So, the rest, they say, is history. SJ and I long-distance dated for several months and rang up quite a phone bill. It was pre-internet and email, so we wrote real letters and cards. He sent me a lovely necklace with my initial charm for Christmas. During our visits to each other, we always attended church together and talked a lot about our faith, important to us both. I was quickly introduced to family and friends (something some of my men refrained from doing… a telltale sign of intent when they don’t introduce you to their people), and seemed proud to be with me. He was always a gentleman. On our 5th “weekend date” in March, he proposed to me on the 50 Yard Line of University of Texas’s Memorial Stadium. It was only a little surprising because I think we both knew it was going this way, I had just thought it might have still been a few months away. We’d discussed our jobs, my willingness to relocate, his thoughts about possibly coming to DC. We seemed flexible. When during our courtship I mentioned to him I was being asked to take an overseas assignment, he asked would I ever consider living in Houston, Texas. “For the right person, I’d live anywhere,” I replied. Romantic and careless words to utter when you don’t think about the consequences of such a move. When you’re in love, you don’t always think clearly.
SJ insisted our wedding be in August, just about 10 months from our first date. He was adamant, and unwilling to discuss a longer engagement. I’d never been with a man so determined to lock something like this down, and I was flattered. I sold my townhouse, planned a wedding, and I negotiated a leave of absence from my job with the hopes that perhaps SJ and I would return and become a Foreign Service couple traveling the world (his accounting background would guarantee endless contract job possibilities, and I’d watched other FS families enjoy raising their kids abroad–it could be a great life). We packed my furniture and boxes, and I moved to Houston to await things getting sorted out with the optional retirement packages at his company. Within about 3 months we had purchased a beautiful, huge, brand new home– 4 bedrooms in a great neighborhood, and lots of room for a growing family. I waivered daily in my joy and my fear. It looked like we were here for a while, and that my career would be a thing of the past. After all, we wanted kids, SJ very much wanted a stay-at-home-mom over daycare, and I thought I did too. This all seemed like an unbelievable dream, and was thrilling; but at the same time I was still the same independent and strong-willed woman I’d been since I left home at 18. I hadn’t answered to anyone, or depended on anyone for years. I missed working, which had become my identity, I didn’t know my new town, and I didn’t have any friends or family nearby. I started taking substitute jobs teaching Spanish, because I was bored and lonely, had struck out with the local job hunts in my field, and realized that SJ still did have a life apart from me–a great job where he worked hard, friends, and family close by. He had a routine he seemed to like very much, which included disappearing into his own world of books.
We started to really learn about each other in those early days and months (we’d always been on our best behavior for those weekend dates). I craved interaction; he was adept at “caving” and enjoying (needing) alone time. He cared much more about details in furnishing and decorating the new house than I’d anticipated, and we clashed a lot. I didn’t think this was “guy stuff.” When I was thrilled to get an offer for a 3-week consultancy overseas, he was disappointed I’d consider leaving him so early in our marriage, so I turned it down (with a lot of resentment). SJ was very frugal and concerned about money, budgets, and savings. I hadn’t been the most fiscally responsible person, and was used to living well, taking nice vacations, and not really putting aside a lot for savings. Eating out without a coupon or a special 2-for-1 deal was unheard of for him; and he routinely economized, ordering cheaper items and water with his meal. I felt guilty and mad at the same time when I wanted a glass of wine or a beverage. For the first time in my adult life, I had no real income and was financially dependent, and I didn’t like it. SJ followed a strict budget, and gave me cash in envelopes for groceries. With three kids in three years (a son and twin daughters), the budget grew tighter with diapers and formula, and he’d go to the next town to get better deals. After a while I realized that he had never really changed his budget to include a wife, a family, vacations, entertainment, and the miscellaneous stuff of kids (of course college and weddings were in his budget upon conception). I took my teaching from temporary and part-time, to full-time (earning a certification in Texas). I was picking up most of my “own” expenses, kids clothing, and supplementing the grocery bill; my paycheck paid for before and after-school child care, our family vacations, and extras for the house. I know SJ was grateful I was handy with a sewing machine and was able to create most of the window treatments in our new home, saving us the thousands of dollars employing a decorator would cost.
All of the small personal peccadilloes rose to the surface too. We didn’t care for how each other drove. He was very organized and neat, I was not. His sense of humor was his pride, but it often stung me and made me uncomfortable and angry. He was extremely healthy and conscious of his diet and exercise. I loved cooking and food was love; I didn’t care for sweating. As time wore on, I began to realize that what I’d chalked up to initial shyness with intimacy on his part, was just the way he was. We didn’t seem to share the same desire for physical closeness. My love language was “physical touch and closeness,” which we were to learn was dead last on his love languages list. His top was “Acts of Service,” which sadly were lost on this “emancipated” female… opening doors, filling my gas tank, maintenance for cars and home, pulling my chair out, etc. His reticence to naturally or spontaneously hug, touch, cuddle, and hold my hand sent a signal that I wasn’t desirable to him, which morphed into questioning whether he really loved me. I think I tried to explain my needs to him, but I’m sure at that time it came off complaining, critical, angry, and shrill. Intimacy that had started out as awkward and fumbling, sometimes loving and sweet, became rarer and rarer. His avoidance of physical touch came out glaringly during intimacy and I felt as though he didn’t want to look at me or touch me any longer than necessary. For the first year I faked pleasure most of the time, trying to encourage, hoping we’d work things out and learn how to please each other better. It was hard to discuss, and eventually I grew angry and resentful. Unfulfilling sexual connection was such a horrible mockery, that I began pulling away rather than face disappointment. I felt rejected. Rejection stirs up some very ugly feelings.
An interesting phenomenon about us both– we seemed to want to keep the peace, at least outwardly. We didn’t really argue or yell. We put on this façade of being happy and content to the outside world, and buried our frustrations with each other. We both were trying to avoid the bickering and fractiousness we witnessed growing up. We were also extremely proud people– we couldn’t admit to anyone else, let alone ourselves, that we were having serious issues in our marriage. We poured all our time, energy, love and affection into the kids, yet we also disagreed quite a bit on parenting.
About 5 years into this, I was beginning to wonder if I’d made a huge mistake. I took the kids to my parents’ empty vacation home in Florida for a couple months, and even though I never admitted it, we both knew this to be a trial balloon for separation. This just started a huge downward spiral for us.