Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Is Recycling Day

I was always very hard on myself. For a good amount of time during my relationship with my ex-wife, I punished myself for the sins of my past -- sins which I assumed left me permanently damaged to the point where I had no choice but to live a life of humble self-deprecation. I figured that since I was constantly reminded of the error of my ways, since I truly did feel like there were acts for which I needed to atone, and since I believed my wife -- certainly by comparison to myself -- to be some kind of saint, it would be foolish to pretend that I was Mr. Perfect. I couldn't help but hold my wife up as a kind of ideal to which I should strive as a spouse; the image she maintained, flawlessly, was one of absolute love, kindness and devotion.

And so I spent a good portion of the early days of this site pondering how exactly I got so lucky and expressing both my gratitude for my wife's apparent loyalty and the insecurities I grappled with when it came to maintaining the relationship which meant the world to me. The following piece has never been rerun since it was first published just a month-and-a-half after I started DXM. In it, I put my wife on a pedestal because at face value she gave me every reason to -- a pretense which was nearly impenetrable. But maybe, looking back on it for the first time in a very long time, I subconsciously sensed that something wasn't quite right. It would be only a few weeks after the posting of this column that I'd find out just how not right things were and for how long they had been that way.

I had no idea. Not a hint.

I beat myself up so relentlessly -- and while some of it was indeed justified, it's just tragically humiliating looking back on it now.

"If You Love Something Never Let It Out of Your Goddamned Sight" (Originally Published, 7.11.06)

I'm easy to love, and almost impossible to live with. I know this to be true because I've heard it from virtually every woman unlucky enough to have had her life intertwined with mine for any length of time. Literally -- the same words, phrased exactly the same way, spoken at just about the same point in each relationship; it's the interpersonal equivalent of the first chords of Starship Trooper at a Yes concert -- when you hear them, you know the show's just about over.

Being a somewhat selfish jackass, I admit that there's truth to the fact that I've never been much good at relationships. Most of mine -- those of any note at least -- have typically involved months of tumult and torture, culminating in the hurling of small appliances at one another. I used to joke that all of my bad relationships seem to have only one thing in common: me.

Thankfully, my wife Jayne is a patient woman -- which is an understatement along the lines of saying that the casting of Sofia Coppola in The Godfather III was a bad idea. She puts up with a lot, and I know that there are plenty of women out there who don't envy her -- essentially every woman who knows me -- but due in large part to her steadiness and resolve, I've become a better man, a better partner and a better all-around person. At some point during our relationship, our passionate insanity dialed-down to something even more wonderful: passionate sanity. We work together as a team, which may seem common and mundane for most adults, but is in fact a task which borders on the spectacular when it's being done by a couple that's made up of 50% retard.

I still have my issues, however, the most prevalent of which is the occasional crippling belief that she'll walk out the door and never come back. Psychologists would refer to this as a fear of abandonment; I look at it more as the fear of the wiser half of my relationship finally coming to its senses. I have no obvious reason to be as concerned as I am about this; it's not like my wife has begun quietly separating her CDs from mine. On the contrary, she seems highly adept at reading this feeling in me, and usually throws in an extra hug or cuddle to reassure me when she notices it coming on.

So why the worry?

I have a friend -- a woman -- who recently traveled overseas for a couple of months on business. She's currently involved in a relationship here in the states and when she left, her boyfriend kissed her goodbye and more than likely thought little of it beyond that. They were together. They were in love. That wasn't going to change.

Only it did.

The experience altered her -- opened her eyes so to speak. The woman who returned is far more complex and multi-dimensional than the one who left -- and whether he understands it or not, her boyfriend may not fit into the picture anymore. The best analogy I can think of is Einstein's belief that if you achieved light-speed, you could see the universe in an instant -- the same instant which would leave the world you departed from, and returned to, completely unchanged. The problem of course is that the person left behind -- the one who never achieved that level of experience with her -- now seems like someone from her very distant past. He knows nothing about her anymore. To put it in simple terms: she outgrew him.

