It’s the evening. I have just seen a close friend of mine that my wife knew very well too. She asked me how he is, I replied, “Fine.”
“That’s what you say about everybody. Your parents are ‘fine.’ John Boy is ‘fine.’ Mary Ellen* is ‘fine,'” the Leaver said.
There should be a modifier after the “said.” Possibilities:
- Said bitterly
- Said with an undertone of opprobrium
- Said with just a hint of the fury that raged beneath the surface like a roiling sea of lava trapped under a volcano about to erupt
- Said peevishly
We had gotten through with only one major incident in 36 hours of holidaying. It’s not particularly late. I’ve just discovered that Whisky-Sours taste really, really good and now there I am in a mine field. Most of the time during the Christmas period she was at the house. Subsequently in the week, we switched nights so that I could go out with my friend. I’m appreciative and in a good mood; I had a good time. I’m a bit surprised at how easy it is not to say, “You have a phone, you have email, you are an adult. You want to know what’s going on in my friends/families lives, call them.”
But I don’t say this. It doesn’t seem worth the trouble. And my eight year old son is in the room and so to my mind this conversation falls into the “not the time or the place,” category.
“ummm. They are all fine… really… was there something specific you wanted to know?”
I don’t hear precisely what the Leaver says next that provokes our son to interject. I think she said something a long the lines of “Maybe you think I just don’t care anymore…”
Then my son, with his eight-year-old deadpan sibilances pipes up very clearly, “Maybe he just doesn’t want to have a conversation with you?”
Ah, from the mouths of babes.
This was Christmas for me; delicious food; stumbled across a spectacular New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Spy Valley 2010); disappointingly unwinter weather and trying to not have conversations.
So did Santa stick emotional divorce in my stocking? Already? Seems way to early. Isn’t it supposed be one month to every year that you’ve been with someone to get over them? We’ve been together as a couple for just under twenty-five years. That’s a lot of months.
The signs are:
- I don’t want to know about her life
- No urge to argue
- Lack of anxiety gut flip floppies, even if I do find out about her life
- No urge to give her a hug and make her feel better
Number 2 is the big one. It’s one thing to stop fighting but to disengage from arguing for me, that’s huge.
I love arguing. I never thought of “arguing” and “fighting” as synonymous. In our relationship, arguing could be loud, soft, dispassionate, life or death, verbally, in writing and mostly never-ending. I can see now that we had completely bought into a modern psycho/analytical paradigm; if you can tease out an emotional problem into some sort of rational, cathartic “aha” moment, that should fix it. Absurdly, even if the argument’s conclusion was that the problem was inherently irrational and unfixable, realizing that through the rational process of argument was somehow supposed to solve everything.
So there were a lot of arguments, and from my, certainly flawed and biased perspective, mostly they were about her life. Again, I don’t mean fights, I mean discussions which often led not just to arguments but really whole symposia on the nature of her future, past decisions, current triumphs and challenges etc. etc. As often as not my role was to be the positive one in the face of her self-criticism. (It may seem disingenuous to claim so, but it makes sense — in defending her, her decision and her future I was defending our marriage and the current situation. That argument did not win out thus me being the Leavee and her the Leaver).
Ultimately giving up arguing with her was much more difficult than giving up the sex.
Don’t engage, don’t engage, don’t engage, was my mantra repeatedly over the past 3 months. In the beginning, now it seems a lifetime ago, it was little else than a mantra, betrayed more often than followed. But over time, more often than nought, I found ways to walk away.
What I didn’t anticipate was that I’d stop wanting to win.
To argue, you have to want to convince someone of something. When I walked way from an argument, it really hurt. It felt like a tacit agreement. I used to say a lot “just because I’m not answering doesn’t mean I agree…” And then well… I stopped caring and even that little loophole is irrelevant.
Okay, maybe sometimes, it pisses me off when I hear something that just seems patently untrue or over the top exaggeration.
The Leaver often makes sweeping statements about the sort of person I am, was. eg. “You have always been…” or “I know this is important to you because you have a tendency to…” and “Of course, you’re so fuckin’… because I’m a complete fuckin’…. !” et cetera, et cetera.
I do feel baited on those particular occasions. They are like a red flag for the proverbial.
I wanted to convince her that I wasn’t a jerk, that it wasn’t my fault, that she wasn’t a jerk that it wasn’t her fault, that I was good at this parenting thing etc. etc. etc. But that reflex response that starts with “No, no, no, you’ve got that all wrong, because….” is just gone.
Afterwards I replay the conversation, the presumptions, the openings and endings and it galls me and I line up my arguments as to why or why not.
But those are to convince me. I don’t want to convince the Leaver of anything. And I suppose ultimately that’s an acceptance of probably a fact that has laid unacknowledged in the middle of our marriage for years — that argument doesn’t work. Even when the argument led to a sense of resolution, big hugs, agreement and a five point action plan with resources, timelines, budgets and a big wet kiss to seal the deal, it didn’t work. I lost that credibility and influence to convince her in some lasting way, probably years ago.
Not trying to win is ultimately not a sign of Llama-ish enlightenment or triumphant self-control, but finally accepting the painfully obvious.
*Okay, not the real names, but the opportunity for a Walton’s reference is a rare one and not to be missed.