The Beginning of the Final Ending: Oct 30, 2015

“I would be willing to marry you, if that was something you needed for this relationship to work.”

“Excuse me? WHAT?”

We were on a date. The first one we had been on in quite some time. I had taken the night off work at my restaurant job because I had a conference presentation scheduled for the next morning. I was nervous. Standing in front of a room of scholars to present one’s own ideas is intimidating to say the least. 

We had gone to one of our favorite spots. I didn’t make a reservation because I didn’t think it would be that difficult to get searing for a party of two. 

We waited for nearly two hours. The duration of the wait was extended by the weight of the silence that had been building between us. I was nervous for the presentation, but I was also scared of the direction our relationship was heading. I guess, I didn’t know what I wanted or what she wanted or where we even were. I had been trying to bring up the discomfort that had become our existence with each other. She didn’t seem to feel the same kind of discomfort. I felt our connection waning, and I didn’t know how to get it back. I needed something, but I wasn’t sure if she had it to give. I wasn’t sure how to ask for it. I wasn’t sure how to put it into words. I just knew something wasn’t quite right. 

After our really long wait, and the tossing around of ideas of where else we might go to satisfy our need for food-“No, I do not want to eat from a hot dog food truck. That does not appeal to me in any kind of way,” I said. 

The host took us to our table. I looked at the art hanging on the wall. It was a lonely picture. Blues and yellows. A woman sitting in a chair. It was titled: “These Two Needed to Have a Serious Talk.” 

The universe is so fucking cute. 

I felt so heavy. So helpless. So empty of any ability to express or make sense of anything I was feeling. I dropped my stuff and went to the bathroom. When I returned, that’s when she said it. 

“I would be willing to marry you if that is something you need for this relationship to work.”

I’ll never forget it. The way she presented this marriage proposal as a solution to the weight of our co-existence. This is not the kind of shock I was expecting to come from a marriage proposal. 

Her and I held strongly opposed views of marriage. When we first got together at 21 and 22 years old we agreed-marriage was a feeble institution and the consistent political fighting about whether or not gays should have the right to marry turned us both off from the idea that it was something we would ever need in order to feel complete in our relationship. I remember that conversation. We were driving to my parents house. 

Deep in the rebellion that defined my late teens and early twenties-i didn’t want labels or constriction. I didn’t want anniversaries or celebrations. I thought gifts were a cop-out. (I actually do still believe gifts are a sort of cop-out) I thought this made me freer. I was wrong. This was fear. 

Both of our histories had determined that marriage was a kind of trap, and often not healthy. My parents divorced right around my first birthday. I didn’t want to be like them. My mom and her current husband were both in their third marriage. I didn’t want to be like them. Her parents had been married her whole life. Despite the toxicity of their relationship-they found a way to make it work. Her father stayed in the basement while her mother ruled the upper level. There’s was more of a business partnership than one ruled by loving affection. She didn’t want to be like them. In that moment-we agreed, at least, about who and what we did not want this relationship to become.  

As time went on, my views about marriage changed. We argued about it a lot. She would say, “I’m committed to you.” I guess I was supposed to believe that. But I wanted an anniversary. I wanted a day that belonged to the celebration of our love and commitment. I wanted a pretty dress, and to write marriage vows, and to have my picture taken with the love of my life under a willow tree. I wanted to stand in front of a group of the people I care about with the person I care about the most and say-“This is my love. This is my life. This is my promise to always be here with you. No matter what. I choose you.” 

We fought about it a lot. And after our separation in 2013-I asked, first, if she would want to get married. More importantly, “What are you going to do about your father when we get married?” 

“He can choose to come, or not come. That’s on him.”

I felt a sense of relief, and a measured sense of growth. I felt like we were on the same page again. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. 

It was almost two years later, and after a whole lot of moving around the topic without settling on a determined structure or arrangement to be made. We piled up excuses about why this isn’t the right time, or when would be the right time, or how we would afford it. 

“I would be willing to marry you if that was something you needed for this relationship to work.”

It still stings every time I think about it. 

Had she not heard me, ever? Had she not listened to the ways my world view had shifted? Had she not listened to herself when she said that she didn’t want a business-like marriage? Was she just trying to appease me? Did she even WANT this, or to be with me? 

