If anyone follows my reading list (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the books I've read in 2017), they might have noticed there's a lot of Nora Ephron in there lately. So why is that?
Well, it's because I decided to leave my marriage.
And to make a sad situation a little more bearable, I also decided that the late great Nora Ephron would be my "spiritual" guide through it all. I'm joking of course, but you know what I mean. I figure if you can write a story like When Harry Met Sally, then you might have some helpful thoughts to share about love and heartbreak.
My husband and I went through some problems about a year and a half ago. We even separated for a little while, but got back together after deciding we could work things out. Unfortunately, even though I thought we had made really good efforts to work through those problems, they kind of reared up their ugly heads again. I guess I finally realized that I had done everything I could think to do to save my relationship, but it wasn't enough. I know I gave it my best shot, which makes this time around marginally easier. Last time I felt like I hadn't actually done anything to fight for my marriage and that it wasn't fair to ourselves to walk away so easily. So we tried, we definitely did. At least I feel good about that.
It's one of those sad situations where no one has been "wronged." There was no bad behavior. I never stopped loving him, and I don't think he stopped loving me. We just wanted different things. We also needed different things and weren't able to communicate those wants and needs very well, if at all. Talking about hard issues was never our strong point as a couple. So it's nobody's fault, really, or maybe it's everyone's fault. I don't know. But that doesn't make it any less sad or frustrating.
I go through waves of feeling ok, and then waves of despair where I can barely function. And then more often there are the waves of numbness where it feels like I'll never be genuinely happy again. It's also really hard to let go of the good memories and what they meant to me. It feels almost impossible to say goodbye to a man who has been my best friend for 13 years. So yeah, to say this is rough is an understatement.
Anyway, what does that have to do with Nora Ephron again? Having been divorced twice and married three times, I find she has a funny sense humor and poignancy about it all that I'm finding very comforting. Of the three books of hers I've read in the last week or so, I enjoyed Heartburn the most, which is a thinly veiled novel about her divorce from Carl Bernstein (of Watergate fame) when she was 7 months pregnant. The other two are collections of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing. Some of the essays are excellent, others are more or less blog posts, but this one really helped me put things in perspective:
"For a long time, the fact that I was divorced was the most important thing about me. And now it's not." - Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing
I guess the point is, although this may seem like the end of the world, that everything I've ever known or worked so hard to build is falling apart (and I'm the one who's actively torpedoing it, which makes it feel even worse, even though I feel like there's no other way for us both to move forward with our lives and ultimately be happy) - well, this too will pass. There's going to be a new normal, even if I don't know what it looks like yet. And one day in the future, this divorce will not be considered the most important thing that ever happened to me, even if it feels that way at the moment.
So right now I'm just trying to be grateful for all the things I have and have had, and trying to be as hopeful as possible. I'm incredibly fortunate to have two supportive parents who've opened their home to me, my dog, and my cats while I figure out our next step and deal with the necessary logistics of the situation. I'm also incredibly fortunate to have a job that I can do anywhere, which makes it possible to move here for the moment.
And I also don't regret my marriage or our time spent together. We did, saw, and made some pretty amazing things as a couple. 13 years together and I wouldn't take back a single one. He's a wonderful person and I really wish him all the happiness in the world. So all things considered, I'm really incredibly lucky. The present is a challenge, to be sure, but I can work through this and everything will be alright in the end.
The other day my husband and I were debating what invention constituted the greatest scientific achievement. I said that besides electric power, the birth control pill was definitely the most significant. My husband disagrees, but think about it - being able to reliably control how many kids you have impacts the most fundamental ways a society functions and organizes. For instance, there's no way women could achieve equal status to men without some form of birth control.
It's kind of interesting that we even get to ask ourselves whether or not we want to have kids. This wasn't a question women could lightly toss around prior to the pill's invention. By all accounts, Jane Austen didn't get married because she knew that the work of raising a family and perhaps the disapproval of her husband would prevent her from writing. But today, I can be married, write, and dilly-dally about having children pretty much to my heart's content. What a privilege that is.
I like kids. I like hanging out with them. I have childish tastes. I wouldn't mind having someone else in our family to love unconditionally and be loved back. I like the idea of watching my child grow up and teaching them things.
But I'm also selfish. I want to write books and live in interesting places. I get overwhelmed and resentful when I don't get to work on my own projects. I get irritable and snap.
