“You have to help me. You can’t let me sleep with you.”
I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.
That’s an actual quote from a friend and former lover, said to me today over a Pyramid Ale, a double shot of Patron (chilled, of course), and a half-eaten chicken Caesar salad.
Roman and I met for lunch this afternoon after not seeing one another since early October. We have had a friendship with an on and off sexual relationship for a year now, meeting for a meal or a movie or drinks every six weeks or so. This last stretch was caused by a few things. Dad’s passing, work schedules, making sure that all was well with his daughter and his pregnant wife.
When he and I met, we were both going through a divorce. We were friends with a common life situation and we chatted over movies and meals and such for months with the sole purpose of being friends who understood one another. He lives for his daughter and he was worried about what was going to happen to her having to go through this. We work in related industries, so work also took a lot of our talk time. I am not unaware of the precarious position that this kind of sympathetic relationship can put me in; part of me thought that was for weaker people, part of me didn’t want that kind of relationship.
We always had a great time, we even talked about future activities. When we’re together, it’s obvious that we feel alive and happy and we enjoy one another’s company. At the same time, there was the relaxing notion that we weren’t in it for the future… in other words, there was no hurry to jump into another relationship. My divorce was final before his (no kids, no alimony, easy peasy stuff) and we celebrated.
Time passes. We talk on the phone, via text messages, and on Yahoo! Messenger. Things are normal, so to speak, and life goes on.
One afternoon in December I am out shopping with a friend from work. We just thanked a salesman for his presentation of a $5000 toilet and were headed to Trader Joe’s for a case or two of Two Buck Chuck.
My shiny, little silver phone starts making that vibrant, happy, chirpy-beepy-vibration noise that it makes when I get text messages. Repeatedly. Buried at the bottom of my purse. In the back seat. Under some of my friend’s purchases. I try to ignore it but, sadly, I get my oxygen and vital nutrients through my cell phone and I am starting to go through withdrawal; the production of endorphins has slowed and I need my mobile-phone-heroin-substitute. I dig the clamshell out of my bag to find:
“When I am with you it scares me because I like it so much.”
“I can’t resist you.”
Then the poor, neglected, dulled-metal, material incarnation of evil tells me, “My wife is pregnant. It’s a boy.”
Never did I curse the invention of the telephone more than that moment.
Of course I told him that I was happy for him. He loves being a father and as he shared more texts with me, you could tell he was excited. He also made it clear that they were staying together.
I won’t bore you with two months of conversation (although, if you are reading this far, maybe you’re a glutton for that type of punishment). Suffice to say that we did keep talking and his excitement grew. He even credits our friendship and some of our conversations with his attempt to rebuild his marriage, his desire to have a better handle on his emotions, and his newfound hope for happiness.
Lunch was normal, friendly, and functional. We chatted, shared photos, compared notes on work, and enjoyed the stuffed mushrooms. We had some drinks, some laughs. He allowed me to open up about my dad and was a supportive friend. He then ordered a Tiramisu and excused himself for the restroom. Upon his return, he made the subject request.
His plea was simple: He wants to be friends and he wants to spend time together, but he can’t be with me if there is a chance – a threat – of physical intimacy. I promised him that there was no worry of that and there hasn’t been since he told me he had decided against the divorce. He looked visibly relieved and started talking about some ideas we had to teach him about wine.
And all I can think about is this: The onus shouldn’t be on me to make this work. I shouldn’t have to worry if I am handling things right in order to keep him at bay. I shouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of unwanted sex. It is not for me and me alone to keep him under control. We’re adults and it should be his issue.
The fact that it is an issue at all means that there is a problem here.
I guess I CAN help him…. by not seeing him anymore.
And all at once she knew that he meant it. Every word.
She spent ten years vying for his attention, his love. She wanted so much to make him want her and be proud of her; she wanted to know that he couldn’t live without her. She wanted to be his desire and happiness. She never wanted anything more from him than to be his friend, his lover, and his wife.
