Tuesday, August 27, 2013

That WAS my best

Catherine Shanahan's Deep Nutrition asserts that what our mothers ate even before they were pregnant with us affects how our bodies grow and our capacity for health. Likewise, the model for relationships that our caretakers provided when we were children affects how capable we are of forming adult relationships: how comfortable we are with intimacy, how we communicate, how we express emotion, how we handle conflict.

If we're lucky, our mothers ate well and took excellent care of their bodies for decades before they gave birth to us. If we're lucky, our parents modeled healthy arguing, respectful expression of emotion and a deep capacity for loving intimacy.

Most of us weren't that lucky.

I'm thinking of the ways I connected with my husband when we were actively married (we're now separated and are waiting to divorce), and I'm disappointed by the lack of depth and trust I reached. In my childhood, my primary experiences of love and intimacy were fraught with abuse, neglect and lack of respect. I learned to distrust the people I needed the most and I learned to fear the people who loved me most. My mother was my source of both greatest affection and worst terror. It's awful to have to return to the person who hurt you for comfort. It does not contribute to healthy relationship patterns.

But I've done my best. I began therapy at the age of 22 and never stopped. I've focused on healing my childhood wounds and re-learning how to interact with others in friendship and love. By the time I got married at the age of 41, I had conquered enough of my demons that I willingly cemented my life to that of another. I took the plunge.

How deep I was able to go in that plunge was up to me. I take responsibility for my performance as a wife, but I refrain from beating myself up for how much I sucked at it. My husband certainly had his part in our marriage, but I'll leave him to make his own public statement and focus on me. I was hampered by what I thought marriage was supposed to be. For better and for worse,  my five married years were the best I could do. 

During my marriage, I did the following to try to be the best person possible: individual talk therapy, anti-depressants, exercise, meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, group therapy, psychiatric support, journalling, self-education, Ayurvedic treatment, time with friends, learning self-soothing techniques and being careful with my sleeping and eating habits. I didn't know how else to improve myself as a wife, and yet I never connected with my husband in critical ways, ways that solidify a friendship and feed a marriage. My understanding of intimacy left great gaps between us. I thought I was doing it right, but now I see the ways I really wasn't capable of building the foundation of a true partnership because I just hadn't learned those skills at the critical age when I needed to. 

Apparently you can spend decades going to therapy, reading relationship books, building your self-esteem and focusing on love, but still not reach the level of trust and openness necessary for a healthy marriage (obviously the partner has their role as well, but I'm keeping the focus on me for now). It all depends on where you start and I started with quite a disadvantage. I've worked unusually hard on improving myself in every way I could think of since I was 22. Twenty-five years later, I'm realizing that as admirable as my self-improvement accomplishments are, they haven't gotten me to the point at which I know how to build a truly intimate, loving relationship. That's no one's fault, it's just how life works out sometimes, but it leaves me newly disappointed in how things that are beyond our control can affect us decades later.

I don't feel bad about this. I'm simply determined to keep building from here, looking for new ways to stretch myself, and I won't give up. I might or might not ever achieve the kind of intimacy that others enjoy, but I plan to die trying and for me that's a hopeful statement.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Grief

And on days when I’m not feeling as content as my last post indicates, I mourn the end of my marriage. My marriage only lasted five years, but it was good and now it’s over. I cry and tap and cry and let the grief pass through.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I just like being single

Addendum to my previous post (Not the marrying kind): this comes from a woman who did not initiate her divorce and who would have stayed married for years yet. I liked being married, but I think I simply prefer being single. From the many years I spent as a spinster before I married at the age of 41, I remember how convenient and freeing it was to be in charge of my own money, vacations, mealtimes and electric bill. I remember the cozy feeling of returning to my own apartment, free of someone who might be affected by my moods. I remember how important it felt to be able to spend my time on music, friends, reading, writing, exercising, cooking and napping. I remember truly needing my own space in which I could cry, sing, scream and walk around naked.

That last bit might make me sound like a lunatic and so I am. If that paragraph also makes me sound like someone who it would be hard to be married to, that's also correct apparently. 