Not long after I started writing more seriously, we got a dog. My uncle's German Shepherds had puppies, and my husband and I couldn't resist. We chose Hammie (aka "Miss Virginia Ham") who's the second puppy on the left in the image below, peaking out from beneath her brothers.
We fell in love. She was (and still is) the smartest and sweetest little girl. She was my first dog, and it was just incredible to have this little creature in the house following us around everywhere.
Those first few weeks were hard though, especially because we were so sleep deprived from having to get up once or twice each night to take her outside to pee. And if I'm being honest, despite all the love I felt, I also remember thinking that getting a puppy was probably a bad idea if I wanted to write and publish a novel.
But you know what? I wouldn't go back and change it. Sure, for a few months I did write less, but then she grew up and could sleep through the night, and slowly the writing returned.
I imagine it would be similar for children, only more intense and for a longer period of time. Maybe I wouldn't get back to writing for several years, but I know that eventually I would.
On the other hand, if we didn't have children, it would be easier to travel. We wouldn't be so stretched for money. We'd have more time to focus on each other and on our goals and projects. We'd pour our love into dogs and cats, no doubt. Play auntie and uncle. Be a Piggle-Wiggle woman. It would be nice, I admit it.
But I thought about it, and I realized that if I could do it either way, kids or no kids, then I should probably try to have a kid. And if doesn't work out, well, I'll know I tried, and then I can lead my child-free life without regrets.
So I think we're going to try, maybe not for another year, but sometime soon. And that makes me happy, which makes me think it's the right choice.
Did you debate whether or not to have kids? What was your thinking?
Just a little over a year ago, my husband and I got into such a bad state, that we almost decided to get divorced - going so far as to separate for about six weeks.
Ironically, I think the separation actually saved the marriage, because it gave us both a sense of what it would be like to get divorced. (For this reason, I think trial separations are a great idea.) After giving each other some space, we each independently concluded that despite our issues and faults, we loved one another and didn't want to be apart. So we started talking about what was going wrong between us and how to move forward.
The biggest thing I think we realized was that because of some career choices, we were viewing our future lives as a zero-sum game. The feeling was that one of us would get the career and the life they wanted at the expense of the other.
Realizing we were stuck in this zero-sum way of thinking, we kind of hashed out how we saw our future, and got past this sense of "winning" and "losing." It's a little hard to explain. It's like, last year it felt as if we were on opposing teams, and this year it feels like we're on the same team again. I think finally talking about the goals we both wanted to achieve helped us a lot to reset and refocus.
So this past year has been much, much better in terms of getting along with my husband, although that isn't to say he doesn't annoy me sometimes (and vice versa), but overall everything feels much less adverserial. I think focusing on more ways to have fun together has also really helped, rather than seeing our lives as one big to-do list, career track, or chore.
When he does bug me, I try to remind myself to "not sweat the small stuff," which happens to be my theme for this year, along with several other small resolutions.
And when I get in a really negative funk, I try to remember all the things my husband is good at that I very much appreciate. For example, my husband is good at:
Anyway, he certainly has many other great qualities, but I'll stop there so I don't bore you. It's a pretty good exercise though. I recommend it.
My husband just got back from a 3 week work trip and I'm really happy to have him home again. I struggle a lot with a combination of loneliness and the extra-weight of chores and responsibilities that comes whenever he's out of town for long periods of time. Honestly, I get resentful that he's able to take these little sebaticals to focus soley on his career, while I get stuck with the boring life stuff on top of working hard to earn money (but not necessarily in the long-term career that I want). I wish I didn't feel that way, but I always do whenever he's gone for longer than a week.
Sometimes I wonder how military spouses are able to handle year-long deployments without completely breaking down. I went to school with someone who ended up marrying a fighter pilot, and they've lived in some of the most beautiful places in the world (Italy! Key West!) - but there's a cost. Her husband often isn't around for months at a time. I can only imagine how hard that is for both of them.
Anyway, being apart (even if it doesn't remotely compare to deployment) is something that my husband and I are always working on. He admitted I get stuck with more of the household responsibilities even when he's around, and has promised to step it up and take on more tasks so I can also focus more on developing my own career. Like writing some more, that would be nice.