He didn’t make it easy, which is probably part of the reason she tried so hard. She fought for what she wanted and worked hard to prove that she could win at anything she did. She thought many times about throwing up her hands and letting him go but she just couldn’t give up. The most difficult realization regarding all her efforts was that she knew he wouldn’t try to woo her or win her back if she left. He wouldn’t try to bridge the gap. He wouldn’t fight for her.
So, she fought for him. After a decade of waiting and a lot of family pressure, she took it upon herself to make things happen. She brought up the conversation to move in together. A year later, she practically proposed marriage (he beat her to it, thankfully). She filled the next year with planning the wedding. It was everything she ever dreamed of with the only man she ever dreamed of sharing it. And yet, she knew that he was doing it because he was supposed to do it. Their families expected this to happen. It was inevitable. It was meant to be. It was comfortable and safe and he was loyal to her. Loyalty and dedication were things she treasured for a long, long time… and would eventually come to loath.
All her life she wanted someone, him, to make The Big Gesture – that one action that sacrifices so much potential on one front in order to further the happiness and security for someone else on another front. She always wanted to see that one act that would save them as a couple, make them both realize what they had together, and make the audience cry if it were played on the silver screen.
He did move across the country for her job shortly after they were married. It was a given they would do it to make their way in the world like everyone expected them to do. They justified it, of course. That’s how they operated. In comparing home prices they found there was no comparison. The amount of money it would take to live like they wanted was far less than on the left coast. So they moved, bought a new car, bought a house, adopted a handful of dogs to fill the void left by an unfulfilled quest for children, and learned to hang a chair-rail.
He resented her for the move, quickly and conveniently forgetting her offer to stay and find a new job in California. He was always bringing up how much he missed his family as if it were a bargaining chip; it was that self-serving martyr-making statement people make when they’re losing ground in an argument. It got old, fast, and she couldn’t help but to finally point out that she also left behind her family, her friends, and her life in order to make this new life with him.
He was always a little distant and removed but it had become increasingly and painfully obvious that it was only getting worse between them. The chasm created by unspoken words grew and she inevitably fell back into the self-damaging patterns on which so many clichés and stereotypes are built. Anything he wanted, she would give him. She gave up and missed out and abandoned so much because she thought it was the way to make him love her. He didn’t ask her to change her life, not in so many words. She often wondered if Passive-Aggressive was his middle name.
She spent most of her teen years and her entire adult life with him. She knew nothing without him. Even her solo experiences were colored by his presence in her life; his absence was noticeable from such adventures.
They had been fighting for months and she was tired; she was tired of debating, tired of crying, and tired of wondering when the next blowout would occur. She knew that her own issues were at the center of it all. She wasn’t making things easy with her fragmented sense of self and relationships.
She resented him for the guilt trip. She resented him for making her try so hard. She resented him for the choices she made to be with him. She resented him for making her feel she had to earn his love and respect anew every day. She began to wonder if her life was half-lived, if she would have done it differently; she resented him for making her feel lost and alone.
She started paying more attention to the other things in her life. She renewed friendships with old friends and tried to nurture the relationships she had with her family. She started working more, never satisfied with just a day job, and opened an Internet services company. It still wasn’t enough. She missed being important to someone on a daily basis. She missed being loved. She missed intimacy. She missed sex.
Their marriage was dying, if not dead, and they were barely thirty years old. A lifetime together, gone before their lifetimes ever really began, lost to the “once I went to”-s and “when we were”-s of memory and party anecdotes. She kept trying to look at her own life as her life. She was freer. She was scared. She had to decide what course this was going to run. Regardless of the outcome, she had to do something. “Fish or cut bait,” was one of her mom’s favorite expressions and it ran through her mind daily.
It was now her turn to make the move; she had to make some decisions and stick to them.
The problem was that she didn’t know for whom she was gesturing anymore.