“Excuse me? WHAT? This is not how I expected this to go down. I don’t get it. You always said you didn’t want a relationship like your parents. Something that is reduced to an arrangement made out of necessity. That is exactly what you’re asking me here. If that is how you see this, then I don’t want anything to do with it.”

I could see it in her face that she knew she screwed up the words. That I was disappointed. And that she was internalizing this. I don’t know how long she had prepared this offer in her mind or how much she might have thought she just totally blew it. She did totally blow it. And I totally blew up. 

I had grown tired of making excuses for her. We still needed to make it through this dinner. We still had a second date night destination to get to. And I still had the looming anxiety of my 8 a.m. scholarly presentation ahead of me. 

I was hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. I reacted to her offer in the only way I knew how. 

We had been discussing marriage about a year before that. We looked at rings. We talked about the ones I liked and why I liked them. We had it narrowed down to a couple of perfect prospects. I was never going to be the one that proposed marriage to her because I knew it was my view that had changed. I was waiting for her to be ready. I understood that her fear of commitment was real. We even talked about her brother, and how he and his wife were together for 11 years before they got married. We joked that it was part of their make-up. I needed her to come to me. I needed her to make that choice for herself. I thought we were on our way to uncovering that space in her. The place where she could finally feel safe to be gay and to be loved. 

Then she got sick. When the steroid that she was put on cost nearly $3000 after her insurance’s contribution- I shelved the whole idea. Sometimes life happens, and we have to adjust. I was totally okay with it. I was okay with all of it. I was not okay with this proposal. It felt like a simultaneous dismissal and invitation. I just couldn’t make sense of it. 

We made it through the rest of our date. It was awkward, and the tensions were high. I think she knew that she had hurt me, and I don’t think she had intended that to be the case. I couldn’t find the words to express all of my mounting frustrations. 

We went home and went to bed. The next morning she went to work. I went to present my paper. I never heard anything from her. No good luck. Nothing. No support whatsoever. Perhaps my searching for that was selfish. Perhaps not everyone understands the true value of a kind word in challenging times. Perhaps she was too distraught and preoccupied with the weight of the night before. The date that took place, in my mind, specifically because I took the night off work so that I could present this work at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning.  

After I finished-I called her. 

“Hey, what’s up?” She said. 

“Oh. Nothing. I just finished presenting my paper.”

I was met with silence. I fought back my tears of disappointment, and mounting feelings of shame that she didn’t remember. 

I was tired of making excuses for her. I still couldn’t understand that my needs were not being met in the way I needed them to be. I just kept accepting these crumbs. Even if I were able to articulate the way these transactions were hurting me-it didn’t matter. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why I gave so much and received so little in return. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t seem to be important to her. It seemed like I wasn’t on her mind at all. Maybe I was wrong. I just felt so lonely and so invisible. I cried, alone in the bathroom on campus. I just wanted someone to be proud of me. But not just anyone. I needed it to be her. 

Friends and family members alike helped me rationalize this intense two days. 

“You can’t expect her to be interested in the all the things you’re interested in. Not everything that is important to you will be important to her.”

I thought I understood. She never apologized for forgetting about me. I just kept moving. Trying to forget how much it hurt me. 

Eventually I realized that I didn’t need her to be interested in the same things I was interested in. I needed her to be interested in ME. 

Triggers Transformed to Miracles

There was one day that everything seemed to change. I pushed up against a wall in my heart, and found a hidden door. The one I had been searching for, longing for. It had been there, but I didn’t realize I held the key. 

“I deserve to be with someone who wants to support me emotionally.” 

I stood in the kitchen. As the words exited my mouth it felt more like someone was speaking through me than I was speaking for myself. I had never known this kind of bravery. I had never seen myself stand so firm. Who was this person? Who was I becoming? 

This, of course, came out of an unnecessary fight. A fight that had been going on for so long I had just learned to live with the anger and frustration. I had been asking for help over and over. I was losing it. But I knew it was temporary. My shit was all in the fan. I just needed some help. 

I’ve made a lot of choices in my life that contribute to my own personal growth. Basically, I’m a professional student. And no matter how much I long for the quenching of my thirst for knowledge, and no matter how fulfilling these desires are for me; I can admit that it takes its toll on the people with whom we share our lives and our space. 

