Dismay

 

Almost as dismaying as my wife’s decision to end our marriage is her silence on her own role in its unraveling. From her lofty position as a doctor of neuropsychology she can only forensically analyze my behavior as falling short. My desire for togetherness has been judged a fault, one cause of her withdrawal. Not once has she looked in the mirror at her own psychic contributions.  Not once has she examined how she might also have been the cause in the matter.

What I have experienced over the past five years is a woman incapable, or unwilling—if there’s a difference—to share her life with a man. This has been her history over a long time. Many have told me this. Yes, my wife shares her house; she shares some of her time, on her terms. She does not share her emotions, nor her vulnerability.

Somewhere long ago she learned not to trust men, never to be vulnerable, never to be truly open and let anyone inside. During our time together she experienced many losses: of career, health, friends. I couldn’t be a solace to her. That wasn’t permitted. When she grieved, she grieved alone. I was always provisional.

Her reflexes are to attack if approached suddenly. The outside world is a threat. Once when walking from our house to the corner of the block I fell behind to tie a shoe and when I ran to catch up her startled reaction was to karate chop me. Only in the final flash did she realize that it was me and not a predator. I would have been taken down.

Her fierce need for independence couldn’t even embrace the social nicety of being introduced as my wife. That implied, she said, that she was my property, as though we lived in the 16th century.

I honestly don’t know why she said yes when I asked her to marry me. She said she loved me…but her love came bounded by so many private restrictions. Later, after she told me she no longer loved me and was ending our marriage, she said she was a better friend than a partner. I see that now in her friendships, especially with friends who are dying. If you’re dying you would want her by your side.

Why can’t she take responsibility for her own lack of communication, her hints and private resolve not letting me know her true intentions? Or her abandonment of our marriage vows, our marriage commitment? Or her never saying no she was not willing to work out a new way of being together, and letting me think for over a month we were living into a solution, not an ending?

Or accepting her role in stopping sex, or even talking to me about it. It just ended on January 20, 2016.

Or her refusal to visit the places I love; to visit Maine or Bowdoin; or to accompany me on trips to see my boys in Boston and New York. She never felt the need to be part of my family—and had little interest in me being part of hers. She never had any expectation that I should join her when visiting or having dinner with her daughter. If I wanted to, that was fine.

There was her life and there was my life and she believed that that total separation was normal, and to want more was a character flaw.

I have searched my own soul and confessed my shortcomings—to which she will not comment.

What I have come to realize belatedly is that my wife distrusts men. She may even at some deep visceral level hate men.  It comes out in a thousand little ways.  I don’t say this to be vindictive.

She may say she likes this man or that man; or that she even may love, for a time, this man or that man. But these likes and loves fall under a smothering blanket of distrust and fear. All men are guilty until they prove otherwise, at least for a time. When a man gets too close, or wants to be close, she cannot sustain the relationship. She ends it.

The men my wife likes are an odd lot. Her closest male friend (and I’m not including her former lover now gravely ill) is so self-effacing as to be barely present; another is cruel, obnoxious, and a coward; two others are gay.

How men occur to my wife—men as a class, not individuals—is that they take women’s space. They violate their bodies, take their role in society, take their jobs, their pay, their personal agency. At worst they are rapists, thieves, child molesters, serial killers. (She has an abiding interest in serial killers.) It’s not an accident of fate that her work today involves interviewing violent men, men who have committed horrible acts of aggression and violence mostly against women and children. How better to confirm one’s deepest beliefs and fears than to face them directly in the flesh, to have to listen to their chilling stories.

On the day in April when my wife told me she had not agreed to work things out and had already contacted an attorney, she said that she may likely die a lonely old woman, as though it was my fault: that our five years together had somehow stolen her opportunity to find lasting love. Were these same five years not my opportunity cost, too? Had I, too, not paid dearly? More dearly, since it’s my life being turned upside down? Her insistent assertion that her life is just as disrupted, just as impacted as mine is laughable. Only an insensitive, selfish person would say these things, would see the situation they were creating so one dimensionally.

I don’t wish her to die a lonely old woman. Having caused so much unhappiness she deserves to be happy herself. Or how vain and foolish this marriage dissolution would be.

I don’t want to die a lonely old man.

I’m not going to.

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