***Side note: Yes, I know I end sentences with prepositions. It bugs me every time, too. One of us is going to get over it.
***Side side note: Yes, I detour a lot, even in real live conversations. Yes, it annoys me, too. At least when I do it here I have a record of where I was originally going. Be glad we're not on the phone!
Ahem... back to the childhood. The briefest (ha!) history is this: My parents (mom, dad and bio-dad) were part of a group of pseudo-hippie/bikers. No one in that group has been married fewer than two times. Mom and Dad lived together briefly before marrying when I was five. They separated for a few months when I was 13 and again, permanently, two years later. In between those 10 years I could not begin to calculate how many arguments they had that ended up with my mom "packing us up," because she was taking my brother and I and leaving. I put that in quotes, because we never went anywhere. We didn't even get in the car. Once we walked down to the end of the street on a very cold night around Halloween.
That's another thing... leaving almost always took place around some big event that was supposed to be joyous, like holidays. This probably explains why I broke up with boyfriends right before Christmas and birthdays for several years.
When I was married to my first husband, I re-enacted some of those same types of walking out, only without all the yelling and door slamming. If we had any problems to deal with, I would feel like I just ought to go. Eventually our problems truly were beyond my ability to accept, explain away or ignore, and we quite amicably decided not to keep torturing one another by staying together. I'm happy to know that when I did leave, it was for the right reasons, rather than... you know... Christmas.
After my divorce... or maybe before it was over, but once it was well under way (it took a couple of years because I did most of it myself and he kept moving), I dated one man for a few months and then another for probably the same amount of time. Can you say rebound? I knew it and they knew it. In one case, it just ran the natural course and then ended. In the other, things came to a screeching halt when he said he loved me. I didn't want his love, didn't believe I had it, and I didn't want him to pretend like that.
After that there was no more dating until I figured out some things about myself, like why I chose to marry Stephen in the first place. Ours was not a great love affair, he didn't have any money (not the sort of thing that drew me in anyway, frankly) and I wasn't pregnant. I did it when I didn't "have to" and I needed to figure out why. Plus, those two rebound guys were similar in their limitations, so I needed to learn what I wanted for myself and my son. If I didn't, how would I recognize it when I saw it?
It took me five years to be ready. In those years I put on and then took off about 50 pounds. Nothing like making sure that I wasn't going to be seeing anybody. I re-entered the dating world with new eyes. Not 20/20, but clearer than before. As soon as a guy didn't fit within the checklist (no, it wasn't a real list), he was gone. Or I was, really.
Around the same time that I met Tom, I met a guy at a tattoo convention. Does it sound like I have a huge ego if I say he was drawn to me immediately? It probably does, but I only say that based on how he acted. (Oh yeah, I understand that he could have been the kind of guy who is always drawn to someone.) He had my phone number within half an hour or so, maybe less, and had called me twice by the end of that weekend. We ended up going on a date. Dinner overlooking the ocean in South Laguna (pre-stupid MTV shows) and a couple of movies... and it could have ended with hot sex in the theater bathroom, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I kept picturing my mug shot and then imagining what I'd do if I lost my job after being arrested for public indecency or lewdness or whatever. Kind of a mood killer.
Ultimately what clinched the deal for me were a couple of things other people might not have as hard a time getting around: Tarter buildup and his mother. That man had a couple of teeth that were encased in yellow plaster. They were bottom teeth, so I'm not sure how I noticed them. And the thing with his mother was her age: 80 years old. I had no idea how old this guy (what was his name, anyway?) was, but if Mom was 80, then I figured he had to at least be 40. I didn't know. I wasn't even 30 and wasn't up for the much older guy. Plus, hello! Tarter! And if that weren't enough, when I declined a second date, he offered to just come over to my house and watch TV. I was running 10-15 miles a week and couldn't imagine anything I wanted to do less than sit around watching TV. This guy was out.
