The Reality of Our Retirement

(I may have misnamed this post; but it’s one of those “rants” which shows that into every marriage–even the good and enduring ones–comes challenges, even when all seems to be smooth sailing.  The “day after” lessons are in green).

It’s a beautiful sunny, crisp fall Saturday.  We have nowhere to be, nothing demanding IMG_4043our time.

Bliss.

I roll out of bed and pad to the living room.  He’s on the couch having his morning nap.  The cat meows to be picked up and cuddled for exactly 45 seconds (the only time this crazy cat wants to be handled, and often these days the only connection I get with a living thing).  We mutter a few banalities, and I go for my morning coffee.  It’s an easy morning.  I offer to fry up some bacon so we can have a proper breakfast.  He plays an installment of his favorite sitcom, which while I agree is funny, isn’t exactly my taste.  In the name of “togetherness” I watch with him and indulgently laugh when I’m supposed to, so he can turn to me and say, “See, you think it’s funny too.”  We sit as far apart as is possible in our small apartment living room. At this point we have not touched.  Not kissed.  Not connected in any way beside quick monosyllabic, utilitarian phrases.

In passing I brush and fondle his crotch.  He shrinks.  I playfully grind into him from behind.  He chuckles.  It reminds him of a friend’s bawdy joke, one I’ve heard before, one he’ll regale me with again.  Humor deflects so much for him.

And that’s all.

“It’s a beautiful day… we should find something to do outside, a nice walk, enjoy this gorgeous weather,” I finally say. I think maybe he grunts.  He definitely doesn’t take up the suggestion.

I ask him about our upcoming trip to New England.  I’ve done all the travel agent plans to get us there and lodged.  He now gets the tour guide stuff.  What did he have in mind?  Should I bring my serious hiking boots?  He consults his notes and gives me his proposed itinerary; he stands and shows me a map—is he really trying NOT to touch me?.  The place next to me on the couch is wide open, but he deigns to address my question from the chair across from me, well enough out of reach to risk human touch.

“Are you going to yoga today?”

“No, I’ve gone 4 days this week, Saturdays are more crowded, so I’ll stick with weekdays.”

And silence.

I know that I should just lean into and enjoy this laid-back life, and be appreciative for serendipity and absence of pressures or have-tos.  Nearly all our days are ours to do with as we please.  Few demands.

(And I should just be direct and say that I’m looking forward to spending the day together, with him).

Thirty minutes later he asks “So, what do you have planned today?”

What?

I pause for a moment.  I guess this means he’s got his day planned out, and I’d better figure out my own plans.

(Ah, the misguided art of silent communication and reading into things…)

Now, it is perfectly fine for us to have separate plans. We aren’t joined at the hip, after all.  We are not joined much at all these days. The other day he decided to go into the city, to work on genealogy research.  I’m delighted he has a new hobby.  Over the past 30 days, he’s been away for 14.  I am totally chill with that, I have several old friends in town, have enjoyed dinner and movies and hanging out;  had two lovely visits from dear friends from out-of-town.  No lack of things to do, places to go, people to see.  Just enough busy-ness in my schedule to volunteer and work very part-time. I have all the work I could want if I chose to take it.  Stories that need to be developed, finished, edited, revised, published.  Solitude enjoyed.

I admit to a tad bit of ire at his banal question about what I have planned for the day.  Uhm, I guess I presumed we’d do something together, especially since I did already suggest something. Oh, that, and we’ve not done much together in the past 2 weeks.

I take a deep breath as he seems to be gathering up his gym bag, and apparently is headed off to swim and workout—and whatever.  “Oh, I’ll just make some plans of my own.”  Yes, my tone is a bit passive aggressive.  But seriously, do I need to spell out what an idiot you are?  I cringe inwardly a little at my snarky thought.

He hems and haws a bit. Now determined that I don’t “need” him, I go to change into my yoga clothes and brush my teeth; I just missed the 10:30 class, but I’m determined to go to 12:15.  By the time I’m done changing he’s left.  So let me plan this day for myself. I call my two girlfriends; both seem to have plans already underway, and why not?  It’s a gorgeous day!  Both say they’ll try to call me later; I try to give them a pass and tell them to enjoy their day.  I look at the clock and consider that for the next hour he’s gone, I’ll get in a little writing therapy.  I start to pack my backpack for a serendipitous day of my own: water, snack, Bible study materials.  He walks back in about 15 minutes later.  Hmmm.  Was the pool closed, I wonder?  I quickly shut down my computer and throw it into my pack.  Plan B… I’ll go to the coffee shop, sit outside and write until Yoga time.

“Hey, I’m sorry… What do you want to do?” he begins.  At least I think he said sorry.  It didn’t seem that sincere.

(I cut him off, because unfortunately I’m on a completely different trajectory now, and determined not to veer from it).

“Hey, no worries.  I get it. We both get to have our own plans and that is cool. Because, you see, when I tried to ask you about doing something together, you totally ignored me, and then went on to asking me what plans I’d made for myself today.  So, what am I to think?  You must have your own day planned out, and it doesn’t include me.  Therefore, I’ve made plans for myself, so I’ll just catch you later!  Have a good day.”

