On Marriage : The End

On Marriage : The End

Part 1 – This is how I will process. 

The piano is playing in my ears and all the images of her are flooding to the front of my mind. Her warm heart. Strong heart. The wrestling. Woody biting my arms to protect her and then kissing my face after. 

I looked at an apartment today. It was small and had little natural light. $1895. Our big, two bedroom places with tons of light is $1500. Plus we’ve acquired an amazing compilation of furniture. I suppose I would just order all new stuff online and pay a Task Rabbit guy to assemble everything. I estimate it would cost me $7000 to furnish how I would want. West Elm just so happens to be having a blowout sale. The acorn dresser I’ve always wanted is finally within reach.

The place is in the same neighborhood. I would be able to take Woody for walks and scratch his scruffy belly. I guess that will be hard, not seeing him every day. 

Mark said my avoidant tendencies are so textbook that he could’ve written my responses down before hearing them come out of my mouth. I desperately want to get back to a time when I felt like I had complete control over every facet of my life. When I wasn’t exposed to any emotional risk. 

I’ve made so much progress alone. I understand the person I want to be and then I enter a relationship and I am not quite that person. Sometimes not even close. The connection I want to feel. An absolute closeness with another person. And yet, when we stood in our kitchen, or sat on the couch and looked at each other, I became a flat wall incapable of digging into anything inside of me. Instead of becoming soft and open I stood up and paced, sometimes rearranging the chairs around the table or aligning all the coasters in the room to be at right angles. 

To become a secure attachment style I would have to move from avoidant to anxious, which sounds like a lot of suffering. 

He gave me the choice in our last session before Alexis and I decided to call it quits. Before I decided to call it quits and talked Alexis into it. Before I gave Alexis no choice but to let me call it quits. 

“You have to say it,” she kept telling me. “I’m not going to be the one to quit. You have to say the words.” 

I asked Mark what I was really looking at. We’d been in therapy for over a year and had some awesome revelations, beautiful moments together, and a lot of exploration into what a relationship could look like. But when it came down to me being able to stand in the every dayness of the thing, to accept that love is work and not an indie film with Keira Knightley, I couldn’t be there. 

He said we’d have to recreate some of my childhood traumas – times when I felt abandoned or disconnected from my original attachment figures (parents) – and then open myself up to being supported and protected by Alexis and him. And to repeat this process as many times as it took to realize that people who love me aren’t going to leave me. 

“What is my other option?” 

The other option was to move through one relationship after another and get high on the newness while never fully being available to the hurt and pain and true love that comes from the deeper layers of connection.

“Yeah, that sounds better to me.” 

Part 2 – Wild Goose

I asked Mark if it would be easier to start over.

“At first, yes. But you’ll be right here again.” 

I have thoughts that maybe Alexis isn’t the right partner for me. That our relationship was always designed to be a friendship. We functioned most naturally in that state. And when we tried to couple, there was always some awkward baggage. 

In the beginning when I was pursuing her she always said she just wanted to be friends.

“Why would you stay friends with someone you obviously like?” I asked her.

“Because I don’t want to lose you from my life.” 

And when I pressed harder she revealed that she wasn’t attracted to me sexually. I wasn’t the type of guy she would normally go for. Perhaps later, when she wanted to settle down. 

I never fully recovered from that. From her telling me she wasn’t attracted to me. She always had such an advantage over me when it came to sexuality. I was prude and timid and she was wild and seemingly detached. I was fearful I couldn’t trust her. And when we were together I worked pretty hard to try to control her. Not overtly, but in the subtext of our conversations. The emphasis I placed on sobriety. How important it was to work and develop skills. How other people were wasting their time with meaningless hookups. I created enough of a container early on for her to learn the rules of the game and try her best to fit in. Mark always said she was a wild goose. Someone who moved freely without aim and brought passion and creativity into the world. I was only able to see the negative sides of that and, I regret to say, probably shut down the parts of her I didn’t like. I am sorry for this, Alexis. 

And what an Avoidant might do in that situation is say something like, I don’t think she’s the right partner for me. In a sense, diverting the blame and responsibility. Because it steers clear from the parts of intimacy that I want to avoid, namely, the fact that I am obsessive, always keeping score, afraid of truly being myself, scared that love fades, and genuinely unsure of how to connect hearts with someone else without assuming catastrophe is imminent. 

She’s laying right next to me as I write this. We are floating in limbo. Together but not. Sad but not quite yet. It’s nice here. I like it. In three days it’ll be as dry as it was and this moment will be gone. I don’t want to hurt her. As if being detached doesn’t sting. I don’t want to get hurt. To be so open that I actually could. There is a moment inside this sadness we are feeling together that nourishes me. I am reasonable now. 