Plus, I must have already been getting interested in Tom. I remember feeling like I could choose wild, crazy, but seemingly devoted (obviously a guess at that point) or I could choose the nice guy who lived forever away.
We had one or two months of bliss, but honeymoons don't last forever. A huge part of the problem was that Tom, at three years older than I, still hadn't grown up. He overstayed his welcome at a relative's home and then took a job working with a bunch of college kids who went out for "ice cream socials" at least once a week (yes, that was me checking out my brains because my eyes rolled so far back in my head)... and for pay that, when broken down to an hourly rate, was well below minimum wage. I get the whole have-a-meaningful-job-that-you-love thing. I have one of those... two if you count sign classes, and I was able support my son and myself.
The next year was incredibly difficult, with me taking my rightness and shoving it in his face, him arguing that he wouldn't be changed, and me threatening to leave. How'd we make it through? Well I admitted... and apologized for... my nastiness and readiness to quit as many times as it took. And while Tom isn't one for stating that he is wrong unless it is pulled forcibly from his lips, he would somehow start doing things in a way that looked strangely like what I was asking for. We agreed that we were trainable. Oh, and Tom wouldn't accept my threats to leave. After nearly breaking up a few times, our act started to get pulled together.
We should have been moving forward, but shell-shocked Tom had changed his mind about that. Even a couple of years after our last big argument, he no longer considered marriage an option and neither of us was willing to just live together. I was mentally threatening to hit the road, even if I wasn't saying it out loud. It didn't matter, though, what I was saying or doing, Tom wasn't changing his mind. Then he took a job that involved traveling to various cities for weeks at a time. When he accepted a contract that would take him away for two or three months at a time, everything started to crystallize.
We didn't want the same things. Didn't make me bad for not wanting to just be a lifelong girlfriend. Didn't make him bad for not wanting to marry me. In fact, it didn't make me love him any less. But loving one another and going down the same road together, it suddenly occurred to me, were not the same things. So I broke up with him (and then became violently ill). I had a good reason for leaving for the second time in my life.
Tom spent some time working things out for himself. He talked with his friends and family. He talked with one of our good friends. We talked. He finished the assignment and quit the job, came home, bought a ring and asked me to marry him. I said yes, but only after I was assured that he wasn't doing it just to save himself being alone or because he was feeling coerced into it by my leaving. (That's the Reader's Digest version.)
Our engagement was romantic. The garden wedding was everything we could have asked for. The honeymoon... *screeeech*... didn't last. In fact, on the way home from our honeymoon we had our first married argument. It wasn't long before we were back to our old tricks and I was reacting by threatening to leave.
Yet again, Tom pretty much told me that I wasn't leaving and that I should quit saying that I was because it only made things harder, not better (the grown up version of "knock it off"). After a few months we were again in a fabulous place with one another. Despite a surprise pregnancy and a teen boy with emotional and behavioral problems, we have maintained our position on Cloud 9... well, maybe it's 7, but it feels like 9 to us.
I'd like to say that I've learned my lesson, and that I won't leave or threaten to leave again. But the fact is that sometimes when I've left, it's been the right thing to do. There is a limit to what a person can and should be asked to deal with, regardless of the relationship. That is a lesson I know I've learned. And sometimes it's not just with one's "significant other" that the lesson needs to be used.
I'm struggling... have been struggling... with what to do about my son. I'm not ready to lay bare all of the problems we've faced. I will say that Corey and I have put in a lot of hours of hard work (and Tom's been working with us for quite a while now), but we don't seem to be getting anywhere. In fact, in some ways we seem farther back than where we started. What are the boundaries between parent and child? When is it better for them not to be together? At what point is it wise to let someone else take over?
I don't know the answers to these questions or any of their cousins. What I do know is that I recently sat in our therapist's office, holding my hands up in front of my face, 2-3 inches apart. I shook my left hand gently and said, "This is me." I shook my right hand gently and said, "This is done."