Unfortunately, I still haven't gotten back into the swing of things after calling it quits midway through NaNoWriMo. I don't even know whether to be annoyed or understanding with myself. It's just that I can't seem to maintain the thread of the story. Every time I get in the "zone" and feel like I know exactly how the characters would respond to a given situation, something gets in the way for a week or more, and by then I've forgotten what it is I wanted to do.
Honestly, I've been really busy for a while, and things just get extra difficult when my husband is gone. It makes you wonder how single parents ever manage to write a book in their spare time. It's like, what spare time? And I don't even have kids! I just have a dog who needs long walks and two cats who crave attention. I try to keep the house pretty clean, but nothing crazy. And I've almost given up on cooking. So what's eating up all my time? Maybe I'm just lazy.
Or maybe I value my relationships more than an aspiring writer can or should. When you hear about the lives of famous writers or artists, there's this reoccuring theme of how generally awful they were to their families. Negligent, is maybe the better word. If you want to be a succesful artist, I think the sad truth is you can't prioritize the needs of your friends or family above your own creative goals. And that sucks. I'm not like that. I do care.
With the holidays and the cold weather, we haven't seen our Chapel Hill friends in a few weeks. So on Saturday, my husband and I made the trek into town and met up with our group for drinks. We had a really good time. It was just one of those perfect evenings at the local dive bar. I don't socialize a lot (I'm fairly introverted), but I do need some, and clearly I'm just not willing to chuck time with my husband and my friends so I can finish my book. I wish I could make two copies of myself so I could have one side of me that focuses solely on my creative needs, and the other side that maintains the relationships I have. Because I really do value both.
Do you have this problem? How do you get your work done, love your friends and family, AND write a book? Is it really possible?
Confession: I am a sucker for a good couple to ship.
I am such a shipper, it's embarrassing. A lot of my favorite comic books, tv-shows, movies, etc. were more or less based on the fact that I shipped some obscure fictional couple. Let's list them, shall we? In approximate chronological order:
Batman and Catwoman (From the old Adam West series.) It's the earliest memory I have of wishing two characters would get together. I spent a lot of summers at my Grandparents' house watching old reruns of this show, hoping each episode would feature Catwoman (or Batgirl, who was equally awesome and had the sweet motorcycle).
Batman and Catwoman (Batman Returns). I was pretty young, but I still shipped them. No doubt the cartoonishness appealed to me.
Batman and Catwoman (From Batman the Animated Series - sensing a theme!) Ok enough, yes Batman is pretty hot, and when you add him to the equally hot Catwoman, it's pretty fucking awesome.
Gambit and Rogue (X-men) So doomed! So frustrating! Technically, I got into this pairing like most 90's kid did - through the animated series, but I thought this comic book illustration was en pointe. Rogue by herself was awesome (I want her powers), Gambit had an undeniable sex appeal, and then when you threw these two southerners together and added some reluctance on Rogue's part (cause, you know, she might kill him), it was pretty hot.
Conan and Jezmine (Conan the Adventurer) What can I say? Jezmine got to throw ninja stars. Who wouldn't love her? Conan was alright. This was shipping for lack of many other options (there were like, four characters in this show - tops).
Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood (Raiders of the Lost Ark!) There was no one more attractive than Harrison Ford in his prime. Plus, Marion was a bad ass, AND she got to wear a pretty white dress too. Talk about my ideal fictional avatar.
If we're going to talk Harrison Ford, then we have to mention Han Solo. I came around to Luke Skywalker later in life, but when I was a kid, Han and Leia were my jam (Star Wars).
Mulder and Scully (The X-Files) I was introduced to this show fairly late by the first movie, which has some pretty heavy shipping themes. Ironically, I think it was actually the X-Files where the term "shipper" comes from. That show had one of the earliest internet fan-bases, and those who hoped for a Mulder/Scully pairing were termed "relationshippers," or just "shippers" for short. The more you know.
Krycek and Marita (The X-Files). Cause I grew up and realized that it was more fun to be a bad guy. There was really not enough information on these characters, but I found that to be part of the appeal. You could make up some pretty epic fanfiction between those two, and set it in Russia!
There may have been others, but these were the couples I shipped the hardest, while other characters may have had fleeting, but unstained appeal. (Robin and Batgirl, for instance. I need more interaction!)