And with that I’m out the door.

OK, yes, I’m a little mad.  Not about time apart.  Once again it’s about his lack of thoughtfulness, and his inability to make a plan, make a decision, be a partner, pursue—or choose to be with me.  When he got home after his week away, he made sure to bed me once (check).  It was nice, enjoyable.  And in that soft, connected moment, I reminded him that we need to continue working on our intimate connections—kisses and hugs need to happen every day, and consist of more than a peck.  I put it into practice the next day and lie atop him for a snuggle as he reclines on the couch.  He chuckles.  No more. I listen attentively to his repeated stories, his complaints about his family, about his time away.  I resist revealing to him the intense annoyance I feel when he acts like a clown and pretends to trip into my boobs with a comedic grab. This is pretty much the extent of our physicality, him acting like a buffoon, a 12-year old silly boy.  Humor.  Teasing.  That is not romantic, not sensual, not erotic, nor arousing or remotely grown up; and it really isn’t funny at all, when that’s all it is.  It’s a turn off. Try as I may to laugh along to make him feel good, to encourage him to move beyond these juvenile expressions of intimacy, and yes, even try to approach him in the same teasing manner, it’s hard to avoid feeling I am more the brunt of his jokes than the object of his affection or desire.

You’d think after 25 years we’d have figured this out. What our love languages are, how to “speak” them.  I do my utmost to give my attention, quality time, words of encouragement, acts of service.  Retreating into hermit/lone ranger behavior isn’t an option he gets in a marriage, ESPECIALLY when he just had 14 days away in which to indulge this. He’s an introvert, this I know.  For different reasons, we do need our time alone.  The difference is, it takes a lasso—no, maybe it’s a noose—to pull him back to the reality that he IS married to someone, and has some responsibility to be a partner. And the love language of that someone is physical touch and closeness, romance.

(I realize that we need to make ourselves a schedule, and discuss a middle ground for our expectations.  Like, these are the days I’d like to be alone doing my own thing, and these are the days we do things together).

IMG_4042I’ll be out for the day.  It IS a gorgeous day, too lovely to be missed.  The insanely bright sunlight with a hint of autumn in the breeze; the trees deciding whether to turn colors. The local coffee shop is relaxing at an outdoor chair; yoga is tranquil; the local park sublime.  I ponder where I’d like to lunch, where I can sit outside. And I realize that by the time I return home, he’ll perhaps be contrite and apologetic, maybe making herculean efforts to be the husband he needs to be, forgot to be, but seemingly has to force himself to be.  It doesn’t come naturally.

It never does come naturally, and each time we go through this cycle of disinterest-distance-disenchantment, and desperate attempts to repair, it gets more and more wearisome.  Intimacy, affection, connection… these are not givens in this marriage.

(We have read in one of our marriage books that this is called “The Crazy Cycle” so it’s nothing new… we just need to learn how to manage it).

What comes naturally?  He takes care of me.  Duty means a lot to him. When I have to go to the ER, he takes me.   When I’m unwell, he’s sympathetic. He takes care of the bills, he cleans the kitchen after I cook his meals, and frequently compliments my culinary skills.  He feels guilty when I start housecleaning around him, and sometimes chips in. He doesn’t cuss or yell.  He sometimes listens to me, and acts like he’s interested.  He enjoys watching Jeopardy with me, and asking me to help with the crossword clues he can’t get.  He likes to laugh at what he considers “clever humor.”  He stays in shape and takes care of his health.  Every week or so, he wants low-key, tender sex (with me).  Sometimes not.  He is a nice, non-aggressive person, who really enjoys introverted activities like reading.  He respects me… like a cherished cousin.

(And, while these are all excellent and praise-worthy things, the truth that seems to get buried time and again is that my love language of physical touch and closeness involves more aggression, thrill, romance, and hot pursuit—it’s so very hard to keep repeating this and to feel not heard).

And I tell myself, that’s a lot more than what many have.  I need to just be grateful and not expect too much more.  I have friends my age who don’t have any of this.  The last time they had sex may have been months, even years.  Some don’t have anyone to complain about.

I think about our week ahead; I have my own commitments on the calendar, and quite possibly will spend one evening with a friend.  We have theatre tickets.  And then we’re off for 5 days in New England (note to self—get book on tape for long drives; bring lots to read; anything to avoid the agony of interaction).  And we will somehow continue to co-exist into the future…  good days and bad days, ups and downs.img_4045.png

(Introspectively and retrospectively, I realize this is much to do with tempering my high expectations, and not setting myself up for disappointments.  It is also about trying to become more selfless than selfish—our lesson at church today).  I should stop selfishly wanting MY way, and just think about how to be selfless and think about him. All tall orders).

I can’t help be feel a bit sad that for the next 20-30 years (is it “God willing” or “God Forbid?”), “tempering expectations” means I need to continue to build my temporary fortresses around my passionate, romantic heart, check the expectations, and appreciate what I have. Praying that God shows me how to do this without bitterness, and to seek a grateful heart.

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