“How do we define love? Is it fated or created?” –Lisa Tobin
I’ve had my life to myself since Friday and it feels devastatingly good. I wake when I want, eat what I want, my schedule is not dictated by the needs of another. By the needs of a man. I didn’t shave my legs. I didn’t wear makeup. Hell, I literally didn’t even wash my hair.
Jon left before first light on Friday to go to the Thunder on the Loup airboat rally in Nebraska. He went with his best friend from boyhood. Normally, I accompany him on those things, not necessarily because I want to or because he wants me to or because it interests me but because for so long I’ve felt pressured to pretend that I’m interested, because that’s what good girlfriends do, because so much of being in a relationship seems to be some suspended act of pretend. I do this in my current relationship and I did it in my last. I can’t help it. I aim to please. But paradoxically, I know myself, and I know myself to be an intelligent, capable, strong woman. And yet still I disappear. Gone Girl’s “cool girl” speech got it right. Dead right.
I can’t help myself, though I’m learning to try.
So now what? There’s this. Hello my glorious empty weekend. You belong to me.
(Well, belonged. Jon gets home tomorrow.)
He left at first light on Friday, kissed me once in bed and then again at the door and I shut it quickly to avoid the sight of him driving away. I took a long shower and cooked a slow breakfast. I listened to NPR. I read. I went to yoga. That evening, I loaded Pax in the car and drove to Arkansas to hike Hawksbill Crag.
I missed a couple calls from Jon on the way out to the trailhead and again on the trail. I say “missed,” but that’s not exactly true. Not missed. Ignored. I felt a little guilty, I’ll admit it, though I know it’s dumb because he ignores calls on the time. He knows how to put himself first. I think most men are born that way. We criticize it as women and yet encourage it in ourselves.
So I put myself first. And you know what? I loved it. It frightened me (how silly!) but I still loved it. It was so freeing to choose not to answer. So freeing to act in a manner that said, I love you, but you know what? I don’t need to talk to you right now.
I told Jon at the beginning of our relationship that I didn’t expect him to make me happy and that declaration still rings true to me. You cannot make another person happy. You cannot peg your happiness on your spouse. The only person responsible for your happiness is yourself. (Unless, if you’re lucky, you have a dog like mine, a limitless solar system of adoration.)
He agreed to the terms.
But what I didn’t expect of love was that he would be so capable of making me unhappy. Not all the time, but often enough for me to notice.
What a terrifying realization! Nobody told me about this part.
I have known and loved Jon all my life. I love him in my marrow. But he drives me crazy, too, and I’m not smiling with my hands pegged on my hips. I don’t mean comedy sketch crazy.
Nobody tells you about the painful parts. You have no way to prepare yourself for it. You think you’re armed with all that useful knowledge from what you’ve witnessed of other people’s relationships–all the haughty ways you’ve taken notes to yourself on how you can and will do better. But when you finally enter the relationship that defines your life all that information is useless. You have to find your own way. You have to be tough. It either works or it doesn’t.
I heard Cheryl Strayed once say that, years ago, she told her husband that she would be angry with him for the rest of her life. She once got so angry with him that she stabbed him in the thigh with a toothbrush. I can relate.
There’s absolutely no way you can love someone profoundly and deeply and daily and in all the ways that you are asked to love someone in the course of a marriage without also having a lot of rage and hardship and a sense of turmoil. You again? Why you? You project all of your worst parts onto that person and your best. So you need to choose well because you are going to be mad at them for the rest of your life. But you’re also going to love them for the rest of your life. –Cheryl Strayed
I know this counters what all the sentimental magnets and coffee mugs say about love, but I figure that if I’m going to love Jon for the rest of my life, I’m allowed to take a weekend off. So I’m not afraid to say it: I loved having Jon gone for the weekend, loved finding myself unburdened, loved having the precious and unpolluted time to love just myself again.
Of course tomorrow, Jon comes home.
And I’ll love that, too.
from the #4 Dear Sugar Podcast: Making Love
Cheryl: Remember when I told you I was going to be mad at you for the rest of my life?
Brian: Yes! [Laughs]
Both: And it’s true!
Cheryl: And yet I’m fiercely, ferociously, madly, eternally in love with you.