It all comes down to weighing the pros and cons of being married as opposed to being single. For many, many people the advantages and benefits of marriage far outweigh the price. I suspect I'm not the marrying kind because, looking back on my experiences in both states, the price of being married doesn't feel worth its benefits for me (I'm not talking about anyone else's marriage). I adored my husband and treasured my time with him. He made me laugh, one of the most valuable gifts it's possible to give me. I learned and stretched myself emotionally while with him and for that I'll always be grateful. The years I spent with him were precious and I miss them and I wish those years could have gone on forever. But we all change and when a relationship dies a natural death, you have to move on. 

I also remember how hard it was to accept that I had a husband, that I was a wife. The concept that I was married was always just a little beyond my grasp. Maybe the words "wife" and "husband" always sound strange and new when one first gets married, but the shine never came off them for me. Being married never stopped feeling a bit like a costume I was wearing. 

Throughout my marriage my focus stayed oddly unmarried. Most of my friends were and are women who have never been wives because those are the people I'm drawn to. Rather than nurture new friendships with other couples, I acted independently as someone who was still on her own. Even as a wife, when I'd meet someone who seemed like she might be a good friend, or at least someone I wanted to get to know better, she was almost always single. The never-married just felt like my people and they're now my support as I go through the process of detaching from my husband, establishing a new home and facing divorce. My ever-single friends are like family to me and I have the most in common with them. If this indicates that I never completely entered the world of the married, that just supports my assertion that I'm not the marrying kind.

Now that my marriage is over, people ask if I want to get married again one day. I suspect not because I relish my time spent alone, and singlehood simply feels like my natural state. I don't predict the future and I know that anything can change at any time, but for now I do not have my sights set on a new relationship. After my marital adventure, I fall back into the community of the single and I feel like I'm home.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Not the marrying kind

I'm adjusting well as I return to my single life. I have more time for friends, dinner parties, myself, reading, writing and getting to work on time. I lived alone for 13 years before my five-year marriage and, after we got the dog, I really missed coming home to an empty apartment. I love having my own private space that I invite my friends into regularly. Friendship is a priority in my life. Even at the very beginning of my marriage, I kept seeking out new acquaintances and carefully nurturing my friendships, and that focus never diminished.  Now I'm seamlessly slipping back into being single with my close friendships and support networks all in place.

Sometimes I wonder about the experience of celebrating a 25-year-wedding anniversary, of building a close life partnership over decades, of having chosen so well that you know you're with someone who's good for you, even a lifetime later. I wonder what that's like and it's still possible that I'll find out (although I'm 47), but I'm not sure that experience is for me. As wonderful as marriage can be, I might not be the marrying kind.

In her book Women Living Single: 30 Women Share Their Stories of Navigating Through a Married World, Lee Reilly explores the idea that heterosexual marriage requires the woman to subsume her identity in order to be the wife (and often mother) she needs to be in order to have a successful partnership and home. I'm not sure what parts of their identities other women compromise with they get married, but I imagine it's things like  hobbies that take them away from home, strong opinions that aren't shared by their partner and anything that collides with the responsibilities of parenthood. Maybe wives give up the person they become when they're with their closest friends, or at least tone it down when their husband is around.

The part of me I had to pretend wasn't there was my chronic mood disorder (depression). The part of my identity I eventually realized wasn't welcome was my tendency to do what I want without worrying what others think. These two parts of me did not fit into my marriage. Either these two parts of me had to go, or the marriage had to go. 

Maybe some women are better at marriage than others. Maybe they find the person who doesn't require them to lose any part of themselves. Maybe they build relationships that allow them to be who they truly are, while their husbands support -- or at least accept -- them completely. Maybe I just didn't attract a good match for me.

But friends have reminded me that years ago, man-less and miserable, I declared that I didn't care if I ended up divorced as long as I could end my protracted spinsterhood. It wasn't til-death-do-us-part that I wanted. I just wanted the damn ring on my finger, even for a short while. Sadly, I suspect my desperation for a husband didn't come from wanting to be a wife as much as from wanting to no longer feel like a failure for not being one.

