So next in our WTEWYSTTE series: rethinking your marriage. Or, why did I think that it was a good idea to share my closet with this chump, again?
Aurelia pointed out once that few of us blog forthrightly about the issues in our marriage. I hesitate to do so, because it treads awfully close to my own rule about not writing about anyone else. But I’m going to throw this out there and let the chips fall where they may. And I am reserving the right to pull this post down later if I start to feel as if I am/have violated Manly’s confidentiality in any way.
Cultural expectations for marriage almost always include procreation of offspring. I’ve remarked before that this expectation is one of the reasons that childless couples face so much social pressure — by not producing children, they are seen as outsiders refusing to conform to societal norms. So what does this mean for couples who married under this expectation and now find themselves in a position where they are unable to fulfill the implied obligation? I invite you now to review the concept of a psychological contract. *jeopary music* Make sense? I know it’s normally applied to employer–employee relations, but I think that there’s a valid correlation to the shared expectations in a marriage. The two ways that a breach of the psychological contract can be repaired can be boiled down to the essentials: walk away from the relationship, or re-forge the contract to reflect the changes in the situation.
A million years ago, when I thought that we were going to end up with children in the end, I read a post on a message board where a woman shared that when confronted with the possibility of never having children with her husband, she responded: Well, maybe we should re-think whether we want to stay married or not. At the time, I couldn’t really understand her comment. Why would not having kids be a reason to end your marriage? I mean, we all said “for better or worse”, right? And why wouldn’t you feel that way during treatment or right after you found out instead of after deciding to walk away? Now, I completely understand what she was feeling. When you first realize you’re infertile, the psychological expectations for producing children have not been forgone; most of us (90+% of us, I’d guess), still think that we’ll eventually end up as parents. It’s just one of the “worse” times in a marriage, something to be weathered together, with a bright future on the other side. And while you’re going through treatment, you HAVE to believe that they’ll work in the end. Otherwise, none of us would go through the hell of having cameras pushed up our hoo-has, shooting up and/or gulping down medicine that wreaks havoc on body and mind, rescheduling work and life around doctor’s visits, sore elbows from all the blood draws, et cetera. But in the end, when you finally decide to stop and walk away, you necessarily have to leave behind the belief that childlessness is a temporary event that eventually will be overcome.
The first few weeks after deciding that we weren’t going to proceed, I was miserable. I cried and cried and then cried some more. Then I got to the point where I would just tear up. And once I got that sadness out of my system, I went (looking back), a little manic. I spent money, I bought stuff for the house, I cleaned, I cooked every night, I drank, I smoked, I hosted Christmas parties, I loved on my niece — there was nothing bad about this life, no, not here! Everything’s great, all spiffy and shiny and I can spend my life thinking about me and not dealing with Fischer Price or snotty noses or PTA meetings. And that lasted for months. I wans’t consciously trying the “fake it til you make it” process — I was really quite entertained with life and with the possibilities I could see ahead.
Now I’m slowly coming down off of that high, and taking a look at how our future really is going to play out. I’m looking at the fact that we don’t have wills or living wills in place. That we’re going to need to make sure we’re as financially sound as possible, since we won’t have kids to move in with or take care of us. That we’re going to need long-term care insurance. That one of us is eventually going to die before the other, and how that needs to be handled. That our next house probably needs to be a one-story, because we’re going to be getting old in it. That we really need to start taking better care of ourselves because it just going to be the two of us together in this world.
Those are the big picture, long term worries. But they lead to immediate, pressing questions about our union. Take our monetary styles as an example: his first priority is to, in my view, buy toys and have fun now! I, OTOH, want to jack up the 401K contribution and restore the foundation under the garage. Which leads to resentment from both of us — from me that he’s expecting me to do all the work while he plays the rest of his life, from him that I expect him to give up the things he’s worked to get while I have access to more money anyway. He thinks I’m a killjoy, I think he’s irresponsible. Marriages have dissolved over this even without infertility. Or sex; suffice to say that he always wants more and I really could be happy with less. And dear god, if you wait until I am going to bed to go to sleep to ask for some, be prepared to be told to piss off. You should have planned ahead.
Those kind of tactical, operational, boots on the ground decisions feed back into a layer of questions somewhere more theoretical but not quite big-picture: the what-ifs. For example, if he’s this irresponsible now, is he ever going to change? By denying him the opportunity to gain some perspective and maturity through fatherhood, have I condemned myself to living forever with (in the immortal words of Edward Norton), a “thirty-year-old boy”? That’s not something that I’m willing to tolerate. And while I’m trying very earnestly to deal with the emotional fallout of being childless, he’s down there watching reruns of startrek. By the time that he gets around to processing the impact of what has happened, will I still be able to afford any empathy towards his pain?
Yet, this is all balanced against the reality that this is my husband. Is he the man I married? No. The past five years have changed him, just as I am not the woman he married. Time works on all of us. It is his body that I curl against at night, it is his arms that wrap around me when I come home each day. I love him, with or without children. That has never been in doubt. The question is whether I can live with him for the next 50 years with no hope that who we are will ever be reflected in a pair of eyes shining back at us. Whether he will grow to resent me for being unable to make him the man he wanted to be. To see if we can find a new definition of marriage, of this union, that fulfills our needs even with the understanding that is not what we originally signed on for.
I don’t claim to have answers to all this. I don’t claim to have answers to any of it, actually. We are working through these questions one day at a time, navigating the waters as we reach them. Some days are better than others. At my worst, I want to move out, to run away, to cause him as much pain as I am feeling myself. At my best, I can’t imagine how we could NOT be together until we die. On most days, there’s a mix of the two. Part of me, very rationally, thinks that things will get better when I finish school and we’re not so stressed for time. Part of me, very irrationally, wants to just sell everything and run away to live on an island in the south Pacific for the rest of time. But it is fucking hard to face this shit head-on, knowing that a wrong answer could have diastrous consequences for everyone involved.