I’m holding an event on Tuesday, so the date is front and center – May 25th – which is also the anniversary of my first wedding.
As I do each year, I find myself meditating on my first husband.
We met when I was 18 and he was 17. He was tall, dark, handsome and muscular. He had a lovely, broad, open and warm face, striking green eyes and a shock of black hair hanging over his forehead. He looked like a magazine cover, and my first impression was that he was sweet like a puppy dog.
I could appreciate his attractiveness aesthetically, but truth be told, I actually preferred a slighter build, a more streamlined look. I found it very pleasant to be with a boy that other girls found lovely, while I myself was almost indifferent to his looks. It felt like a super power. We had sex almost from the beginning – he was so eager, and I thought, well, whatever. It was fun enough.
He adored me. I was the most beautiful, smartest, most interesting and fun person he had ever known. He wanted to know me. He wanted to love me until I loved myself. It was inherent in him. But I was a tough nut that way. He loved me more than I loved myself, and I never really forgave that in him – I always held it against him as weakness in my deepest, most unseen place that believed I’d duped him into this love.
We were living together by my second year of University, mostly through his dogged determination to join me after a year apart in which I took the “commitment” as more of a “wait and see.” I loved him as I had never trusted or loved anyone – as my only friend. I couldn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t continue our journey together when the time came for him to move in.
I was really paying no attention. I was working my way through University, and if he wanted to tag along I expected him to start some kind of academic program (and not flunk out) and bring in some money. As long as he did that, it was very convenient to have an adoring lover available and a roommate to split the bills. I didn’t enjoy hounding him and setting up reward systems for him to learn how to do his homework and hold himself in discipline, but on balance the arrangement was good.
We stayed together for 10 years.
After I graduated, I lifted up my head, looked around, and thought, “now what?” So I got a job, and got promoted, and put my head back down and pushed the career path. Again, he was great to have around, as long as I was okay with taking care of all the actual responsibility. And generally, I was. It made me feel competent, and a little tender toward him that he needed caring for. What would he do without me?
I traveled a lot, barely kept my head above water between work and more school, and he required little of my mind or emotional energy. When I wasn’t irritated, he was incredibly easy to be with and he sustained me with back rubs and orgasms. When he suggested marriage, I thought, why not?
We re-parented each other in a lot of ways. He gave me the take-for-granted love that I didn’t feel from my parents. I gave him high expectations that required him to work as hard as his potential allowed. But we were really children together, emotionally. We had fun, we bickered, we were each others’ best friend and harshest critic. We celebrated each other and tore each other down. We grew up together, a little like siblings except for the adult part of the play.
At some point it began working less and less well. His low expectations and high output acceptance were like a challenge, pushing me to see how bad I could be and still be adored. I didn’t respect him because he didn’t give me the respect of expecting me to be better, but at the same time, if he had I would have lost the unconditional love I needed.
To his credit, he did try, he just wasn’t very good at debating and I was pretty excellent. I didn’t give him the respect of expecting him to stand up for himself, and when he did, I treated it as laughable. As it was. I held all the cards, jealously, then judged him for not having any.
I had high expectations for his behaviour, and a general disdain for his consistent failure to meet them. Even so, many of my desires were reasonable – paying some of the bills, changing the garbage, picking up some groceries, keeping his job, paying attention, doing what he said he was going to do. I couldn’t count on him, and it wore at me.
I viewed his irresponsibility as primarily an issue of discipline, likely exacerbated by some degree of ADHD, which really just means the TV generation. I was relentless with him. He was less and less reliable, more and more sullen. These traits triggered my frustration and irritation, and the meaner I was, the more I needed his unconditional love to reconcile myself and regain balance.
This was not a healthy relationship for either of us. At the time, I didn’t think I could fix it. I couldn’t be in a room with him without finding myself slipping into language and communication patterns that we had burned-in over our most formative, post-adolescent years. I loved him – he was my best friend. I didn’t want to be the person I was when I was with him. I didn’t want to work through it. I wanted to break free.
We had no children. I was coming up on 29 years old. He had been more and more insistent about starting a family, and I had put it off, first with my career, and then by getting a puppy instead. In the start-up frenzy of the day, his employer was bought by Microsoft, and in a last-ditch effort to change our patterns, we moved to the U.S.
I didn’t last six months.
I sprung it on him that I was leaving. I hadn’t given him the kindness or respect of coming to the decision through conversations over time. I let the emotions all boil up without any reflection, until I had to act or I would explode, and then I left.
I still carry some guilt for damaging a lovely and innocent soul. In trying to make him stronger, I broke what was good in him. In trying to find my own path, I yanked away his only emotional support, his best and only friend, and left him with his mind and heart blown, to pick up his own pieces. I took his unconditional love and handed it back to him like it was worthless.
We would talk on the phone a few times a week, him always hopeful that we would get back together, me waffling in the loneliness of missing him, giving just enough hope that he couldn’t quite let go because I couldn’t quite let go. It was such a painful time, it wrenched my heart until I was sure I could feel it bleeding into my gut and turning to bile.
I broke his heart. And still, he participated with me in an easy and uncomplicated divorce – we didn’t have much to split. He was remarried within a year; me, within three.
We wanted to stay friends. We’re friendly through Facebook across the miles (he stayed in the U.S.). He steers carefully away from any topic that might hint at our past. We live our purely online relationship as appreciative acquaintances in the present. What we cherish and regret from our common past is now our own, not something we share. It’s better that way, but I miss him. He was my family, and I still love him as family. I want to know his wife, and his son. I want him to know my kids. I wish we could be a part of each others’ grown-up lives, the way my siblings and I are.
So happy un-anniversary to my first experience of love, inadequate and clumsy as I was at it. I love you, S. I wish you joy.