I was deep in my master’s program. I was preparing my PhD applications. All the stress was drowning me. There were many days I was running on little to no sleep. I was trying to decide on which programs I wanted to apply to. I was trying to figure out how to keep living all of my dreams-finding a balance between work and life. It’s nearly impossible. 

I was teaching two courses, taking two courses, trying to get together a writing sample, working 25-30 hours a week, still doing my best to be available to my partner. Always trying to keep the lines of communication open about which programs I was looking at, the locations our life might be moving toward. 

I cried a lot. 

At one point, she openly admitted to withholding affection from me. I blamed myself for taking on too much. 

She complained a lot. 

“You’re not doing enough,” was a refrain I heard often.

“You’re unbearable to be around.” 

“When you leave the house a mess, this is the shit that makes me want to drink. I told you it was important that my space not be filled with clutter.”

When a recovering alcoholic tells a raging codependent that their lifestyle spiraling out of control is pushing that alcoholic toward that codependent biggest fear-this is crazy making. The three C’s of al-anon (we didn’t cause it; can’t control it; can’t cure it) somehow get lost in the sea of self-loathing and self-blaming buried under the inner critic telling us-“If you can do better-this will be under control. Your life is unmanageable, and it’s affecting the alcoholic. You are bad. You promised her you would do better, and you’re failing to follow through.” 

This preliminary blaming for the addict’s choice to drink which may or may not be coming around the next bend of chaos is stifling. But I was not going to give up on my dreams. I couldn’t. 

This day, I was rushing around to get my stuff together for school, and to follow it up with a restaurant shift. I was frantically searching for my apron-which I realized was in the washer. It was Wednesday. It was her day off. I had put that laundry in the washer on Sunday. This is what grad school looks like. 

As I expressed my frustration for the circumstance, she retorted with this:
“Why is there still laundry in the washer?”

The condescension in her tone was not subtle. 

I said, “Because I FUCKING forgot about it. On my list of priorities, it’s somewhere around number 30. If it is a big deal to you-take care of it. I just can’t right now.”

I hit my breaking point. I reacted to the circumstance. I reacted to the implication that my life choices were interfering with her happiness. I accepted the blame, but tried to push it away by screaming my frustration in an effort to finally be heard. 

“I guess I’ll fix it, just like I fix everything else. Even though it’s my one day off. I’ll take care of the laundry that you never finished.”
TRIGGERED: Suddenly, I’m eight years old. Standing in the kitchen, crying about laundry. Feeling inadequate. Feeling like an inconvenience. Feeling like I can’t hold up my end of the deal. Her tone and words combined, and the comment translated itself in my mind. It became, “You aren’t good enough. Good thing I’m more awesome. You’ve ruined my day. You’re lazy. You can’t do anything right.”

Excessive self-criticism, I know. 

THE MIRACLE: An equally sudden shift occurred. I realized, I was 29. Standing in her kitchen. Listening to her berate me for my inadequacies. But I didn’t feel inadequate-I felt overwhelmed. I recognized overwhelm through a new lens. The inner critic had never seen this lens before, and had no power to usurp my words as I clearly, coherently, and quite powerfully expressed them. 

“I deserve to be with someone who wants to support me emotionally.” 

That was almost a year ago, and I’m still struggling to integrate that from an intellectual knowing and brashly articulated sentiment into a core belief. But I am getting there-one day at a time my self-esteem and self-worth are getting stronger. My ego is getting healthier. That is really all I can ask for. 

Confronting Confusion

“How come {this person} thinks you want to have kids, and I think you don’t?”

“Don’t get it twisted.”

“I don’t think I’m getting anything twisted here. I can only assume that means you don’t want to have kids with me. It seems like having kids with me is just more responsibility than you want to take on.”

“When do you really think you’re going to have time for kids with everything else you want to do? How do you think having a kid while you’re in a phd program is supposed to work?”

“That IS me. That is who I am. That is MY life. My dreams and goals. So, like I said, it seems like you don’t want to have kids with ME.”

There was silence until she changed the subject to gossip about someone else. This was never resolved, but became a revolving conversation over the next two weeks. Where my words were twisted against me. 

“You said you want to have kids, but never that you wanted to have kids with me.” She said. 

Confused. “Who else would I be talking about? You’re my partner. Do I need to make that explicitly clear to you?”
“You act like it’s just something you want for your life.”

“It is. All of these things are my dreams. Unfortunately, I can only make a certain amount of them come true on my own. The others require a partner who wants the same things.”