We are back home and in bed with Woody. Our apartment has a safe feeling to me. His furry little body curled up to my chest. It’s pure and unconditional. 

I am unhappy in my marriage.

I am unhappy in my work.

After making these statements I am prone to coming up with justifications. I shouldn’t be unhappy. My wife is tender and loving and I am lucky. My work should make me feel fortunate. I have a great team and I make a lot of money.

“Aren’t you going to miss scaring me sometimes?” she asked with a face full of tears.

Yes. I will miss much.

Laying in bed with my arm on your shoulder and Woody’s fat body furrowed between us. The safest place I’ve ever had. 

Watching Designated Survivor which you called Dear Survivor and fell asleep during every episode. 

Going to the movies.

Having sweet potatoes always made. 

We talk about the logistics of clearing out the loft. We are both thinking and she looks at me, “Are you sure?” She can barely say it. Then I am crying and I hear her say it softly again as she leans over Woody and puts her face in his fur. ”Are you sure…”

I will miss taking walks with our little family at night. To wind down and talk.

Popcorn.

So then we walked Woody and took our steps together.

“I can’t move you up there again,” I told her. It having been almost 4 years to the day that I last moved her to LA.

“I know,” she said. 

This is when she took the leash from me and did it just right. Every moment before this her moves were under scrutiny. She thought and acted in a way that was designed for me to rip apart so I could justify my reasons for not being able to truly trust her. And yet on this sad and beautiful day I could see her differently and love her. I’m afraid it’s not because I was having a revelation. I’m afraid it was because I knew I was getting out and that allowed me to feel free with her. The same person and the same life, just completely different. 

We were in stride as friends talking how we did years ago, before we started having sex and forgetting to flush the toilet. We were lining up each other’s lives, giving advice on how to avoid the sorrows of self-absorptionism and focus on our personal growth. 

She tells me I’ll eat New York up. That I’m the smartest person she knows. I tell her she could finally be herself in LA. To stick with her guitar and trust her creativity. 

There’s hope in this friendship. Then we remember that we’ll never make breakfast together again. 

The days go by like this. We walk. We talk. We pause in the kitchen to look at each other. Then we hug. She cries. I do too. On the bed, Woody takes turns licking our faces. She cries harder and he takes this as an indication that he isn’t doing his job well enough so he jumps over to the other side and licks more. 

“You have to take care of your momma,” I say. 

What will fill up the space that they took up in me? I don’t remember anything before this. 

In the morning it’s me making the sweet potatoes this time. It’s easy to put in effort now that it’s all over. I can show up and it can feel clean. 

I woke up unsure of what dream yesterday was. Afraid of losing the clarity we spent all day building. It was the right call for us to break up, right? 

I hear her crying in the other room. I walk through the threshold to find her in bed, curled up with Woody. This is the new scene. These are the new sounds. 

“What is making you feel this way right now?” I ask.

“I just keep wanting to take stuff of yours.” She is holding my t-shirt from the day before. It is pressed up to her chest between her folded arms. 

I am still soft. But I start to hear a voice in my head that asks how many times I am able to respond tenderly to her crying. There is an anxiousness building up that wants her to leave. The first couple days of this are beautiful. We are so sad but we were finally together. Now, it’s wearing off. It’s ugly. Awkward. Fragile. I am running out of things to say. I dramatically upending our life together and now I want it to move forward tidily. 

The next day she becomes my friend again and I am helping her find an apartment in LA. I run to the back office to print bank statements, search Craigslist, and grab cash for her application fees. I do this because I want to be helpful. Because I can be helpful. When she is my wife I cannot be helpful. Showing up every day and remaining vulnerable within the messy imperfections of a partnership didn’t make me feel useful. It made me feel like a failure. Closed off. Broken. There was no clear objective, just a series of moments where I kept falling short. 

I head into a meeting. Working on a partnership for Hale. Talking about the future, our team, the process. 

Then I get on the phone with my accountant to discuss valuation of the company in the event I have to sell or buy Alexis out. 

We have decided on mediation. I have an old friend/client who is a family lawyer who will handle our paperwork for us. 

“It’s amicable,” we begin telling people.

Everyone pauses in reaction. Their mouth opens slightly. Head nodding every so gently up and down, as if they are convincing themselves that what we just said could possibly be true. 

Some of this is new to our generation. Breakups and divorce that don’t end in catastrophe.

