sometimes it lasts in love and sometimes it hurts instead
It’s hard to believe that anyone who reads my blog hasn’t already heard this story. But as a theater director, I’m hard-wired to believe that creating narrative creates meaning. So here’s one of many of my attempts to make meaning where I increasingly suspect there is none.
We met in New York City. I had been there for four years; he’d just arrived. I had, after careful study, recently come to the conclusion that there was not a single man in the entirety of Manhattan in his 20s interested in an actual relationship. I had turned my attention from my abysmal dating life to a graduate program at Columbia University, where I decided to focus entirely on myself, my craft, and my career for three years, using men only for the drinks they were so willing to buy and the sex they were so willing to offer. I had also sworn never to date another actor.
Then I met him, and, being an actor and in touch with his emotions, he fell pretty fast. Me, being stubborn and nothing if not steadfast in my commitments, refused to fall. We broke up, we got back together, we broke up again, we got back together again, somewhere in there I fell, and finally we found ourselves in the same place: ready to trust one another. Ready for something real. I finished school and he came with me to live in Vermont, where I had found my first academic job. Within a year we bought a house; within two we were married.
Our Columbia friends had declared us “The Schmoopiest” (© Seinfeld) of the couples in our group. We stayed that way for years: there was plenty of PDA, as much as anybody who likes that sort of thing could want of gazing into one another’s eyes, holding hands, kissing at every opportunity, and amazing sex. One friend told me, “You should see the way you light up when he comes into the room.” I felt it, too, and I’m not just talking about the flutter of the heart you feel when your lover enters the room in the early stages of the relationship, when s/he still makes you nervous. I’m also talking about later, the feeling of relief and release that comes with knowing your favorite person is nearby. It’s like a sigh of the heart.
We planned our wedding on long walks through the woods of Vermont. We would not follow the traditional script, we declared, and set about to deconstruct it into something that reflected our view of marriage and our love for one another. We found ways to acknowledge that marriage was still a privilege available only to certain groups and not a right shared by all. We were married by a representative of the church and one of the state to make visible the difference. I was not given away, as I do not consider myself to be property. We had no aisle because we saw the marriage as a joining of our families not a dividing of them. Our registry consisted of charities.
Day by day, year by year, we made a life together along those lines. We talked about everything. We talked five to ten times a day, especially when we weren’t living in the same place, but also when we did. We would call one another moments after having left the house just to say hi.
He decided he wanted an MFA, so he set about finishing his BA from Harvard, commuting twice a week to the last few classes he had needed to graduate before he had, before I met him, dropped out. His first MFA was within driving distance from home; his second was not. And so we lived apart for two years, and though I was able to spend some six weeks with him there at the end, for three months he was in Moscow. He finally graduated – I remember crying at the ceremony partly because I was proud of him and partly because it was finally over. 4.5 years of him being in school while I maintained the home fires was finally over.
We moved back to Manhattan where we promptly remembered why we’d left in the first place. Luckily I got an offer to teach for two years at another college in the Northeast, but since you can’t be a professional actor in Northampton, MA, we decided I’d move back to the house in Vermont and teach while he got set up in LA. For two more years we were together for my fall breaks, Thanksgiving, Christmas, my spring breaks, and summer, but we did not really live together. We did not really share a life the way we had set out to. And so we eagerly looked forward to my move to LA where we would finally make a home together. You know, as husband and wife.
When I first arrived, people would ask how I liked LA. “I love it,” I’d say, grinning ear to ear. “But right now I think I mainly love it because we’re both here together. I think I’d like being anywhere with him.” Perhaps I should have sensed a problem when I started defining my marriage by the Biblical Ruth’s idea of it: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” No going home for me.
We’d been here together for 18 months when I came home from work one day and he confronted me at the door. “I’m unhappy,” he said, “and have been for some time.” I was stunned. I knew he’d been stressed – about money, his career, his family – but I didn’t think it was about me. It would have been hard to, given his constant shows of affection of declarations of love. I was angry. Had he been pretending? No, that wasn’t possible. We’d been together forever, worked through everything we’d faced in our 12 years as a couple. I would have known. What was happening?
“It was too hard on me that you didn’t become a personal trainer,” he said. (I’d attempted that upon my arrival in LA but a metal plate, seven screws, and ongoing inflammation in my foot from an old injury prevented it.) “You doing this internship was a bad idea.” (Just four months previously we had discussed in detail and jointly agreed that I should accept an unpaid internship at a magazine that would open doors into a career as a writer and provide the publishing platform necessary to my academic career.) “I think we’re better apart.” (We’d been looking forward to me moving to LA so we could be together for years.) And finally, “You are keeping me from being the man I want to be.” Boom. Just like that.
I felt dizzy and trapped. He had stopped me at the door so I walked past him into the bedroom and changed into more comfortable shoes. “Are you going somewhere?” he asked. “I – no – I – just need to get some air.” I hadn’t been intending on doing that – I was changing my shoes because I was tired of wearing heels – but it seemed like a good idea.
“Do you want me to leave?” He asked. What? I thought, Leave? No, why would I want you to – oh my god. You want to leave. You were planning to leave. “No, I’ll leave,” I said, and stumbled out. I tried to drive away but only ended up sideswiping the neighbor’s car before I realized that not only was it not physically safe for me to try to leave, but I also didn’t want to. I wanted to be married. I went back inside. I yelled a bit.
No further explanation has been offered.
It’s been five months. Five months of tears. Five months of lawyers and paperwork and money spent and attempts at communication that go nowhere. Five months of therapy, medication, and very, very good friends. Five months of unanswered questions.
Was it my feminism? The internship was at a feminist publication. I had always thought the very fair distribution of labor in our marriage (he cooked, I cleaned) was a pretty good deal for both of us. (Now I’m laughing at the idea of him having to clean his own toilet for the first time in 12 years.) But had he secretly resented it? Or did he just think I wasn’t living up to my end – was he unhappy with my housekeeping?
On the other hand, maybe it was because for the first time in our marriage I wasn’t the one earning the larger paycheck and providing benefits. Did he mean it when he said I should try to get a job at a University that was not a good match and not really in my field so that he could have a dental plan? Was he really leaving me for not bringing home more bacon AND for not frying it up in a pan?
“I feel like he’s lost,” I told my therapist last week, “and that if he could just find me I could take care of him.” “He’s not lost,” my therapist said. “He’s gone.”
And that’s about it. He’s gone. As he won’t talk to me, I will probably never fully understand why my partner, best friend, lover, and collaborator of the past 12 years abandoned me.
People tell me it takes two years to get over something like this. My eyes are trained on the tunnel, looking for the light at the end. Thought I saw a spark yesterday when I decided to take my afternoon walk with the dog while listening to Lady Gaga instead of Adele. It may not be much, but for once, instead of crying while I walked, I danced a little.
I know one thing for sure: no more actors.