On Strength and the Will to Survive or My Years with a Crazy Man

I have debated on writing about sex and marriage for a very long time. I mean, I'm an honest person and I don't want to take up a subject and then tiptoe around the real stuff and then the real value of the effort is lost. Where's the benefit in that, either for me or you? But marriage is a vastly interesting thing. It is amazing to me what can happen within the framework of relationships. It is fascinating how two people can start out crazy about one another and completely oblivious to one another's faults, strengths, weaknesses, biases, and personalities and then months or years down the road end up in utter amazement that you ever found anything of value or interest in the person. So suffice it to say that any honest examination of a relationship is inherently intimate and scary. So, I'll be honest in saying that I'm starting this post unsure of whether to post it. Let's call it a work in progress.

OK, a Feministing article sparked all this. They were raking some dipshit over the coals for saying that women should submit to their husbands in the bedroom whether or not they are in the mood. I nearly laughed out loud at the childlike reasoning this idiot was spouting. I feel sorry for his wife. She doesn't have a partner, she has a sexually demanding child to deal with.

But back to the story. He was in culinary school when we met. We had been living together for about 6 months before the proposal came. I was in no rush to marry. I was satisfied with the way things were progressing. D-ex Jeff had a way of pressing issues. For example, I never asked him to move into my apartment. He asked if he could bring some stuff over and store it at my place. I said, sure. I came home from work one day and the entire contents of his house was stacked floor to ceiling in my front room. I was speechless. I remember another day I felt that way: the day my advisor accidentally sprayed me with bear spray. I just looked at her. There was nothing to say. That's how we came to be living together. No discussion. No agreement. Just one day, everything he owned was in my living room. Hindsight is 20/20.

He got on one knee on the 12th floor elevator lobby of the Hilton Hotel and Towers in Chicago and asked me to marry him. I was a bit buzzed. We'd had a substantial fight that morning and I wasn't feeling entirely back to normal. He'd taken me to dinner in Greektown and I'd had several shots of Ouzo while we waited to be seated and at least a half carafe of wine with dinner. The proposal had the unusual effect of putting me entirely in my head. Arguments for and against starting rushing through my head like water. I don't know how long I was quiet. He asked for a response. I told him I'd think about it. He wanted an answer now. So as I sat there trying to speed up the critical analysis, but I was now distracted by a toe-tapping suitor. I was trying to think of how to say "no" gracefully, when "yes" came out. Actually, I think I said, "I guess." How's that for confidence? And from there, it's like a runaway train. The night is a blur. We went to some bars on Wells. We met up with some friends of his. It was a very long night of drinking. I remember being terribly bored and wanting to go home.

Fast forward to about 6 months into the marriage. He finally graduated from culinary school and was trying to establish himself in the business. Unfortunately, he kept getting fired. Claimed it was the norm for the business. I didn't buy it then and I don't buy it now. Once he was fired his first day on the job for "brushing something off the chest" of one of the new waitresses. As he told me this story, I stared at him and the only thought I had was "I'm married to this guy. I can't fucking believe I am married to this guy." It's amazing that we weren't sued for everything we had. I didn't realize it then, but when my husband didn't like a job, he manufactured a circumstance by which he would be "unjustly" fired and then spend weeks fighting for unemployment. He was usually successful. It became his racket. If he spent half of that effort trying to actually make a living, he'd be a millionaire by now. By the 6-month mark of our marriage, I believe he had cycled through 4 jobs. I was dissatisfied with my married life, mortified by my husband's behavior, and humiliated to tell my family that my husband had lost yet another job. The next two years were spent in disbelief. I would save money for a downpayment on a house during his "employment phases" and then he would burn through it during the 6 weeks he was on unemployment. My life was a roller coaster, only I couldn't get off.

But the job problems were only the beginning. We had another problem. I would go to work, come home, and the minute I walked in the door, he relived every perceived injustice that had befallen him that day. From 5:30 pm until midnight, every weekday and all day on Saturday and Sunday, he would follow me around the house barking about how the world was doing him wrong. There comes a time when you stop listening. It's called self preservation. For a while, I got away with it, but one day he realized I wasn't listening. He began testing me. Ask me what he just said. If I couldn't answer, a fight started. I wasn't being a good wife. I wasn't trying to help him. How could I just zone out when he was trying to talk? Somehow--call it the response of the shell shocked--I bought into this. I mean shit. What do I know about married life? I tried to listen. The problem was, there was no break. He never stopped. There was no me. There were no personal thoughts. I had given everything I was over to listening to and caring for a man who's needs had no end. My life had turned into a never-ending therapy session punctuated by a quiz show I couldn't win. D disappeared.

