I took a generative writing class to get myself writing again. I’ve been so enmeshed in life and three jobs as I now run an Airbnb, am the Chief Marketing Officer for a startup and the booker of Country and Western bands for a BBQ restaurant. I can’t say my life is ever dull! But writing has fallen off the cliff and I’ve missed it. I forced the issue by taking a class where we do nothing but write for 4 hours.
I pulled out the memoir I’m working on and tried to find a place to start. I sat staring at a sheet of writing prompts until a line jumped out: “Take a character you’ve been having trouble really getting a handle on. Describe that character without using any visual information.” It went on, but that was all I read. I thought about how hard a time I have writing about Arron, my husband. How hard he is to describe. And so I started with an image I had of him, one of the last. It was during a fight, one of the few times I was ever really angry with him. We had been having a hard time. He started a new job, had been miserable for months in his old one, and I felt invisible to him through all of it.
I was surprised when tears started rolling down my cheeks as I wrote. My anger and sadness during that time came back, yes, but there was something more. It was triggering something: a similar feeling I’ve been encountering more recently. I’ve been hard-pressed to name what I’ve been feeling in my relationship with Jim. He’s been distracted for months, most of his energy being poured into a seaplane, to the point I’ve been teasing him about it being his mistress, his “other woman.”
It’s been difficult to fault Jim for being inattentive. I know he will always find me at the end of the day. He will always text, want to tell me the latest plane update, find time for quick dates. I know that he wants to spend time with me. But when we’re together, I can tell that he is thinking about the plane. Or he is making a list, or bent over a computer buying a part. It takes effort to draw his attention away from the plane. Or the motorcycle that he’s building with Carter. Which I adore. I admire his passion. I make room for it, because I know how important such a passion is in life. It’s his passion for life that I admire most about him.
But, in allowing the “other woman” into our lives, I feel myself shrinking. Is it attention I need? I ask myself. I don’t need him every second of the day, but when we are together sometimes, I feel invisible. I come up with ways to broach the subject with him in my mind, but each one sounds trite. “I wish we spent more time together,” sounds weak. We spend lots of time together. “You don’t seem to notice me,” sounds silly because he is so present, when he is present. Except when he’s not. “There’s something missing and I don’t know what it is,” seems to be the closest I can come. How is someone meant to react to that?
I can’t figure out what is is that I seem to be missing. Intimacy? Connection? Time together? Expressions of love? Commitment?
As I wrote about Arron, I realized that I was dealing with the very same issue with him all those years ago. I felt as if I had become and afterthought in his ever more complicated life. I was the one left to hold everything together, manage the kids, the house, the bills, the meals. I was the invisible glue that held it all together.
How often do women do this? It’s a classic tale.
After the writing class, I saw my friend Theo and I told her about what I wrote that day until I eventually stumbled upon this pattern of supporting our men’s passions while neglecting our own needs.
“That’s all men, in a way, don’t you think?” she asked after I listed all of Jim’s commitments. “I think of my own relationships,” she continued, “and I see how often I’ve gotten into relationships with people who resemble the men I grew up with.”
I thought of my own father. He’s a man who you have a relationship with on his terms. His mantra when I was growing up was, “Sure come on by, I’ll be here.” He was always there for me, but I had to make the effort to get there, both literally and figuratively. I had to make the stretch to carve out a relationship with him, which he was happy to accept, but rarely seemed to make a reciprocal effort when the circumstance required it.
I watch Jim struggle to balance his life. He is trying so hard to establish a home base, follow a lofty dream to build and own a plane, manage two rental properties, care for his mother, excel at his job and love a woman and her kids. All very noble and time intensive quests in their own right and as I write this, I think he is no different than most people. Aren’t we all trying to balance our lives with our passions?
His hobbies and dreams are the things I admire most about him but they are also the things that keep him from me.
So should I just shut up and wait for the scales to tip back in my direction? Or will I just wind up waiting forever feeling as if tiny slivers are being sliced off my piece of the pie in order to fulfill another’s appetite. How much do I push back? And how do I articulate me own needs?
Jump up and down, crying insisting that we have lost some mysterious “something” that I can’t name? Demand a weekend away together? Insist he stare into my eyes for four minutes and answer a bunch of ever-increasing intimate questions? Sell my house so we can buy a house together and finally live together?
With Arron, I realize I did a version of the first option and finally got angry. I questioned his priorities. I re-established my own. I got his attention, at least for a moment. But by then it was too late. I had him back for one week. And then he was gone.
I have no answers, just a keen sense of history repeating itself and wondering when or if I will ever learn the lessons life is trying to teach me.