I knew at some level, had known for years, that my husband found me lacking. In the days leading up to our marriage's "irremedial breakdown" (divorce court terminology), this knowledge became acute. It was clear that he didn't feel like his needs were being met. So I struggled to get him to express more, to ask more of me. I wanted him to be able to feel how much I loved him, to appreciate me and feel thankful for me in the way I felt for him, and I was willing to do whatever I could to achieve that.
All I could get out of him was that he wished I was a better housekeeper, that he felt loved when the house was clean, when I cooked for him. He admitted that he wished I was more soft-spoken, less, shall we say, feisty. He had little courage to speak up for himself in our relationship. So for me to say, "I'm feeling angry" felt like an attack, like abuse. I was not supposed to ever have a negative feeling toward him, or at least not to express it (not that I was actually abusive, though he insisted I was.) Oh yeah, and he wanted me to be happy. My sadness after the first, let alone the second, miscarriage, was not what he wanted in a wife. To really be there for me felt to him like entering a black hole. On the rare instance when he was home and not sleeping or eating while I was feeling down, he hugged me and patted my back and moved on to the television as quickly as possible.
So I scrubbed the sink, I straightened the perpetually askew bath mat (a pet peeve of his), I cooked and I smiled and I coaxed him to talk about his feelings, and at one point I even resolved to give him a ten-minute massage every day (usually this took place while he watched TV). None of these efforts ever produced more than dutiful thank yous. After two weeks time (or four days time), I got discouraged and gave up, but then took a deep breath and tried again.
"How are you?" he'd ask, or, "how was your day?" (I had asked him to do this, it felt too lonely when he didn't.)
"Not very good. I'm really struggling," I'd say, but then I'd do my best to smile, to think of something positive to report, and then change the subject. I felt like a failure and I felt guilty for it, and I wondered, over and over, what was wrong with me.
Perhaps the greatest gift A~ ever gave me was his infidelity, his decision to pursue a relationship with a meek and lovesick woman he'd known three weeks, and to be done with me forever. It felt like a kick in the stomach, but in truth, he was giving me back my power, my determination, my resolve, my self.
The thought that ran through my head at the time, over and over: I deserve so much better than this. And I set out to get it. (Try it sometime, it's a powerful mantra.)
In the intervening four months, I've begun to notice how many of my relationships work in similarly disfunctional ways, where a friend or family member will express their unhappiness with me while I absorb that blame, let it reinforce the image I hold of myself as inconsiderate, selfish, insensitive, etc. I then struggle to make amends, to explain and improve myself, to listen better, to prove how much I care.
Some of these friendships are falling to the wayside, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently. I don't love any of these people less (and as painful as it is to say, I don't love A~ any less either). The saddest thing of all is that if any one of them came to me and asked for a hug or some attention or reassurance, an afternoon walk and a dinner out, I would gladly give it. And if any one of them came to me with love to offer, an appreciation of me, I would receive deeply and would probably cry because it would mean so much to me. But I'm done with that old drama of protocol thank yous and apologies and what-have-you-done-for-me-latelys.
Dear readers, I hope you will all give your gifts freely to those who can receive, receive openly from those who have something to offer, and say no whenever and however often you want to. Don't carry anyone else's baggage on your shoulders. Don't struggle to earn anyone's love. Celebrate your glorious self and all the other glorious selves who are capable of celebrating alongside you. Life is too short and excruciatingly achingly beautiful.
Savor the day.