Day 92 -Appreciation, Acknowledgment & Architecture.
I wrote yesterday about my part. Today I would like to attempt to tackle my ex-husband’s part. This is a bit tricky since I am not male. I am not him. And anything I say is going to seem bitter. So easy to take his inventory. I am trying to put out there what I needed from him and didn’t get. I think this might be universal for women...if I may be so bold...
Now, my ex-husband was a dad prior to our meeting. When we met he had a four year old son from his first marriage. I walked into a family situation with no experience ever dating someone who had been married or had a child. Despite my not being ready, I think I handled myself well. I did not get involved with his ex-wife. Keeping my opinions to myself. I was kind, loving and generous with his son. Taking on more than my share of his care when he was with us. I stepped into the role as step mom, years before I would actually take on the role.
The writing was on the wall from here. I stepped up and into a very hard situation that I was not prepared for. I put the child’d needs before my own. Tailoring our vacations, summers and holidays around the child’s need to see his father. I took the child to camp and was available when he was sick or injured. My ex-husband never one time acknowledged me for my willingness to step up. It was a foregone conclusion that I would step into the role and that it was expected. For my part, I should have seen that his lack of willingness to appreciate all that I was doing and taking on. I should have seen that this was not a good omen for the future. I took on all of the domestic chores and step-child raising and he let me. Why wouldn’t he? He had a sweet deal. He went to school and then work, I handled everything. I also went to work, like 10 to 12 hours a day kind of work and still came home made dinner, did the grocery shopping, cleaned, cooked and took care of everything. This was a sweet deal for him.
I would be remiss to not mention my part again...I set this up. He did not demand that I do these things. I just did them. Assuming this most basic role without any thought of what I was creating. I literally taught him that my needs came last because I put them last. I taught him that I was less important because I allowed myself to be marginalized, my needs something that were considered only when I insisted which was rare and usually futile.
What was it that I needed from him?
I needed acknowledgement for my expert handling of the mundane and almost invisible tasks. The fact that there was always food in the house. Coffee for him to drink in the morning. The house was always clean and tidy. The clothes always washed, ironed and put away. These were all my tasks and, I suppose that is really more my fault then it was his. I just did them - they were just things on my already existing list of things to do. Now there were just larger tasks. What I needed from him was to not take advantage.
I needed him to not sit back and not help me. I needed him to see that I had way too much on my plate. I needed him to see that these household tasks were for both our benefits and were not mine because I did them or because I had the vagina. They were our tasks, the framework of our lives and they could be done quicker, and more efficiently if we both took them on as our tasks. I needed to be seen and taken care of too.
In my many, many reviews of this doomed beginning, I blame myself more than him. I mean who wouldn’t allow someone else to take over and handle all the shitty tasks? Well, I wouldn’t because I am weird about equality and I could never let anyone do all that for me while I watched football. I just couldn’t. But it would have been nice for him to have attempted or even insisted that he help.
So the battle began. Long before we had a child together, the regime set. He was in charge of himself and I was in charge of everything else. This would be the case until I left him. While he did have moments where he appeared to see the light, we never were able to recover from this beginning where I did it all and he reaped the benefits of being loved and cared for.
So by the time we had kids, I was already working two full time jobs. My job as a divorce trial attorney and taking care of the house, him and a sometimes present 4 year old. I needed him to show up for me then. I am sure he tried. I am not the kind of person that would ever marry someone who treated me blatantly like a piece of furniture. That was the byproduct...or was it?
So I know where I set this up wrong. I allowed myself to immediately become a background feature. My needs last. I did this to myself. He just took advantage. What I needed most from him was not to take advantage. I needed him to see me and my needs as important as his own. For him to have taken on the domestic tasks as a partner instead of a recipient. I needed him to see me as something other than the fixer. I needed him to see me as this amazing woman that was handling everything all the time. I needed him to appreciate me.
These were our early battles that became the war zone later.
I would tell him that it would be so nice if he would tell me how much all I did was appreciated. He would say that he did appreciate me but that communicating that was not his strong suit. He would try better. I would be frustrated by the seemingly little effort it would take to come into the kitchen behind me, put his arms around me, kiss my neck, fuck me at the sink, then finish washing the dishes for me. That would have been so hot! But that never happened, not even one time. There was not hot romance in the kitchen. It remained the work zone of a woman who was over committed and over taxed. There was no romance there only more things to do on the never ending fucking list.
What I think I needed from him was to be seen not for what I did for him but for how much I cared for him. How much I was willing to place his needs before my own. I needed him to see that and refuse to take advantage. I needed him to see that I was so willing to do for him and that acknowledgment would engender in him this desire to give back in equal measure. To want to satisfy and please me in a similar manner. But that never happened. I could spend the next twelve hours giving examples of how much I was never important in this relationship. And they would all say the same thing...I taught him that I didn’t matter by treating him like he mattered most.
I have reviewed my part in this whole ordeal so often that it kind of makes me want to barf. Examination fatigue pushed into inventory exhaustion. Seeing so clearly that what I longed for in this relationship and marriage was appreciation. I needed to be cherished and that never happened. For him, acknowledging my contributions took something away from him. I have never understood this and I don’t now. Somehow, it seemed as if him telling me and showing me how much he appreciated all that I did, was seen as a weakness in him. Despite our many, many battles and times on the therapists couch, this appeared to be hard wired into him and not something he cared to address.
So it was with this dynamic that we became parents to our own children. I was not awake enough at the time to see what I was talking into. I was not aware that I had really created a monster that I would come to resent living with in fairly short order. I would respond to the lack of appreciation and acknowledgment with disgust, contempt and anger until that was really all that was left of me in that relationship. I felt smothered and unseen. The more I felt like this the worse I behaved. Sometimes he would walk into a room and I would just want to smack him. Of course, I didn’t. I was polite if not cold. I retreated further and further until the day when the chasm between us so great that no architect could ever build a bridge that would span that gap.
Except, I became that architect. I built the bridge while laying beside him that last year of marriage. Every time he failed to acknowledge, appreciate me became a board in that bridge that led to my freedom. Every time I was there for him and he left me high and dry, another nail in the footboards across that chasm. I supposed I could have worked harder to build a bridge toward him instead of away from him. But I don't think I really could have. In the end, I just wanted to get away from him. He represented my imprisonment even though it was probably more my fault than his. In the end, with no formal architectural training, I built a fucking amazing bridge that led to the other side of the divide for me. Singledom, the place where I still did everything but I no longer had to fight to be seen or appreciated by him. The day that I ventured out on that most delicate tightrope of a bridge, the day that I changed who I was and what I wanted. I knew for the first time that being cherished for who I was, not what I did, was the only way that I would ever want to partner again. I knew that I had to find the courage to stop being a list checking doer and allow myself to be seen as a person, a woman. I was more than what I could do for others.
What I did not know is how long this would take to figure out. I did not know that the bridge would become a kind of marker of my passage to freedom and a reminder of my own enslavement. I did not know how hard it would be to find the courage to build another bridge toward another man. I did not know how much I would love living alone and on my own terms.
Today, I still doubt my bridge building skills. My lack of architectural training seemingly more evident now than before. Desperation is a great skill builder. Solace and safety seemingly barriers to creation of new bridge building. However, almost five years later, I feel like I have become more willing to venture out, more willing to allow for a new partnership to unfold on some new foundation and level. I feel like I might, someday, be able to find another man that is worth the effort of building a new structure towards...