It’s International Women’s Day!
This post is my contribution to the day: empowerment in a relationship. This topic is too often played out, but it’s still an important one. Empowerment does not always have to be about proving the other person wrong, spreading one’s wings and flying away from a toxic relationship into one’s version of happiness. There can also be wisdom and empowerment in choosing to keep moving forward and working on something important to you while it’s sustainable and healthy.
This week’s piece was a bit experimental… I tried dictation for the first time.
I’ve never been the writer who needs to stop on the side of the road to jot down an idea lest it escapes, but I just had to use the Voice Memos app this time to record something that came to me. It also came to while I was listening to The Moth Podcast, which made me want to try something that sounded like it was spoken out loud.
Happy reading! Let me know what you think in the comments.
A few years ago, I had a divorce scare. It’s kind of like a pregnancy scare, but even scarier in your late 30s.
My husband and I have been married for 5 years and have been together for 8. We met on a dating app over a weekend and did the whole dance of how we were going to make this work. I should mention at this point that he lived in New Orleans and I lived in Boston, and we met while I was swiping to avoid going home alone at the end of the night when vacationing with girlfriends. I also wanted to sleep somewhere else that wasn’t loud with “Whoos!” and “Dirty 30! Dirty 30!” chants at 4 in the morning.
What followed were a couple of years of back and forth, missed FaceTime calls and double-meaning text messages that graduated to disappointing conversations about one of us moving to the other or meeting in the middle. All the practicalities of long-distance relationships and long-term relationships that happen to be long-distance.
He eventually moved here and we got married. We moved into our own place and we were happy.
He’s perfect: he’s handsome; he’s tall; he is an amazing professional. I am so proud of him and to be with him, and I count myself lucky to go home with him at the end of the night. The only thing that made him imperfect was his reluctance to letting me get a dog. At first. One day, he finally gave in and let me get a dog. The big, floppy-eared and shaggy German Shepherd I’ve always wanted. Something that feared me and loved me in equal measure.
We are a childless couple by choice. This dog, Adonis, in addition to our two cats, Kelsey and Rico (who he did want from the beginning, by the way), consumed my everyday life. I didn’t know how to have a dog or how to raise a dog, but I did know I wanted him to be the best German Shepherd in the world: I wanted him to protect me and play with my husband; I wanted him to cuddle with me and play with the cats like in those cute “unlikely friendship” videos on Instagram.
Adonis would sleep on the bed with me when my husband was away or would stay out late. Every time without fail. When my husband was home, Adonis wouldn’t even come into the bedroom. My perfect German Shepherd would respect my perfect husband as the man of the house, almost like saying, “You’re here with her. I’ll be in my bed.”
One day, my dog slept with me longer than usual, and my husband got home in the middle of the night, but, like always, Adonis knew his place and got up off the bed and left. I quickly fell back asleep, making a mental note to talk to my husband about coming home at 4 a.m. on a Friday.
The next day, my husband tells me, “You and Adonis looked so peaceful, cuddly and adorable in bed last night. I loved the way you looked so much.” Me, not the dog, because he has a stepdad-stepson relationship with the dog. “I finally realized that I don’t want to leave you.”
I looked at my husband then, waiting for the punchline. Because there has to be a punchline when your husband of 5 years tells you, in no uncertain words, “I’ve been wanting to leave you. I just haven’t done it yet.”
It’s kind of like a pregnancy scare in that it still brings out the immediate reaction of, “That was scary. What would we have done if that had happened?” Except with a divorce scare it’s about, “How do we move past this? I thought we were very happy, and that I was showing how grateful I was that you were patient while I devoted my life to training a dog you didn’t even want in our home to begin with.”
How do we keep going?
I suggested we try couple’s therapy, which, of course, he was reluctant to try.
“Whatever happens between us or is wrong with us can be fixed just between us.”
“You just said you wanted to divorce me. Or leave me, which is worse than a divorce, really.”
He didn’t get that one, how leaving me would be worse than saying he wants a divorce. To me, the image of one spouse leaving the other is getting home and finding them on the couch with their bags packed next to the front door. Maybe it’s the preamble to a divorce, the first painful step to the process that sets the stage for how divorce proceedings will go. Will the wife who got left be pleasant during the process to get it done or will she hold a special collectible hostage until the leaving husband agrees to 20 percent more alimony?
I wasn’t going to be either wife, because I wasn’t going to get left. And not because he changed his mind.
I told him that if he could change his mind about leaving me, he could change his mind about therapy.
Yes, I was that wife.
So me being the person that I am, we weren’t sitting on the doctor’s couch for 5 minutes when I asked the question that had been on my mind since that first morning after snuggling with Adonis: is it someone else?
My husband said no, and while I was relieved, I was angry at him because I felt relieved. Like, thank you very much for doing the bare minimum in our marriage and being faithful.
That was at the beginning of our journey, and I’m happy to say that was the last time I was enraged at couple’s therapy. After that day, I was just sad. Then, of course, all the usual feelings of guilt, inadequacy and concern followed, but it turns out that my husband was just building up years of homesickness.
He had conflicts and guilt of his own with missing home but feeling like he should have been happy that we were finally in the same place. Turns out that he even had some self-hatred going on – yes, he’s okay with my sharing that – when he thought he wasn’t happy when he should be and wanted to be home.
So him being the noble guy that he is, he wanted to leave me because he thought it would be better for me.
I know. I understand how he made that leap, but I don’t understand how he made that leap.
We’re okay now. We’ve gotten to the point where home is where we are with our three furry babies, and I no longer feel the anxiety of coming home to find him with his bags packed – or not home at all. On days like that, when I worry and feel sad again, Adonis hops right into bed with me, and he will not get off until my husband gets in and pulls me into a tight hug and says, “I’m not going anywhere, babe.” I don’t know how I trained him to do that, but I think my husband might be behind that one.
So, thank you, Adonis, for keeping your parents together.