We married in 1992. I was 34 and he was nearly 38. It was a first marriage for us both, and it had been a long distance courtship. We both were very clear on what we wanted in a mate, and for all intents and purposes, we had our “lists” out from the first date on. We weren’t about to waste our time on a relationship that had no hopes of going the distance or possibly leading to matrimony. We’d both been down the deceptive roads of “chemistry,” with disastrous results.
There comes a time in many a single’s life when you decide that you’ve just dated enough, you’ve compromised enough, you’ve put up with behaviors that you thought love would change (and didn’t). For those who wait until their later 20s, it may look something like one or two dates tops before you know if there’s a hope. You may be desperately lonely, but you also are tired of wasting your time.
If you grew up any time around the 1960s, as a woman you had previously unheard of opportunities in the world beyond marriage and motherhood. Your identity did not NEED to be with a man. As time marched forward, some women didn’t even feel they needed to be married. Single parenthood became more and more common. Co-habitating/living together was on the upswing, although most women would tell you it was the engagement to be engaged. Divorce was easier than ever before. When women gained the right to compete in the working world with men, access to birth control, and earn wages that could actually support them, a lot more changed than would meet the eye.
In my humble opinion, none of the advances for women were in and of themselves bad. I am a product of that 60s generation– women who went to college, had careers, owned their own homes, and who weren’t afraid to put off marriage for several years. No more “leave your parents’ home to move into your husband’s home.” It definitely made us ladies a bit more selective about who we’d choose to spend our lives with, perhaps less desperate for that ring. I think that was a good thing, because in turn, men had to rise to the occasion. No more could they expect to be “master” over a woman who had no opportunities beyond those he afforded her.
We all get a little full of ourselves with each life accomplishment. It’s human nature. Every graduation, award, trophy, new job, promotion, or raise makes us puff up a bit more. If we’re not remaining aware that all these blessings come from God, we’re tempted to feel mighty independent and proud of ourselves. And I think this happened for the generation of women getting their first taste of freedom and opportunity.
Having been raised in a traditional home, where Mom was a housewife and Dad worked long hours, I was caught in somewhat of a time warp. After a brief teenage flirtation with becoming a nun (a Catholic school girl phenomenon), I realized that I wanted a husband and children someday. My parents were in a traditional marriage, the only kind they really knew or understood. In my eyes it led to some sad inequities, and even abuses. Mom had a servant heart, and embodied Christ in everything. Dad loved her, of that I am certain. However absent good models of love and respect and gratitude, he didn’t freely extend these to his wife. He was very controlling and harsh. I perceived the cooling off between them at roughly 13 years into their marriage, when I was 12. Dad’s career was taking off, which also involved more stress and time away from home (and opportunities for temptations); Mom tried to keep a happy and welcoming home for him, but I think she never felt appreciated and loved. Dad’s words could be mean and cutting. I recall very few truly happy and loving moments between my parents. My parents took care of us and did their best. Suffice it to say that by the time I headed off to college, I wanted nothing like the marriage my parents had. Especially NOT to a controlling man.
By the time I met SJ, I’d been through some pretty difficult breakups, three of which seemed to have been leading to marriage. My heart was pretty torn apart. I just seemed like I could never find the right balance of equality in a partnership with a man, and attraction. In most cases, I think I was deathly afraid of someone controlling me in a despotic way, so I regularly asserted my strength, independence (intolerance), intelligence, and the very clear signal that I didn’t need anyone. SJ also had his own heartbreaks and frustrations with ladies. He was a good person, and I sensed that he was someone who wouldn’t hurt me or disrespect me. He was a “good guy.” We both seemed to want the same things (faith at the center of our family, children), and the same type of life. At that point in my life I had talked myself into believing I’d transition easily into becoming a wife and mother, leave my (exciting) career, and move to his hometown far away from places I called home.
I was wrong. The transition for me was disastrous. In spite of the fact we were given the blessing of healthy children very quickly (3 before our third anniversary), I was unhappy with marriage. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why– SJ treated me kindly, he was an excellent provider, and a wonderful father; yet intimacy, affection, and romance were not his strong suits. As I watched same-aged friends around us slog through divorces and second marriages, I knew I had a good man, but I felt increasingly empty. Vulnerability was a feeling I wasn’t going anywhere near, so I built “protective” walls. Intimacy seemed strained for him, and he wasn’t the physically demonstrative and warm fuzzy person I needed and craved. Most of my time was spent in my own head wondering why he didn’t seem aware of what I needed in terms of affection and closeness. I didn’t know how to talk about it. And deep down, that seed of distrust I’d always kept alive for all men, was germinating and growing. He didn’t know me. He didn’t understand me and my needs. He didn’t care to know. Therefore, he didn’t love me. And I in turn made sure he knew I didn’t need him.
In this process of feeling unloved and unfulfilled, I hit back. I wasn’t respectful. I was sarcastic and sometimes dismissive and mean. I didn’t want to agree with anything he said, and I wanted to be right about everything. Before long I had developed this myth in my head of a pathetic, clueless man whom I never could trust or love. I found a way to establish a new career, so that I could earn money and feel independent again, just in case. I gained weight and became unhealthy.
When a Christian mentor suggested I needed to learn about and practice submission to my husband, I balked and essentially refused. Submission was a thing of the past. A late 20th century marriage was supposed to be “equal.” SJ at that time had been as brainwashed as I on “modern marriage;” hadn’t been deeply into The Word on this issue; nor had he witnessed Godly couples, and would not have dared to outwardly assert his dominance as my husband or the Head of Household. He just continued on stealthily being the leader of our family in many ways that I refused to acknowledge, especially his exceptional financial prudence. He valued keeping the peace, and I know he swallowed a lot of negativity and frustration to maintain that peace. He took care of us all even when he wasn’t appreciated or honored for his dedication and sacrifices.
We were fairly good actors, I think. To the world at large and to our families, we seemed like the “perfect” couple. We independently were capable and talented people who volunteered our time, talents, and treasures to helping our church and others. We worshiped together and raised our children “in the admonition of the Lord.” I thought I was able to hide my seething contempt. He remained a kind-hearted and well-meaning gentleman, yet increasingly distant towards me.
And predictably, as respect for each other went out the door, we both grew increasingly miserable. When our kids prepared to head off to college, I believed it was only a matter of time before we would go our separate ways. I always had “Plan B,” a new life apart from him, at the ready in my back pocket.