecture for forty-two minutes where the guy used the word “midget,” at which we both had to stifle a giggle, because who uses that terminology anymore? Was he going to use the N word next? Then my husband kept whispering to me “Why there are there so many single women here? What percentage of these people are couples? I thought this was a couples thing, is it a singles thing?” Over and over until I had to snap, “I don’t know!” (More than most men, he’s very repetitive.)
We stayed awake through the clichéd (and politically incorrect) lecture in the non-air conditioned room, about owning your own part in relationships and being more “giving.” Afterwards, we had to fight a bunch of Israelis, secular Jews and other Spiritual Seekers for food – which turned out to be two platters of sushi and some brownies between three hundred people. But at some point, I noticed that when I looked over at my “cell-mate,” he was not annoying me quite so much, even though he was wearing my least favorite shirt on earth, in fact if they discover new realms of the Solar System, I will still hate it more than any other shirt in Space.
Maybe because I realized yet again that our worldview is the same and so is our sense of humor (needless to say, I’m funnier.) Maybe it was the sixty-year old woman with white hair who tried to chat him up while he sat alone at a table, waiting for me to return from the bathroom, and how so many people there are looking for something that maybe doesn’t look like you think it will, but that maybe we’ve already found. Or perhaps it was a mystical connection made through an esoteric study, kept secret by possessive Jews for thousands of years… Nah.
The fact is that no one can take away your loneliness, you’re born with it and you die with it, so you might as well try to shackle yourself to someone who is good and funny and true for the in-between bits when you forget momentarily that we’re all eventually going to shuffle off this mortal shit-hole anyway. The last fromage of my denial melted, and I knew I had to accept this man and this marriage, stripped of romantic fantasy, in all its mundane glory, ugly shirt and all.
We went home in separate cars again, as we often do, but when he walked in the door of our bedroom, I was already sitting up in our bed, taking off my makeup and grinning at him. He snorted and I smiled.
Our separation had finally begun.