I am not sure that I want to write today what I want to write...it is likely controversial. So I will start with a caveat...I mean no offense to men. This is not about men. This is about women. Women I know, women I love and perhaps the woman I am or was.
I have a client that is leaving her husband. He has taken her for granted, been mostly absent in the parenting, abusive with his words and conduct. His greatest sin though is in how much he didn’t see her. Her efforts, her grace, her love. He took those things that she gave freely and used them up with no real appreciation for all that she sacrificed to become a wife, a mother. For all that she gave him, seeking only a slight return on her investment.
It is different for women. We become this other thing when we marry, perhaps maybe not all of us. Perhaps not those women who love other women, something well understood between two women loving each other that gets lost in the gender divide. I am certainly not talking about all women everywhere, but to those women who fall into this category, you will know who you are. And I suspect, that there are quite a few more that if they were capable of honestly assessing their current marital state, they would also fall in.
Marriage requires that we give up a lot. Historically, we gave up our futures, our bodies, our dowry, our land. All of that was taken from us and given to the man we married. We became another piece of chattel. We were property to the men we pledged our lives to. Motherhood serving as another shackle to the bond. We gave ourselves sometimes freely and other times very unfreely to men that were often not worthy of the woman they were being presented. We were forced to go within, to the place within us that no man could touch. We were forced to be first wife, then mother and who we were before all of that, was left dying on the vine. Like a verdant shoot cut down before full ripening. This is our history, this is some of our current. It is part of being female and perhaps straight.
For me, it has always been a precarious joining with men. Loving them, desiring them but never knowing exactly what to do with them once I have them. I side stepped wifedom first time around, knowing that I was not ready despite the love that I felt for him. Then I dove in the next time around, and I became so lost within the role of wife and then mother. It was not his fault. It was not mine either. I was unprepared for what was being asked of me, by me, for me. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I had no idea how large the role of wife would become. That I would give up my career, my home, my independence, that I would marry someone who would not really recognize that what I was giving up by marrying him. He didn’t appreciate it because how could he? Marriage to him was a benefit. Not to say that he didn’t also give up things, they just weren’t things innate to him. He was bolstered by the union, as was I, I suppose, but it also took a great deal from me as a person, a woman. I was lost from the beginning, always putting someone else first. These were the tentacles of the union that reached into my soul and carved me out. I am not blaming him, I am just trying to sort this through.
Motherhood is a whole other subject but one that takes you over from the inside out. Literally. I was inhabited, possessed, consumed. Daily. Hourly. My ability to pee or shower became something that was rushed, hurried and oversaw by a tiny human that I loved with all that I was. When my son was an infant, we lived in an RV for a period of time and I would need to take a shower, and I would position his swing immediately in front of the shower because if he couldn’t see me, he would cry. And I could not take the crying. It was as if every cry a speaking of my incompetence. I would spend as little time as possible taking care of myself so that I could get back to the task of caring for him...
I would say that all of this is just my own neurosis. My own issue. But I have met other women who feel like I did. Trapped by a joining that they entered voluntarily and then eaten up by the bond. Consumed in every sense until there was nothing left for them. Women who neglect their minds, bodies and lives because they were busy being the cog in the lives of others. Others whose lives are benefitted and made better because of that cog’s willingness to serve.
I am not saying that all marriage requires women to give up their dreams, I am saying that mine did. And I know that there are others out there that made the same deal. I suppose I could have insisted on different terms which would have likely terminated the budding union. I didn’t know better. I thought that I was supposed to give up everything to him. I thought that I was supposed to support and love and cherish. I thought that was what I was supposed to do with my life. And I guess I was, but in the end, it was not enough for me, and that arrogance caused great suffering within my soul.
I see a lot of women who are similarly situated. Joyfully becoming a partner to a union we believe will hold us in a loving embrace, only to find the embrace stifling and a prison of our own making.
Leaving my husband was the first act of reclamation of myself that I took. Telling him that I didn’t love him anymore the first time that I really began to love myself. Living with myself in an honest and authentic way, no longer stuffing down all the feelings I had that made me want to run screaming from the union. Leaving him was the first step of really coming to know me, and I couldn’t have come to know myself if it were not for the time I spent loving him and then resenting him and finally leaving him. I had to leave him in order to survive myself. I had to become a single mother to see that I was worthy of the task. I needed it to be all up to me...and doing battle with the man I married only bloodied us all.
I have written about this before. I guess today I am saying that I see it anew. A new vantage point as I walk with another woman through her marriage and also her decision to leave it. How strong she must be to walk away from something that is not that awful but isn’t good either. The tendency to demonize your spouse so tempting, but really it is far more likely that we condemn ourselves.
We label ourselves spoiled or controlling, or perhaps even ungrateful. Feeling badly about ourselves because these men we married let us down and we denied that for a very long time. We let ourselves down too which is way worse than what the men did...really. For us, our betrayal of ourselves far more life altering and damaging than anything perpetuated by our husbands. Accepting the lies, the betrayals, the hollowed promises for change as being valid, even over our own very strong feelings of truth. We ignored those feelings and allowed ourselves to be plied with gifts, adorations, excuses and manipulations all because we were afraid to stand on our own. Somehow losing something vital of ourselves in the marrying.
How did we know that we would need this later?
What was it even that we gave away?
Sometimes we are forced to leave and then when we do, we are chained to a past that we never felt really part of...we are trying to leave while the partner we love holds us back and threatens to pull us under, not because he is a murderous rouge, but because the needs compete, pull and bind. Them needing us to stay, and every fiber of our own being needing to leave.
It is hard to leave your husband. The marriage that you thought would be your life. The partner that did not deliver all that you thought he promised. More than anything it is hard to face your own reflection in the mirror, hard to accept that despite all your best efforts you married a man that took you for granted and you let him. It takes a long while to sit with that one. It is a painful thought that is more easily pushed away, down and out than allowed to find its home within your burdened chest and mind. To blossom there, the death of the marriage the fertile soil upon which to build your next go at life. This time, promising to all who will listen that you will not ever allow yourself to be so consumed by another that your life is no longer your own...