I thought my first husband …
…had self-confidence and a high self-esteem, but it actually was arrogance from low self-esteem.
…was calm, but he was actually passive aggressive.
…knew how to sit back and wait for the right time to act, but he was actually a procrastinator.
When we married I was 19 and he was 25 and we had both just received our Associate degrees, and planned on continuing college for those all-important Bachelor’s degrees. He had served in the army and traveled extensively through Europe. I came from a tiny town and grew up with no family automobile – if you took me 5 miles down the road I was awestruck at seeing a new place. He was a ‘white knight’ who was supportive, nurturing, and a consummate teacher - everything you could want in a parent, er, I mean, husband.
In truth, he did ‘raise me’ as a parent would. He trained me and taught me and loved me – as long as I knew less than he did. As long as I was less competent than he was. As long as I didn’t know enough to stop asking ‘What do we do now?” and start asking “Why did you do that?”
We got our degrees and started our professional lives. My degree in computer programming (as we called it back then) led me to a large traditional business, the kind that can afford to buy the multi-million dollar IBM mainframe computers. And he continued to teach me. I had no clue how to behave in a professional environment and we constantly worked on ‘scenarios’ – if X happens, do Y. If Z happens, do A. And I progressed and learned and gained experience, both at work and in ‘real life’, taking on more and more complex assignments and situations.
And things started to change. The more I grew, the more he withdrew. If he couldn’t be the one who knew everything and could do everything, he couldn’t find a place in our marriage. I had developed into a strong, confident woman. His passive aggressiveness had grown to the point that almost everything in our lives was paralyzed. He would say to me, “I don’t like the person you’ve become.” And I would say, “I know! But I can’t go back to being an inexperienced 19 year old!”
And eventually I had to start saying, “I know! But I can’t go back to being an inexperienced 19 year old! That’s why we shouldn’t be together anymore.
Fast forward through the next ten years. I am a stubborn woman and when I commit to something I commit completely. I just knew that I could fix this if I could find the right thing to say or the right thing to do or the right therapy to try. But eventually I became so numb I couldn’t try any more. So, when our daughter was twelve, I moved out of our house. He didn’t say much about it. I took an apartment only five minutes away so she could stay in the same school and still be close to the house and her dad.
It took a year for my emotions to thaw** to the point where I could realize that divorce was the only option. When I told him, he said he didn’t want a divorce. When I asked him why then he hadn’t been willing to cooperate with therapy or any of the other things I had tried, he said, “I thought you were going through a phase and it was all your problem.” All I could reply was, "Ten years is a pretty damn long phase!” When I asked him why he never even protested when I moved out he said, “Because I thought you would fall flat on your face and have to come crawling back.”
Well. After all these years, he still needed me so desperately to be that incompetent little 19 year old girl, incapable of handling life on her own, that he simply could not see me for who I really was. All I could do was shake my head and go through with the divorce. I gave him the house, took on all the credit card debt, agreed to shared custody, and paid him child support (required in my state since my income was higher). I shook the dust of twenty-four years of marriage off my sandals and my friends told me they had never seen me happier.
** About three months into the “year of thawing out” a friend asked me if I missed him. I was taken aback by the question; it had never occurred to me. I realized that, no, I didn’t miss him. There was nothing to miss. For 12 years I had done everything by myself. If there was a movie I wanted to see, I went by myself. If there was a restaurant I wanted to try, I went by myself. When I decided to take up martial arts I visited the dojos around town, by myself, and selected one, and started attending classes – by myself. So there was literally nothing to miss. Except the arguing. But I didn’t miss that. I just basked in the peace of my little apartment.
Have you ever spent years of your life trying to get through to someone?