Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Life as we know it

Over the weekend, a good friend of mine from high school visited with her husband.

I know it's wrong to compare, that witnessing someone's relationship from the outside and comparing it to the inside of one's own relationship is an unfair comparison. I know this.

I also know that I got a glimpse of what healthy love is. What it looks like at least from the outside -when there is mutual respect, admiration, and adoration. I've had glimpses of this from my sister and her husband, my friends, and my own parents. My sister's husband books flights for her, takes her to the theatre, reserves dinner reservations, sets up their payments online, fills her car with gas, and makes an effort to spend time with our family. To me, these gestures are love. There is a thought and action of love.

My girlfriend who visited never had to worry about the rental car, about looking up directions for their trip, making arrangements for dinner, moving their car to a new spot late at night. My parents still giggle, laugh at each other's jokes, kiss one another upon coming home. I know what healthy love looks like. I know that healthy love does not involve name calling, does not blame and deny, does not lie or seek pain. I know that healthy love involves partners watching out for each other, wanting the best, seeking friendship. I know this is not our relationship. And even though in my heart, I knew these things were true, it didn't become real until I saw the authentic kind.

I know this life has not been easy. I know that dreams did not come true, that we've had to extract the joy out of a tough situation. I know that late at night I move the car, take the dog out, pay the bills and do the treatments, make sure the house is clean and laundry done, write thank-you notes, read the self-help and "how to make love work" books, that I am tired and raw and overwhelmed and at the end of the day it is just me here. Me. And I'm so sick of me. I want a partner who reads the books, who books the flights, who does the work, who cleans the cars, who boils the nebulizers, who scoops the poop, who writes the checks, who makes the breakfast, who runs the bath, vacuums the dog hair, and picks up the toddler, who takes care of me, and is motivated by love. I am so tired of taking care of everyone and have finally, finally come to the conclusion, after glimpses and yes, even comparisons that it is only right that these things were always meant to be shared, that there is no get out of jail free card, no get out of cleaning the bathroom card, this is life. This is our life. And it's hard and frustrating. It does not promise instant gratification or ego boosts. And I'm not condemning, of course there have been shared responsibilities. Neither one of us is living it up in Cabo. We are both tired and working very hard. FD is working 60 hours/week now at the hospital. We are working, working hard.

I have never felt that if I fell, there would be a partner to pick me up. I've felt that there isn't time or room to fall. That if I fall, the family falls too.

It is more than the action of moving the car from the wrong side of the street, or booking dinner reservations, it is the spirit in which it's done. These are not chores delegated from a tired wife, these are the parts that make the whole work. I never signed up to be bad cop, I never filled out the application for cleaning parole officer, but this is how it ended up. Someone has to be the jerk who reminds everyone of oil changes and pediatric appts, dentist visits, veterinary appts, and overdue parking tickets. And I don't mind being the jerk. I'm used to it by now. It's one thing to be the jerk, it's another thing to be treated like a jerk.

I'm finding it very difficult to find kindess in my heart these days. It is usually something that comes naturally. When my friends or family are hurting and need something, it hurts not to make it better, to show that person they are loved.

Now, my instinct is not kindness, my initial reaction is not to relate or condone, to comfort or pacify. My instinct is to protect, to shield and confront. My instinct is to question intentions, to wonder why helping does not come easily, why everything is so hard, why the team has gone home. My heart hurts. My stomach hurts. I want a family. I don't want to fight, but can't put my gloves down either. Because whether I like it or not, we are in the ring. And this does not resemble love. It doesn't come close. I think even in the worst of times love isn't standing there saying, "Put your dukes up!" I just think that if you want something to work, you make it work, if you want to fight it, you do. In some ways love is that simple. And I think the people who make it work, simply think about their other half first. Before you eat, before you sit, before you sleep, love is, "What about you, my dear." .....If only in my dreams.


Anonymous said...

When a child has a severe disability or disease that always requires work, it can drive the marriage apart because of the stress. With my parents, my brother being like he was only made their marriage stronger. They loved each other, because they knew this is what they had to do, their fighting wouldn't make him not be disabled or make them not be in that situation. When my mom got sick, dad gave up his whole life to take care of her, because he took his vows seriously when it said till death do us part. He knew it was forever. Your parents love each other like they do, and mine loved each other like they did, because they built their marriage on Christ first, them second. That is what is important. You have to have a solid foundation first the love will come. That's what I know to be right. You are searching for love and acceptance. Go to the One who will give it to you unconditionally. He will never let you down.

Mieke said...


I read your post with the ache of recognition. It is also, as always, an incredibly well written and raw piece. It's beautiful and heartbreaking - and familiar.

I heard an interview on KPCC today - Larry Mantle did the interview - try to find it. Apparently the writer had the cover story in the NY Times magazine section about marriage. My newspaper must remain untouched until after finals, but I look forward to reading it. I will save it for you if you don't get to it before I do. Please let me know what you think.
I love you E.

Mieke said...

And may I just say one more time - this is so beautifully written.

Anonymous said...

Your writing, as always, takes my breath away.

Unlike you, I grew up parents who grew to hate each other. They fought, they were mean to each other. Sometimes, one person in a couple is just broken inside, and you can't fix it. And it often gets to the point where you realize that you cannot save the other person, that you yourself will drown trying to save them. But that was my parents.

The key I think, is being able to honestly see who people are inside. It is hard to do, especially if we have already fallen in love.

I know I am lucky to have found such a wonderful partner, but I think I made my own luck: my parents' marriage taught me a lot, and the instant I saw Pierre, I knew. Last night for example, I was dead tired and had had a crappy day. The kids were a handful. He came home late, at 7, after a full day of meetings. But instead of eating the dinner I had set out for him, he first cleaned the disaster in the fridge -- his own initiative, very sweetly and with no complaints, because he knew I had had a bad day. Thanks for reminding me that is his way of showing love.