For better or for worse, my self-hatred over my failure to get a guy to marry me disappeared on my wedding day in 2008. Since then I've healed that self-hatred. The fear that being alone makes me a loser will not be back.

So while I wonder what it's like to spend most of one's adulthood with one life partner, I won't try to find out. Instead of churning out children or anniversaries, I birth creative works: music, writing, humorous speeches, very good apple walnut cake. Everyone's life is unique and the one I've chosen leaves me without the experience of motherhood or a relationship that spans decades, but I have more in common with women who live single whether by choice or not, and we're a pretty interesting bunch. Being married was often fun, fascinating and gave me an exquisite feeling of safety and -- at least in the beginning -- of being adored. There were plenty of good things about being married, but this is where I want to be: on my own. I've been single and married, and I think I prefer being single.

[Maybe read this, too: I just like being single. It's on the same subject.]

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The word "lady," part two (please stop calling me that)

Here's part one of my discussion of the word "lady." Maybe read that first. Since that post last September, I've become more vocal about not wanting to be called a lady, but my female Midwestern friends (and male friends) continue to do it.

"Hello, ladies."
"Have any of you ladies heard about..."
"How are we today, ladies?"

Even though I've now lived in Chicago for 20 years (after growing up in California), I'm becoming less tolerant of this word. You'd think I'd mellow out, adapt to the culture, get over it. I don't know why I can't. Maybe it's because in my middle age I'm even less likely to behave myself, so being called a lady, with its connotations of good breeding, restraint and gentility, feels increasingly inappropriate.

I want no one to take this personally, it's just a general announcement: I am not a fucking lady, so please stop goddamn calling me one.

Here are some alternatives:
"Hello, folks."
"Hi, everyone."
"Have any of you all heard about..."
"How are we today?" (How about leaving off the address altogether?)

It's also offensive when someone refers to a female who's over the age of 20 as a girl. If English speakers can accept man as an unmarked, ageless, universal term, why can't we do that with the word woman? Really, this is beyond my comprehension. Americans, especially Midwesterners, act as if woman is a rude word.

"Today I saw this lady..."
"She's a very smart lady."
"Who was that lady?"
"And then this lady walked in who I'd never met..."

Why the aversion to the word woman when we constantly use the word men? The answer is that our use of language reflects the sexism and double-standards of our society. Some of my Midwestern friends bristle at this argument, insisting that they don't use the word lady with any of the sexism of our broader culture. So what? Just because you don't have ill intent when you use a word doesn't mean that word isn't destructive. Countless people in past decades have had only the best, most innocuous intentions when using words like "cripple," "retard," "wetback" and even, as we know from Paula Dean, "n-----." Dean argued that when you're born of a certain generation in a certain context, "n-----" is a perfectly ordinary word that doesn't imply any negative meaning. Obviously, "the n word" is destructive and has a lot of negative meaning no matter how Paula Dean tries to spin it. My point is that thinking that you aren't using a word with any bad intent does not mean the word isn't still carrying baggage.

I recognize that for many people, lady is a perfectly ordinary word that doesn't imply any negative meaning. I just can't wait until we recognize the inequality that language can reflect and reinforce, specifically in the ways we refer to women and men.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Only 143 days til Christmas!

I ordered this 5 foot tree that even I can reach the top of.

Whereas:
I just moved into a new apartment and am starting a new life on my own,
I love Christmas,
I believe it's never too early to get ready for the holidays,

This weekend I:
Ordered my new Christmas tree,
Ordered some vintage tree ornaments from Etsy and Ebay in the color scheme I've chosen.

It should all be here later this week and by early August I'll have the basics of what I'll need come November. Yes, I decorate for Christmas in November.

While many grown ups see Christmas as a commercial ploy to get us to spend more money and exhaust ourselves, I -- even at the age of 47 and childless -- see Christmas as:

Celebration
Joy
Fun
Love

Yeah, I really do. In fact, maybe NOT having kids makes Christmas easier to enjoy for some of us because we don't have to deal with the expense and expectations of giving our kids "the perfect Christmas." I get to make Christmas whatever I want and I love it.

It comes down to this: Christmas makes me irrationally happy. The end.