As a new wife, back in 1988, I figured out pretty early on that things were not—right. I asked a few questions but I learned, almost as quickly, that I better not press too hard. My husband didn’t want to field those questions. He wanted me to do what he said, and tell people I was happy, and not screw things up. If I wanted to stay married, I had to play by his rules.
It was easy to make a mistake that sent him into a rage.
A few months after we married, while cleaning the apartment, I found a bucket in the den, filled with crumpled paper, food wrappers and used tissues. You know, a trash bin. I took its contents down to the dumpster.
He came home enraged. Though the bucket had actual garbage in it, it also, he said, contained important, unspecified papers. He forbade me from entering the den, which he then declared his “office,” unless accompanied by him. I obeyed that rule for the next 20 years. He often reminded me of how I had, in my foolishness, thrown away “important papers” because I didn’t know what they were. He put a lock on his office door.
It was easy to make mistakes, and impossible to fix them. All I could do was take his criticism, agree to whatever new limitation he put on my life, and stay out of areas he locked away, both physical and emotional.
I threw myself into being the best wife I could be. Maybe, if I put my whole self into it, he’d be satisfied. Maybe he’d want me, sexually. Maybe he’d not get so angry. Maybe I could be enough for him, and our marriage would be OK.
It wasn’t. My efforts earned me only anxiety. Eventually, i left.
Today, I am older, wiser, chunkier, divorced and dating a terrific, straight man. After a couple of years of dating, both up close and long-distance, he moved in with me last month. It is delightful, and strange, learning how to live with someone who enjoys my presence and treasures me. Let my experience be a beacon of hope to those of you who have feared there would be nothing but loneliness after marriage to a closeted, gay person.
Boyfriend drove my car, last week, and commented that it was making one of those noises that indicates doom is just around the corner.
My car is an 11-year-old, beater minivan, and the most valuable thing I took when I left my ex. I have maintained it as best I could, but not really all that well, because money has been tight and lawyers are expensive and you know the rest. So, I told him, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, car needs work, it’s gotta wait.”
The next day, as he drove about 40 minutes from home, in the cold, in the dark, on a road he did not know, my car died. He texted me, and I found him a tow truck driver and arranged for someone to pick him up at the mechanic’s.
Then I started to panic, without even realizing it or understanding why.
I took out the trash. I folded the laundry and put it away. I ran the dishwasher. i filed all the stuff we’d received in the mail. I sent two text messages, asking what I could do to make him feel less stressed out, when he got home. And then I sat at my desk, scanning the room for things I could do while I waited for him to return. Things which would let him know I was not a stupid, irresponsible car owner who left him stranded on the highway because of my poor life choices.
I told a friend about it all, about my panic, and she said, “You don’t have to wife it up good, for him to not yell at you. He loves you. He’s not angry. He’s probably glad it happened to him, instead of you. Everything will be fine. You’ve had a very short time living with a good man, and many years living with someone who wasn’t good to you. It’s not your current life. It’s just the path you’ve been on.”
She nailed it. This loving, compassionate, even-tempered man gives me no reason to worry that he will be furious with me when bad things happen. But having been in a relationship with an abusive person, someone who had me around not out of love but because i provided a solid cover and useful household services, my first response was the same old panic that drove me for so many years.
Boyfriend got home, and held me, and said, “I am not angry at you. I am not going to yell. We’ll get the car fixed. Just love me and let me say, ‘I told you so.'”
We laughed about it, and learned a bit about each other, and it’s all good. I don’t have to wife it up good, anymore. I just have to be myself, and keep shedding the old habits of thinking that make panic my first response.
I am easing into peace. It is a new place, for me. I hope you get here, soon.
By Georgia Lynn Pine