Here's a question, though: Have you ever heard of a man saying that he's outgrown a woman? I'm sure it's happened, but for the most part, this particular sentiment seems to be a "woman thing." I don't doubt that those who base their assumptions about men on what they've seen on Everybody Loves Raymond would say that the answer is simple: men aren't constantly growing. They reach a plateau, generally in about the sixth grade, then stop. I'd love nothing more than to refute this kind of thinking, but every time I see the commercial for Bud Light's "Man Laws," or walk by an issue of Maxim on the newsstand, or see a TV ad for Girls Gone Wild I just shake my head and accept the fact that I don't have a goddamned leg to stand on. The deck's pretty well stacked against me by my own kind.

If that assumption is true, though -- that women seem to grow, and revel in the experience of growth -- then can any relationship ever be secure? As far as I know, my friend's boyfriend did everything right, at least to the best of his ability. He supported her in her journey. He remained confident in their commitment. He was, for lack of a better word, himself. Now, possibly without his knowledge and through seemingly no fault of his own, his relationship with the person he loves has struck an iceberg and is slowly, almost imperceptably sinking. If the other half of his relationship has already made the decision to leave, there isn't a thing he can do about it.

It will end one of two ways: she'll simply walk out, which will leave him stunned, or she'll begin to pick fights over the kinds of issues which were once completely innocuous -- at least before the secret meeting-of-one was held, and the final solution was decided on. Either way, the result will be the same. Another unfortunate fact is that I, and no doubt others, probably know more about this poor guy's eventual fate than he does. I feel sorry for him, and that feeling extends almost completely from the fact that I wouldn't want to be him -- or maybe because I have been him.

I've been warned throughout my life many times and in many ways of the importance of showing support for your partner's endeavors; have faith they say, and believe in the strength of your relationship. I've been told that to hold on to something, or someone, too tightly will only lead to disaster. But is the fear of your loved one simply moving beyond you really that impossible to fathom?

I realize that little in life is certain -- death, taxes, bad films from Michael Bay -- but if the one you love can outgrow you with any new experience, at what point can you stop being afraid?

At what point can I stop being afraid?


brite said...

Can you ever stop being afraid? I don't know Chez, if you asked me a year ago I would have responded with a resounding 'of course', but now I'm finding that it's not so much that people evolve and change, but relationships do as well.I am ridonculously happy with my mate, and hope that he still feels that way as well, but doubt creeps in all the time and short of asking that question that men hate, I try to reassure myself with platitudes and the hope that if he really is unhappy, he'll talk to me about it.

Anonymous said...

This happened to me. I helped an ex work through some issues of self-doubt, fear, and internal strife, slowly, patiently, with much love. I wanted to see all the potential and greatness in her blossom as I knew it could....And it did.

Once the epiphany happened, I was no longer in the cards, or even recognizable as a valid playing piece. I was trash.

I am terribly afraid of falling for someone again. I don't know how I can love if my love causes those around me to grow apart from me.

Anonymous said...

I understand that people often outgrow each other but that whole "women are more mature than men" thing is a complete stereotype. A thousand sitcoms that feature a fat dumb oaf married to an attractive mature woman haven't exactly helped either. For every Maxim there is a parallel Cosmo that reminds us that a good portion of the population in both genders is just a hair above functionally retarded.

I've dated girls (briefly) who are nearly 30 who squeal and scream for that guy from Twilight like a twelve year old at a Justin Bieber concert and think that it's perfectly normal to do so at their age. Or have histrionic crying fits over something that literally amounts to nothing. Chances are you friend wanted to break up with her boyfriend before she left and that was just the catalyst.

Shandra said...

Wow. Just wow. I bought your book to support you but if it's like this, I am in for a real treat. I will support more in the future but am on a tight budget this year.

And Anonymous @12:12 I feel your pain. I don't know the answer to that.