To others he would always speak of how wonderful I am, of all the things that I have done or am doing. Sometimes he would tell me what he said to others about how wonderful I am. But I didn’t feel that. I didn’t feel that admiration myself. Was it simply for him to look good in other people’s eyes? This is a question that took years to formulate. Yet, at times I did believe that he supported me and was proud of me, and wanted me to succeed—for me. So the incongruity, I thought, was in me, my own self-confidence was my problem and not that it could be partially laid to blame on his criticisms and suggestions.
It’s easy to explain this in psychological terms, to say that he needs to be seen by others as a success and naturally his wife needs to be successful, too, as an extension of himself, but then, at home, he needs to reassert his superiority and ensure that I am aware of that hierarchy. So what? That does not make up for years of confusion: am I appreciated or am I reviled? Does he admire me or does he disdain me? I know that it is not good to base your self worth on someone else’s opinion, but that happens in a marriage, how could it not, how could you not seek the approval and judgment of the person closest to you, of the person you chose—partially for that very reason—because he loved you for who you are, and because you lived to please that person. So why shouldn’t his opinion carry weight?
At our twelfth anniversary dinner my husband and I sat largely silent in a restaurant dining room, surrounded by couples and groups who seemed to be together, not like us, two silent strangers at the same table. We no longer had anything to talk about, or share; we were encapsulated in our own thoughts. There seemed to be too many subjects that were minefields or not of interest to the other; there were too many thoughts that were no longer to be shared. After a while I started telling him about a game I had developed. He wasn’t listening; it took him a while before he realized that this was something I had done, not something I had bought. The discounting of my words (not listening to me) and my creativity (not aware of my creations and no longer expecting them) was silencing, made me retreat back into myself after a cursory discussion. This stultifying silence was not only a sign of a failing marriage, but of our living separate lives. For the rest of the meal when we talked, it was only about the meal itself.
Why did we not split up then? Why did we not realize that the marriage was over? Why did the “comfort” of continuing in the status quo override the logic of an end? This absolute silence and separation surely shows that we were long past the early passion, and even past the mature comfort of being together because we were so utterly apart. While I know that I still loved him at this point, it was becoming too painful, too much of a failure, too much trying just to maintain civility.
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