My friends are shocked. My staff is emotional. Our hair and makeup girl asks me where Alexis is on a set. I tell her that we broke up. She laughs audibly. Then she pauses and stares at my face more seriously. “Wait, what?” It’s true. She takes a moment to collect herself as the glossy film builds in her eyes. 

Ben is devastated. He has to call me right away. He thought that we were always going to make it because we were so honest with each other. He wanted us to work because it made him believe he could have that with someone. 

Other friends were less surprised. They thought we rushed into it and thought it fitting that we rushed out of it. 

I called my mom and told her what happened. I let her know we had been in therapy for over a year so she wouldn’t think we were just millennial quitters. Even though I am not always close with my family I’ve always been close with my mom through these occasional and deep conversations. I could barely get the first words out before my voice cracked. 

“What’s going to happen with Woody?” She asked. He was her favorite grandpup and played with her dog every Christmas.

“She will take Woody. I won’t see him again most likely.” 

Even though I could deliver this news and this story to all of my friends with an even and pragmatic tone, I couldn’t keep it together with my mom. I heard so many things in my own voice beyond what I was telling her. The fact that maybe I am incapable of love. Or that I’m going to end up angry and closed off like my dad. Or that I was still just a little boy desperate to fall asleep before my parents went to bed so I didn’t have to be alone in the night. 

It was a couple weeks before my dad finally texted me. He was on a work trip. I don’t think he could talk to me about it while being home. He’s locked up at home. Tight through his body, so deeply entrenched in the role of angry, overburdened bread winner that there is no space for deeply emotional events outside his fortress of comfort and control. In this way we are the same and I understand him. 

He told me he loved me and relationships were tough and that he was going to make a trip out to San Diego so we could spend some time together. I knew he meant this as he was saying it. I also knew it wasn’t going to happen. We could blame it on a lot of reasons but the reality is that we just don’t have the kind of relationship where either of us are comfortable being alone with each other. That night, while texting, we both wanted another version of our relationship to be true. 

Part 3 – Goodbye

Alexis and I had just got home from Lolapalooza in Chicago. It was a fine time. My energy was flat, as it often was when we traveled together. I would be angry for no reason. Not having fun for no reason. And she would be moving through the streets looking for thrift shops and restaurants with a smile on her face. She always carried herself with a lightness around me. If she was dealing with the same thoughts I was then she was very good at talking them down in her mind. 

I get hooked on a thought. It begins to possess me. Much like anxiety. Where it lives everywhere and the more I try to breathe through it the stronger it clings to every cavity in my body. 

After unpacking our bags and watering the plants I went to my laptop and began searching Craigslist again for an apartment. I told her I found a few places I wanted to look at tomorrow.

“Oh. You’re still thinking about doing that?” She responded.

“Yes. Nothing has changed since before our trip.” 

“I just thought we had a really nice time and things were good between us,” she continued.

This enraged me.

“I want to feel happy again, Alexis. I was flat all week. And you didn’t even notice.” 

I was trying to walk a line because I’ve had the habit in the past of blaming my partners for my own unhappiness. Having been given the golden ticket of a mental health diagnosis in my late teens I can pretty much pull out the depression and anxiety card whenever something isn’t going my way. 

It’s easy to think it’s someone else’s fault when I start feeling that way. It is all their actions that trigger my judgment, uneasiness, and anger. 

I told Mark during a session that sometimes I feel so irritated by Alexis that even the way she takes plates out of the cupboard can throw my mood for hours. 

He leaned back in his chair, holding his tea with both hands. His office was like a film set for therapy – beige colored everything and comfy grandma couches. 

“Why do you think that is?” 

I honestly can’t come up with a reason. I have so much anger inside of me. I don’t know where that comes from. It’s just burning through me. I do my best to work through it. Martial arts, meditation, yoga, a clean diet, etc. But at the end of the day I am still standing in the kitchen, a version of my father, staring at Alexis, a version of my mother, with such disdain that I think she can feel for a second what’s eating away at me. 

If she is causing this to come out in me then I want her to feel it too. 

And in that moment, when she said she thought things were good between us I decided to snap.

“How could you think that? We’ve been going to therapy for over a year and haven’t resolved any of our main conflicts. What could possibly be fine?”

“We had a good time. We have a great life. Why do you have to make this so serious?”

A month earlier I was in New York. We had been talking with Mark about the difficulties of being with one person forever. I told him I thought I had many hearts and felt closed off from everyone else except for Alexis.

“You don’t have to be closed off. I think it’s something in your own head,” he said.

He was right. Having been in a relationship where I had an emotional affair with a writer living in Spain, I was working hard to prevent any of that from leaking into my life with Alexis.

