Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Change in the Weather

My marriage is ending.

The “ing” jumps out at me because ,not only does it place my predicament in the present tense, but it also puts me in the middle of a continuum rather than at the beginning of the end.

That statement - “my marriage is ending” - is a declaration and also a realization. The relationship didn’t just crumble one day. It weakened until it broke irrevocably. Sadly it is also not the end of the break up because - logistically, financially, emotionally - separation takes much, much longer than anyone can stand. But here I am; having to cope with life as it happens, rather than how I’d like it to transpire.

My husband, I believe, suffers from wanderlust - the impulse to wander, to leave. It is a gut feeling that a better, more exciting person or life is somewhere out in the world. Your present set of circumstances prevent you from finding it with an imaginary set of shackles; the old “ball-and-chain,” if you will. He longs for a more “passionate” partner and existence.
This is where musical theater comes to my aid with a song from a failed musical, “The Baker’s Wife.” The score boasts an exquisite set of songs by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell, Wicked). It tells the simple story of an older man - the baker - and his younger wife. She leaves him for a sexy young man only to return, wiser, to her husband. She had wanderlust and recovered.

Late in the show a song comes along as a poignant counterpoint to wandering and as a beautiful cautionary tale: “Where is the Warmth?”

Since I grow feverish with the flush that comes every time he holds me,
naturally you'd suppose I'd be warm when I'm hot.
Well, I'm not.

But oh, where is the warmth?
The fire is there
But where is the warmth?

These lyrics have been looping through my mind a lot lately, especially “...naturally you'd suppose I'd be warm when I'm hot./Well, I'm not.” That plaintive conclusion comforts me. Don’t get me wrong. I like the burn, the fever that comes with some new couplings. We have had an open marriage so I have felt that rush and excitement that comes with inexplicable chemistry. I did wonder, in those moments, if one of those men held the promise of a better life than my man at home. Then my rational, reasonable self would kick-in to remind me that the heat is not sustainable.

But, ah, the warmth! That’s hearth that heats the home. It’s the concern and care you keep for one another, the dinners together, television watching side-by-side, planning for your shared future, telling your husband about your day, collaborating on what towels to buy, saying “I love you” at the end of each telephone call and before you go to sleep. The expression of that warmth can be subtle and easy to miss, or discounted as the “business” of running the relationship. Whenever I felt the heat with another man, I tried to remember the joint history of my real relationship so that I would not become tempted to squander it to chase a fleeting flame.

There are cold winds, too, that blow through a relationship: misunderstandings and miscommunications, hurt feelings, jealousies. Days pass with little said to one another. Or others when all that passes between us is the business of the marriage. He would retreat into himself to worry and fret and I no longer tried to get him to talk it out. Sex was had more often outside the marriage than within it. And there were a whole slew of real life hardships that two must either bear up against and traverse together. That quiet, creeping chill can cause the space between two people to erode, separating them further and further away from each other’s good will.

As my husband’s wanderlust metastasized, in that cold space that grew between us, my own imagination began to wander. I allowed myself to envision a happier, more simple, less complicated future - without him.

So what do you do when your spouse tells you that he wants to leave and you are also not so certain you want him to stay?

If my grip on the relationship is tenuous as he pulls away, then it’s not so hard to let go.

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