Let’s not get into how one suspects one’s marriage or coupledom is over. Let’s just start with the reality that it is. No more talking about it with each other or through counseling. Blame accepted or denied.
You wake up and your partner isn’t tucked under the covers, breathing softly. The house is emptier, with only you (and perhaps a child or two) living in it. There’s an unoccupied chair in the living room by the TV. You reach for that second chicken breast and then put it back, realizing there’s no reason to cook it. Laundry gets done a whole lot quicker. But you finally get to eat that whole chocolate bar instead of sharing it.
I moved out. Couldn’t afford the home we shared and didn’t want it anyway. Very little of it reflected my taste, since my husband did all the designing. He was good at it, but still, it would’ve been nice to have a little input. Instead, I moved into a cottage about a third of the size of my married life house in a tiny village. Its original owner was a showgirl and a flapper in the 1920s, and upon retirement, moved here to become an artist. Apparently she was successful at her newfound ability, because upon her death they removed enough of her works to fill several galleries. Being a writer, I appreciated how this artsy cottage seemed destined for me to make it my home. It was cozy, drafty and worn at the edges, sort of like me.
But living on one’s own comes at a price.
As I contemplated what shape my new single life would take, a few of my coworkers tried to “help.” One constantly nagged at me about how I was going to seek revenge. Another told me I should date and sleep with as many men as possible. Immediately. Or perhaps I should take my estranged husband for all he’s worth. Go wild. Have parties. Live the life you’ve been missing!
Truth is, I’m not up to any of those things. I haven’t the strength. Or the will.
Upon realizing this little cottage would be my home from now on, I slowly sank to the floor and wept, repeating, “I want to go home!” For as bad as things had been, my former house had been my constant for years. Even though I hadn’t been happy, it’d been a refuge. I knew where all the pots were kept in the kitchen, or how my shirts hung in the closet, or the many boxes hidden inside the garage that I ignored for years. Now, those boxes stared at me, joined by a whole tribe of freshly-filled ones. It seemed too strange, too foreign to contemplate. I almost felt as if I was intruding in someone else’s home.
I glanced around and looked at the bare walls, painted a horrid peachy-pig flesh color. Christ, what were they thinking? The kitchen sported a broken stove and loose ceiling tiles. There was no insulation in the house to speak of. And winter was coming. I wouldn’t have that toasty pellet stove to warm my frozen self. Or even my husband, for that matter.
With all that alone time, my now-over marriage percolated to the top. I began to evaluate it, examine it, defend it, shred it. What could I have done to save it? Why didn’t I leave sooner? What was I thinking when I got married in the first place? Every memorable event surfaced in my thoughts. I cringed over some of our stupid arguments. Laughed at the time we’d found two baby rabbits in the yard, buried in the grass. Remembered how often I put him before myself, caring for him after several surgeries or holding him up when his father died too soon. I ironed his shirts, made his meals and went to the doctor with him.
I don’t remember much about getting that in return. Especially when my father died.
“It was about the sex,” he said. “A few refusals and I never bothered after that.” Truth was, just because I said “no” a few times didn’t mean I meant it forever. Too many times he dozed off on the couch, or fell asleep during a romantic getaway before anything happened. So I guess I gave up, too. I missed the intimacy, and said so. It meant little, if anything, to him.
He met someone younger, fresher, more exciting. Someone who “got” him. I didn’t bother asking questions. I’d been hurt to the core, devastated. Why would I want to ever return to the man I loved who betrayed me?
Phipp’s gave me a place to go to each day and I didn’t have to think about the shape of my life. I went in, did mindless tasks, came home. There’s relief in opening boxes and setting goods on shelves. Or straightening towels. Even helping customers find what they need. Lord knows I still can’t find what I need. At least I can still make someone feel happy.
A while after I began to settle into my cottage, I met with an old friend. He reminded me of something I mentioned before I married. “I’m still wondering if he’s the right one,” I apparently said. But I turned 40, and didn’t want to turn 41 alone. I also fell in love, or believed I did. It felt right at the time. My parents loved him, and his parents loved me. And for a long time, I was happy.
There’s this song by Death Cab for Cutie called “Cath.” It’s about a woman who marries a man she’s not entirely in love with, but does it because she’s afraid to be alone. Was that me? Probably. At least I suspect so.
But that’s not me any more. I’m learning how to uncouple.