I never could figure out who was pushing who away. It seemed like we had the same ideals and goals. It seemed like we wanted the same things. Sometimes the words we chose matched up. But whenever I asked for commitment to those words, or wanted to devise a plan of action-I was met with pure resistance. 

I played small. I felt defective. I believed that I was going to have to choose between my professional goals and my personal goals. 

I know life isn’t fair. But that behavior is simply unacceptable. Because I do want it all. I deserve it all. 

What is the truth here? I’m not sure. 

Ultimately, I chose to go in the direction of the dreams that I knew I could obtain. Not without their own fair struggle though. 

I chose the profession. I felt guilty about it. I felt like I gave up the opportunity to have a family. I was scared that I chose work over relationship. I was scared that I chose career over love. I even believed this for a while. I believed she was right. That I had to choose. 

In real love-those are not choices we actually have to make. In real love-two people can be honest with each other about their fears. 
Eventually, she said, “I don’t want to say I want something I don’t know I can actually have.” 

I said, “you don’t have to have it all figured out to commit to wanting something. I’m not saying when or how this might work. I’m asking if it’s something you want to work for. This is how we achieve goals. How do you think I got where I am? I’m not fucking lucky. I decided I wanted something, and put in action steps to get there.”
How sad. Here I was-asking to build a world with her. To grow and shift into a new way of being. And she couldn’t access the space in her self to take the risk and say “Yes. Let’s figure this shit out together.”

I couldn’t access the space in myself to say-“give this some more time.” Honestly, I thought two years would have been enough. I thought seven years in and out of the relationship would have been enough to know. I thought having a conversation about it would shine a light, clarify the confusion, and make sense of the chaos. Eventually it did. But first I had to leave it all behind. And find myself new. 

I still want a family. And I still want a phd. I still have no idea how that might come together. I’m okay with that uncertainty. I’m not okay with the kind of uncertainty that comes from indecisiveness of another person. That lack of commitment confounds me. But that’s okay. 

Today, I am more fully committed to myself, my wants, and my needs. I may not have all the answers. But I’m finding new questions to ask. That is my beacon of hope out of all the confusion. 

Not an Isolated Incident

The tensions were high. The tensions were often high. I worked 60 hours a week, and so did she. Juggling graduate school, teaching, and working kept me stretched to my limits. Stress ruled our lives. I always did my best, and I guess she probably thinks she did, too. I still tried to maintain the home and play housewife. Home cooked meals, and cuddles in the couch. Gentle touch, and a warm embrace was all I really needed. I still loved her. I wanted to make space for her. I still held on to the Us I wanted us to be. 
I was home for an evening. No class, no work, and when she returned from work-I was happy for her arrival. In those moments, she was my life. 
I heard the door open and close. She came in and greeted the dog, and I waited. I waited. I waited. I know she saw my car in the driveway. I can’t wrap my mind around why her excitement to see ME did not match my excitement to see HER. I waited. Finally, I went to the kitchen. Sadness triggered, defenses engaged. 
“How come when you come home, you greet the dog, but not me?”
“Are you seriously jealous of the dog? It’s just what we do. You’re never here when I get home. I didn’t really think about it.”
“I’m not jealous of the dog. That’s not the point. I know I’m not here a lot, but I am today. One would think that would make it even more important to, I don’t know, say hello.”
“Hello.” Her cold tone matched her cold eyes. 
This was not an isolated incident. So, when I thought that I could somehow be better-that had become my mental refrain. “I’m a bad girlfriend. I don’t give her enough attention. She’s so used to coming home without me here, it’s like I’m not here at all. How could I do that to her?”
I don’t know how it happened. How my thinking got so warped, and how it could get so twisted so quickly. I have no idea how my hurt feelings could so quickly get turned into sympathy for her. I have no idea how I so quickly internalized her shame. But it happened all the time. 

Shame

My shame says

You deserve every bad thing that has ever happened

Anything good is a fluke 
My shame says 

You are no good

Keep pushing for perfect
My shame says 

Play small

It’s the only way you’ll ever make it
My shame says

It’s all your fault

You should have behaved better
My shame says

You don’t deserve love

What they have is enough
My shame says

If you can get them to behave better

You will be better, too
My shame is a liar. 
My narcissism is prettier than you.