If you are wondering if your relationship is like the relationships of others, it’s probably different. If you are wondering, you are probably too afraid to ask.
If you think marriage and children will fix things, they won’t.
You can’t fix their holes that they had when they came to you. You can’t give them your family as a replacement for what they didn’t have, no matter how much you share and shower them with love and attention. It can’t fix that which never existed.
You deserve to be loved.
You deserve to be respected.
You deserve peace, joy, and security.
You deserve moments of pleasure, ecstasy, and warmth.
Our friendship has been hard lately.
I’ve watched you struggle and fall apart.
Life does not seem fair at all. It doesn’t seem fair that my wife has to recover from my disease. Or that temporary decisions (even made in ignorance) produce life-long consequences.
It doesn’t seem fair that addiction is acquired through joy and discarded through misery.
According to Yoda, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Or maybe for me: Fear leads to silence. Silence leads to pain. Pain leads to resentment.
Fear. Four simple letters. One little word. A massive amount of weight.
Fear holds me back.
There’s the fear that if I confront an issue, that makes my experience too important, and she’ll internalize it and shame herself. Shame leads to her relapse. Or the fear that I’m not important enough, and I’ll be the one hurt by being ignored.
The prince or princess always shows up, and everyone lives happily ever after. That’s how it happens in the movies or on television. We live in a society where relationships and marriages are glamorized.
People who are in love stay in love, and they love loving each other.
When my shorts outlive their socially acceptable outside-of-the-house lifespan, I still wear them at home. I am no fashionista, so to be socially unacceptable, said shorts need a hole in the crotch or an unwashable oil or paint stain. I’ve worn pants with a ripped back pocket such that I had to pair them with my nicest boxer shorts before leaving the house, so my standard for at-home-only attire is pretty low. I pair my should-really-be-discarded shorts with an equally unthinkably torn and stained sweatshirt in the winter. And I wear that combo, day after day, once my time outside of the house is over. I’m like Mr. Rogers when I get home, except instead of changing into a nice cardigan, I slide into the same sweatshirt I’ve been wearing since the furnace first kicked on in October. Gross. That’s the point.
To top off my inside outfit, I wear socks with soccer slides (think open-toed flip-flops) to keep my tootsies warm in the winter. I often have an ice bag on one or both of my knees, which is one of the reasons for shorts instead of jeans. The other reason is that jeans are ridiculously uncomfortable, and the cultural embrace they enjoy, decade after decade, generation after generation, makes about as much sense to me as drinking a toxic poison and calling that relaxation. We are a curious species, and our infatuation with bluejeans is just one indicator of how easily brainwashable we are. No jeans at home for me. My at-home attire is selected for ultimate comfort.
Which begs the question: Why was I so uncomfortable for so long in my own home?
My wife loves her cats more than she loves me.
That’s not intended as an attention-grabbing joke. It’s the absolute truth, and I’m OK with it.
One of our cats only has one eye, and is not particularly adept at cleaning himself, and he is her all-time favorite of the dozen-or-so cats she has had in her life. I am sure I’ve disappointed her by not knowing the precise number of fur babies she has nurtured during the past five decades, but that’s not the point. The point is that I rank behind a cyclops with matted fur, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
George spotted me in the drapery rod aisle. I had a list of measurements for the various windows I needed to cover in my new house, so I was in the aisle for a while. He paused at the end of the aisle, ready to offer good natured ribbing about what was taking me so long. I flagged him down to scan a couple of drapes that were in the clearance section. They would be perfect if they truly were the $7 or $8 that was advertised on the shelf, but the item codes didn’t match.
“I saw you in the aisle earlier,” he said, curious about what I was up to. “Yes, I just moved here yesterday, and I have a new house with a lot of windows to cover, so I’m prioritizing what needs to get done now. I have my list,” I held up for him to see. “Where did you move from?” he asked. “Tampa, though I’m originally from Chicago. You from North Carolina?” I asked in return. “Nah,” was his response, an answer I hear a lot here, just like Florida. Everyone, it seems, moved here from someplace else. “I’m originally from New York. My mom has folks down here,” he explained to my unasked question.
“What brings you here?”
My mom’s alcoholism instilled in me a core belief that I was different, inadequate, and deeply flawed. I developed a belief that there was something wrong with my family, and there was something wrong with me. My parents were divorced. We didn’t have a lot of money. My mom was an alcoholic, and no one explained to me what that meant, or how she struggled with an illness.
Instead, it was normalized to smell whisky and see an adult passed out or wobbling around or urinating on the carpet in a half-asleep, half-drunk stumble. I didn’t understand, but I knew that this was my life. I didn’t know that my fight or flight system was in high gear, probably most nights. I developed a subconscious defense mechanism crafted from perfectionism and high achievement.
My mom likes to tell the story at family gatherings and other social occasions. “When I approached Matt and told him it was time for us to have, ‘the talk,’ he replied, ‘Sure mom. What do you want to know?’”
It is a chuckle-worthy story that illustrates two things – one accurately and one inaccurately. As a teenager, and into my 20s, my sexual confidence often bordered on arrogance. But it also might lead one of my mom’s guests to believe we had open and honest communication about sex and sexuality. She tried, and so did my dad. But they both viewed “the sex talk” as something to check off of a list. We did not engage in the kind of honest vulnerability that might have led to a healthy education about sex and intimacy for me as an adolescent. I don’t blame them, really. I have yet to meet anyone from their generation who could talk about sex as openly as is required to lead youths to a healthy adult outcome. My generation isn’t doing much better.