As if this wasn't bad enough, there was one aspect of my life where things were really screwed up. In the bedroom. Now I have always considered myself someone with a healthy libido. Not just healthy, but...ahem...robust. And when we first got together and early in the marriage, our sex life was satisfactory. But when my husband began to lose jobs and lay around the house, my interest in him waned. I mean, who wouldn't want a slug for a partner? Who wouldn't be proud of their spouse? Not to mention that his lack of mental health began to take a toll on me. Sex with that wasn't quite the treat it once seemed. Soon it wasn't appealing at all. Unfortunately, he still wanted sex. And in between the constant chatter about his life came the belligerent complaints about our sex life. And whose fault do you think that was? It wasn't healthy for a woman not to desire sex. There must be something wrong with me. I tried to explain how his behavior was directly affecting my libido. He was incapable of accepting any responsibility for this situation. He demanded I see a doctor or psychiatrist. They had pills or therapy or something for frigid women like me. I can't count the days that I spent arguing about sex. And somehow, he seemed to think that humiliating me, berating me, and badgering me was going to make me miraculously want to have sex with him.

Now tell me. If you spent every waking moment of your life either working or propping up another human being and never thinking about or taking care of your own needs, how would your libido hold up? I am not exaggerating one iota when I say that this is the reality of my married life. For years, I never had a single thought about myself, about my needs, my wants, my desires, my aspirations, my life. Not one moment. I couldn't even read a book. He couldn't stop talking long enough to allow me to read a single chapter. My only respite was work. I began to stay longer and longer at work. I finally had enough and asked for a divorce 2 years in. He begged me to stay. He said it would get better. I just had to wait and see. He was wrong. It didn't get better. It got a lot worse.

Staying was the worst decision I ever made. My blood pressure was 160/110. I had nose bleeds. I gained a lot of weight in a very short time. I didn't want to come home at night. Sometimes I would drive up and down the highway until I was sure he was asleep. I hated my home. Don't recognize D in this picture? Neither did I. I realize now that I was a victim of an abusive husband. However, he was no more cognizant of his pattern of abuse than I was of being abused. I have no doubt that had we sought marital counseling, we would have been advised in the strongest terms to get away from one another.

The problem was not the day-to-day problems. It wasn't even the lack of sex. The real problem was I had lost respect for my husband. I wanted nothing more than for the man to shut up, pull himself up by his bootstraps and make something of his life. I wanted nothing more than for him to find some other outlet than dumping it all on me. I wanted someone who sought to seduce me, not some child throwing a tantrum for sex. I wanted a life in which I was respected. I wanted a life where I mattered. I wanted a man who was as concerned with my well being and mental health as I had tried to be for his. I wanted a partner. I tried to do things for myself during this time. I signed us up to join the YMCA. I liked to swim. So we went together and I swam and he played basketball. He didn't have a good time. So the next night, I went to swim alone. When I got home, I had to listen to 4 hours of how I had abandoned him. I never went back to the Y again.

I realize that I should have encouraged him to seek counseling. I may have. I remember he was fine with psychiatric help for me but revolted and insulted by the idea that it might help him. Every suggestion I had for self-improvement on his part was seen as criticism and a lack of support. To hear him tell it, there was nothing wrong with a man who burned through 20 or 30 jobs in 7 years, spent his life seeking his father's approval, and who launched into a nightly tirade against his wife, his life, and the world.

I. was. lost invisible miserable.

He wasn't the man I thought I married. I thought he'd get a job, work his way up, maybe jump restaurants because of opportunities, not because of firings. He didn't want to improve himself. He was a man of the lowest common denominator. He played the government-check system. The world owed him. In reality, if I'd had more experience, I might have noticed that was the norm in his family. But I was green. Stupid. Sheltered. I had no idea that people who claimed to love you would hide their real self until they married you and then burst forth like a boil full of toxic pus.

People had warned me not to get married. Oh, they didn't warn me not to marry HIM. They said I didn't have the capacity to compromise. So I came in prepared to compromise. I was 29 years old when I married. I had lived on my own since I was 17 and a half. Surely I knew a thing or two about life, right? Well, I didn't know shit. And I sure didn't plan on a life full of passive-aggression, real aggression, guilt trips, constant bickering, massive disappointment, hard feelings, and a complete loss of self-identity. Somehow, I convinced myself that all of these burdens I bore were part of the compromise that marriage demands. In any event, my world view, my life expectations, and my life were shattered. And living on this roller coaster was slowly sucking away my will to live.