Then it kind of falls off for me. I don't know, maybe I grew up, and it got harder to care about the love lives of fictional characters. Or maybe there haven't been many good new ones in a long time. Most of the TV I see these days is strangely heartless, even cold. Everyone says we're in the "golden age" of television, but it's all so serious. I'm dying for a good romp with a decent couple that just refuses to get together.
Finally, if we're going to discuss shipping, then I feel obligated to mention Harry Potter, but personally, I never understood all the Harry Potter pairings. To me, those characters seem almost asexual, so I have no idea where the appeal of a Harry/Malfoy, Hermione/Snape, or Lupin/Tonks coupling comes from. But then again, I'm sure there are plenty of kids out there who wouldn't understand my love for Batman or Krycek. It's generational, I'm sure.
Who do you ship?
I am going through a breakup and I can’t help but notice the symmetry this experience has with the process of getting together. Just over eleven years ago, I met my future-husband. It was my first semester of college. Instead of going to class, I mostly laid in bed, intensely thinking about him. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. He was everything I wanted in a boyfriend: intelligent, artistic, yet practical, and of course, handsome. Dark curly hair and freckles. He looked, and still does, like he should have been born and raised in Dublin. I practically stopped eating because my thoughts were so intensely focused on him.
And now, eleven years later, as we are breaking up, I find that I’m equally spending a lot of time laying about in bed, thinking about him. Only now, instead of imagining the future we would have together, I alternate between mourning the good memories of what’s already happened and obsessing over why it has all come to an end.
I’m very sad. I feel very alone and oddly ashamed.
I’m struggling to write, but I hadn’t expected to also struggle to read. I recently read an author confess a similar inability to read while she was grieving a death in the family. I’m told that breaking up is a kind of grief, so I suppose it makes sense that I can’t seem to read either. Every book I pick up looses attraction within ten pages or less. The stories seem dull. The words are impenetrable. My mind wanders back to my husband.
I tried Postcards from the Edge, figuring that would be light, but the stream of consciousness narrative drives me bonkers. Replace the word “drug” with “my husband” and I feel like I’m reading the dictation of my own thoughts.
I just bought a used copy of Hilary Mantel’s memoir, Giving up the Ghost. I tried it today, but the words don’t seem to make any sense. I can’t tell if it’s because of my malaise or if the style just really is a tad dense.
I look at my next Aubrey/Maturin book on the shelf and the thought of clearing that initial hurdle that is always necessary to get into those books seems too hard to even attempt.
The Letters of E.B. White are sweet, but there’s no story there. I’m not interested in the day-to-day minutia of finding newspaper jobs in New York.
Rebecca is too dark and frightening to even try more than a page.
Everything is too hard, too much, too boring, too this, too that.
I want my old life back. I want to be able to escape in a book so deeply that I look up and realize half the weekend has already gone by. I want my husband to walk through the door and smile when he sees me, instead looking hurt and slightly afraid – mirroring y own face, I’m sure.
I guess this too shall pass. In the meantime, I’ll keep opening and closing books until one finally sticks and I can float away for a little while.
Have you ever struggled to read before? I feel like my most favorite thing to do in the world is also being taken from me.
I mentioned last Friday that I've been going through a hard time recently. Little by little I've been telling people about my troubles. First, I told my parents. Then I told my best friend. And now I'm sharing that news here where I'm anonymous, so I guess it feels safe. Each time I tell someone new, it helps me get used to the idea and I think that's good and healthy. So thanks for being another audience in my life.
So let's get to it. My husband and I are in the midst of splitting up. It's one of those heartbreaking things where we still love one another, but we want different things and seem unable to change or compromise for the other, which makes it almost impossible to be happy in the long run. I'm not mad at him and he's not mad at me. We've been almost entirely civil and good to one another through this process, except for a few slip-ups where emotions were understandably running high. I wish we could figure it out, but we just can't seem to make it work. Someone has to change and I'm not sure either one of us can or wants to be what the other persons needs.
We've been having troubles for a few months. Then things got really bad about a month ago and our relationship hasn't recovered since. Last weekend, we mutually decided it was time to end things, and now we're dancing around the issues of logistics of splitting up/do we even try to do something like marriage counseling. We've been together for a long, long time. Married for ~2.5 years, but together for over 11. It's just hard to completely let things go when you've shared a life with someone for over a decade.