That meant no side texting, no flirting, no comments that could be construed as ambiguous to other women, no extra staring, no cracking of the lips smiling to passers-by, and 100% no vibe existing in my body that I was even remotely available to anyone other than her. 

I did this well. I shut down half of who I was. The person who fed off attention and walked home grinning like a school boy after a flirty banter with a stranger. It is the electricity that makes me run. The smiles, the opportunity, and the insatiable hunger to track down the drug that is having a connection with a new person. 

Alexis knew I was like this before we got married. It was part of the reason she only wanted to be my friend. I don’t want to be with you romantically because I don’t ever want to lose you from my life. 

“What are our options, Mark?” I asked.

He talked to us about open relationships. He has a lot of experience navigating this arena with couples. 

He explained an idea called compergence, when you derive happiness from seeing your partner be happy. 

I felt excited. It was something new. 

“Do you think we are the kind of couple that could do that?” I asked.

“I see a lot of couples. There are ones that come in and I know they absolutely could not even begin this conversation.”

“Kirk, I think you are the type of person who needs multiple sources of stimulation. I think the way we have approached relationships historically is really unrealistic.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I mean, how are we supposed to get everything we need from one person? How is that even fair to our partners? We put all the pressure on them to be our everything and when they aren’t we look at them with such disappointment that we shatter them.” 

“True, but how do you get to the point where you’re okay knowing your partner is sleeping with other people and then coming home to you?” I ask.

“Well, it doesn’t have to be sex. It can be anything. You two create the boundaries. For some people it’s purely sex. For some it’s a full-on, additional relationship. And others just need to know they could have it if they wanted to.”

My excitement is wearing slightly as I picture Alexis with another man, her lips on his, their breath in sync. But I tell myself this is how I was bred to think and there is no freedom in thinking we can ever fully be enough for one person.

I wanted to talk myself into this way of thinking because I knew the traditional way to approach relationships was setting us all up for failure. The examples all around me were stale and uninspiring. At least we were in this room talking about something completely different. 

“How does it work?” Alexis asked.

We came home and fucked in the middle of the afternoon.

I put my suitcase in the closet. She is sitting on the bed, looking into nowhere trying to understand what just happened.

I print her credit report and our savings account statements.

We sit through mediation and come to an agreement on dividing our assets. 

I watch her get into the Mercedes. She stops to wave goodbye to me, her eyes shiny and her shoulders slumped. Then she drives to LA. 

All of this in eleven days. 

5 Replies to “On Marriage : The End”

  1. I’ve been following you since probably 2010. Your therapist is right. As an outsider, I have seen you over the years on this repeat pattern of seeking newness. I think most of us like that feeling and excitement, but we can’t expect our partners to fulfill us on that level. That’s on us.

    Based on what I feel coming from your post is that you were seeking to feel alive. Ester Perel has something to say about that. She places her point in the context of infidelity, but she makes a good point that I think could be applied to a failed marriage. “People that have relationships outside of one’s marriage said they did it because it made them feel alive. This aliveness was an experience where they didn’t feel that sense of responsibility, burden, obligation that they had to their marriage/family, which they loved, but didn’t know how to connect back to their passion and aliveness. It’s not that they want to leave the person, they want to leave the person that they have become. It’s not that they want another partner, they want another self. At the heart of this, you have hurt and you have the longing and loss of one’s self.”

  2. Holy sh*t. I feel like you just reached into the shadows of my marriage and shed so much light for me, thank you. My husband and I are in the process of our divorce and so much of what you shared has given me some much needed closure. We did the same dance for 5 years and just recently ripped the bandaid off, ink is not even dry on the papers yet. I keep joking with him and everyone else that he makes a better ex-husband than a husband, which is funny because it’s true.

    The profile of behavior you share with him and the eerily similar dynamic of our respective relationships is astonishing and makes me feel less crazy. A huge thank you for so openly and honestly sharing some of your toughest parts, please know that I’ve benefited greatly from your vulnerability. Reading this helped me push through some stuck emotion around wanting to understand what I could have done differently and this helps me finally get it that the answer is nothing.

    Half the battle of the human experience is awareness and ownership which you nail in this post…the other half is doing the work. If you’re half as good as doing the work as you are writing you’ll be able to figure it out. Wishing you success in your journey to finding peace in yourself

    1. first of all, thanks for sharing. secondly, i’m sorry about your divorce but i imagine it will end up being a good thing. i’m doing my best to do the work. it is quite difficult for me because i learn something new that i suck at in every relationship so once i correct one thing i have a new list waiting. either way, i hope to make a good partner very soon. thanks for reading and good luck navigating the next few months as the range of emotions is insane.

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