I don't think anyone who has ever met me would think I lack for self esteem. I don't think that anyone would peg me for the type to consider suicide. I don't think that anyone who knows me would believe that I would put up with half of the shit I put up with in my marriage. But before it was over, I was fighting for my self preservation, my self image, my life, and my sanity. I honestly think if I had stayed married much longer I would have either died by my own hand or by a heart attack from the stress. He had a terminal illness. He couldn't keep a job. No job, no health insurance. And so, my life became nothing more than day-to-day survival to provide him with medical insurance that he couldn't maintain for himself. Many a day, while driving up and down the highway in an effort to avoid my home, I wished for death. I wanted to die. I wanted a merciful God to end it all. But there was no mercy for D. No tractor-trailers jumped the highway and flattened me. No nuclear power plant meltdowns. No blizzards stranded me in a snow drift to die a slow death. My fantasies weren't of dating celebrities. My fantasies were of an end to my suffering.

And then one day, a miracle happened.

I learned he was having an affair thanks to the miracle of cell phone bills. Most women would be upset. I was elated. I demanded a divorce. At last I had the upper hand. He begged again for me to stay. He said he would change. And somehow, in my head, I thought maybe we could turn it all around.

I decided to see what would happen. I mean at this point, I had all the cards. I told him it had to end. It was a long, harrowing night of discussion and tears and raised voices. But let me make this perfectly clear to you. The very next day, after he agreed to change his ways, invest in our relationship, end the affair and turn over a new leaf, I called the cellular phone he gave me for my birthday and she answered the phone. I calmly asked her to give the phone to my husband. I told him his things would be on the front lawn when he got home.

And thus, my marriage ended. Oh, I've left out some important parts, like the time he put his fist through the door when I shut a door between us. Or when he woke me up from a sound sleep, handed me the phone and told me the police wanted to talk to me for threatening to kill him. Or how he yelled at me in a car for 9 hours on the day we buried my grandmother because he was angry that my brother and sister-in-law left to go home before we did. Or the time I got out of the car at a rest stop in Indiana and refused to get back in because he was being so verbally abusive. Or when he tried to poke me with a dirty needle. Or when he threatened me with a kitchen knife. Or when he came to me the night we decided to divorce looking for break-up sex. Or when he flooded my work phone with his harassing phone calls. Or when I had to tell security at work that he wasn't to be allowed on the property. It was over. I had him by the short hairs and he knew it.

Lawyers. Settlements. Court. November 2, 2000. My new life began.

Recovery isn't short. It was two full years before I even wanted to think about dating. My libido returned slowly. It was quite a suprise to realize I did want to have sex, I just didn't want to have sex with him. I think I still have a pretty distorted perspective about sex to this day. And the players I have dated since my divorce haven't done much to improve this perspective. I am less afraid of the intimacy of sex than I am of the danger of relationships. I realize I still have a lot of work to do to return from that mental place I hid during my marriage. But the thing that worries me most is I can't trust my judgment when it comes to men. I mean, I actually thought he was a good man when I married him. I never saw it coming. I had no idea. Blindsided. It's like one day he peeled off a mask and I found myself married to a monster. I don't know how it happened. I don't know how I missed it before we married. I don't know how to protect myself from a similar fate again. But I do know that I can't afford to find myself in that place again. It will kill me. And knowing what that place is like, I'd want it to. So, when I say I'll never marry again, it isn't a simple distaste for married life that prompts a swearing off of something that just didn't work for me. I won't marry again because I don't want to die.

Marriage was the most harrowing experience of my life. I can imagine my ex reading this post and laughing it off. His experience of our marriage and mine were entirely different. In his world, I wasn't giving and loving enough. In my world, I gave up everything. I don't know if there is a lesson in this for anyone. I know that this isn't everyone's experience of marriage. I pray you never share my experience. I don't feel particularly cleansed by the telling of this. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. I am strong enough to survive it and thrive again. But this is part of me. I don't know what part of it I'm supposed to take responsibility for, and what part of it just happened to me, and which part I can blame on him. I don't think any of that matters. It is my life, my experience, and my burden to bear. My life will never be the same.

I hope that one day I am able to enjoy a healthy, fulfilling, loving, empowering, giving, tender, supportive relationship with a good man. That is my secret wish for today, this year, my life. On the other hand, I wonder if I am capable of making myself that vulnerable again. In my experience, relationships are life and death propositions. I have reason to hope. The worst is over. Yes, I am vigilant, cautious, suspicious, and wary. But every day seems brighter. I'm alive.

I survived.

I am free.

I am free.

Do you hear me?

I am free.

And that is something I never thought I'd be again.

Happy New Year.

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