Anyway, it's certainly thrown a wrench in my writing plans, because frankly that stuff just doesn't seem as important when you're losing the person you've loved for so long. When you're having to figure out what comes next (do I quit my job, do I move back home, what do I really want?), reading and writing kind of takes a back-seat. I've still been working on my NaNoWriMo novel, but my heart just isn't into it and now I've fallen too far behind to hit 50K. Not sure I care though. I woke up this morning to write and before I could I was swamped by a good memory of my husband and I just couldn't bear to sit down at the computer. I missed him so much.
Even though we'd definitively decided to split up last weekend, I felt ok through the week. I knew I was in denial though. It didn't hurt, because it didn't seem real. It was like watching a bad movie about somebody else's life. Then this weekend I think reality hit both me and my husband pretty hard. I vacillate between wanting to move on and begin an independent life versus trying to address these issues with the help of a professional. I wish we had each been clearer with the other while we were having these problems instead of going into our default and non-productive conflict modes. I want to yell, he wants to hide, and neither way works.
I'd compare how I feel right now to sitting on a wave. When I'm feeling good about the decision, it's like I'm riding the crest of the wave, but I can still tell that I'm going to come back down again and feel low and horrible; like I'm making a terrible mistake. Up and down. It's exhausting.
I watched a lot of movies this weekend (along with other healthy activities like running, walking, making healthy food, texting and making plans with my best friend, etc.), and can I just say that When Harry Met Sally is a very underrated breakup movie? I found it very pleasant and reassuring to watch those two become friends in the midst of their own breakups. It's just a good example that even after a breakup your life will go on, you'll make new friends, and meet someone else, and it does all that without relying on totally obnoxious RomCom cliches. Harry and Sally don't really like each other that much when they first meet, but they don't hate one another. It's not this super antagonistic relationship. It's just a casual acquaintance that eventually warms up into friendship. I liked that. It's so much more heartening to watch, and certainly more believable than the other RomCom I saw this weekend, You Got Mail. I'm sorry to say that movie has not aged well. Tom Hanks is fine in it, but Meg Ryan was just terrible, like she was doing a bad impression of Meg Ryan, America's Sweetheart. Funny to watch her in two movies back to back and have such different visceral responses. I found it really stupid that anyone would believe that Meg Ryan's character in You Got Mail would ever have the slightest romantic attraction to the man who put her out of business. That's just absurd and frankly, it's hard to respect a woman who would do that.
Anyway, just my two cents. I'm not much of a RomCom lover, but if ever there was a weekend where I needed that kind of entertainment - this was it.
Alrighty, feel like I've whinged enough. I feel hopelessly sad, but already even a smidge better having written this out. Maybe later this week I'll make a brief list of things that have been helping me get through this breakup.
If I get behind in posts, now you'll know why. I'm dealing with some major personal loss. But I'll do my best to keep writing. It helps, it really does.
Brief post only to say that today is my second wedding anniversary. We had a backyard wedding, with all the family, friends, and oysters. It was 100 degrees, sunny, and humid, typical weather for Maryland in the late spring, but there was a tent for shade and air-conditioning inside. And even though I've always been "against" favors, I caved and bought some fans for guests to cool themselves with while they drank Pimm's cups and got tipsy on the lawn.
This still makes me laugh:
The morning of the wedding, one of my mother's friends and I drove out to the highway to tie up balloons on signs to lead guests to our neighborhood (there was road construction that had snarled up the original directions). Even though white balloons clearly = wedding, I decided in my usual neurotic way that the balloons should also be labeled with our initials (A and T) in black sharpie ink, so there would be no confusion.
After we had hung several of these balloons up, my mother's friend said to me, "Just make sure you don't write T and A."
"Why, what does that mean?" I asked her.
She seemed to consider how well she knew me, a twenty-seven-year-old woman, before explaining.
"Tits and Ass," she said, while carefully penning "A + T" on the balloon she had wedged between her knees.
I, of course, had just written "T + A" in block letters surrounded by a large heart on series of giant white balloons that led directly to my parents house. Right this way for your tits and ass, folks.
The first year after that wedding was admittedly hard. We moved, started new jobs, had to make new friends. T and I couldn't commute to work together anymore, and I missed having that time together. This second year has been a huge improvement. We're settled into North Carolina. We have several groups of friends. We have a puppy. We live in on a farm. I still miss commuting with T, but I've mostly gotten over it.
Love you T. Here's to a promising third.
T+ A 4ever
Writer, editor, scientist.