For those who don’t know, the title spelled out like that is also the title of an old country song.
I’ve been asked to discuss what I have learned through my two divorces, and there is quite a bit to that. For the most part, I will go chronologically. However, there is an overall consideration that I should probably start with.
After my second divorce is when I learned I have Social Anxiety Disorder, and I know this has played a factor across the board. Not just in my marriages and my divorces, but in other aspects of my life.
To be concise, let me restate here what Social Anxiety Disorder is. I’ll start with the end of the phrase, “Disorder.” Disorders are not physical maladies. They are learned behaviors that, in their initial development are actually beneficial. As time progresses, the traits and behaviors become solidified in the personality. Not hardwired, but full fledged parts of the individual. Social Anxiety is as it sounds, a fear of social situations. You would generally call a Socially Anxious person shy or introverted.
All of us are part introverted, and part extroverted. You may be outgoing with your gang, but meek around your boss. Or you may be the life of the party at a bar, but quiet at a home cookout. Introversion and extroversion are opposite ends of a scale on which we all slide up and down. As a child I tended to always be more on the shy, introverted side. It worked for me. My fear of being teased or pointed out in public situations was often avoided by holding back. “Oh, he’s just shy.” Flash forward several decades and you end up with a person that doesn’t know how to meet new people, how to talk to the opposite sex, that sort of thing. What originally was beneficial now becomes a hindrance and can make living uncomfortable. That is when a trait moves from a personality type to a Disorder. Understand, I’m a perfectly functional human being. If you met me at work you wouldn’t have a clue. If you saw me in a bar you would just think I’m a wallflower, “Oh, he’s just shy.” But you don’t know what is going on inside my head. At work I don’t think about it much except when new students come to class and I have to work at being more outgoing. At a bar, having no function to carry out or when trying to meet a woman, it is all I can do to keep from mumbling or just walking away.
I will add a few other personal tidbits. As a child I was a small, asthmatic, very near sighted, ginger haired, freckle face. The basic sickly kid that everyone has teased at one point or another. To make it worse, if you believe in IQ ratings, I was almost in MENSA, with a reasonably high IQ. So mom and the schools had high expectations. Do not mistake me. Mom was kind, compassionate, and THE BEST. But again, you can imagine how the kids were. ‘There goes the skinny, four-eyed smart ass that blew the curve on the test.’ I have sense taken care of the skinny and weakliness. In my late teens, wanting to break that mold, but also use my brain, I took to martial arts. I have gone on to archery, scuba diving, sky diving, motorcycle riding, and just trying to turn around that inner childhood image of myself. Mother Nature took care of the ginger hair and freckles. I reshaped my body.
So, as I discuss marriages and divorces, understand where this all comes from; a shy, insecure person who has a desperate need to be accepted, but is dreadfully fearful of being ridiculed.
My first marriage and divorce:
I met her in college. She was working on her Masters while I was getting my B.A. We were in the same department where I was one of “those” folk. You know the ones, when you ask around who can really help you out everyone points toward one of “those” people. As she came to me, my shyness was averted, being the only woman that showed me any interest. Well, you can sort of figure the rest.
The divorce of the first marriage is easy to explain and what I learned is simple. After finding myself in the bathtub considering a bottle of vodka and a steak knife as the only way to fix the pains I was experiencing we elected to go to marriage counseling. In counseling I learned that another one of my traits is that of a “fixer.” I try to fix everyone’s problems; a way of seeking acceptance and avoiding ridicule. This is part of what brought us together. She had problems in college and I was going to fix them. She expressed problems with relationships and I was going to fix them. As a fixer you are often also a sacrificer; you give up some of your concerns to help fix the other person’s needs.
We tried for eight years to get pregnant and wouldn’t you know it, while in marriage counseling is when it finally happened. The child was born and a few months later she asked me to leave. During separation I went through personal therapy. Two months in, the therapist said, “You’re fine. When I first saw you, you were a totally burned out person. But you are on your way now.” Being away from her, away from the need to fix and kowtow and bend, having the ability to look to some of my own concerns was all I needed.
I could tell you a bunch of stories. For example, during the pregnancy while working three jobs, she handed me a list detailing what I would do every minute of every day until the birthing so the child’s room and other needs could be met. I pointed out, “You haven’t left me any time to take shits or baths.” So why we got divorced is simple. We were the wrong people for each other. She was a needer and I was a fixer, and one of those will kill the other.
What did I learn? You can’t fix other people’s problems. You definitely cannot fix their inner holes. You cannot give anyone inner peace. That is something we each have to make for ourselves. As for great revelations that I can pass on, there are not many in this case. It really was a situation of two people who were very, very wrong for each other. But I will say this… “… Keep interested in your own career (ed. or interests), it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time…” (From the Desiderata with my editorial addition.) What I mean by this is do not entwine with someone that causes you to change who you are. Not only the person that asks you to change, but beware of the changes you make yourself in order to be in that person’s good graces.
The second marriage and divorce:
We met at a friend’s Halloween party. She was dressed as a gypsy. I was a full fledged cowboy, including full length leather coat, six guns, Stetson hat, and sunburned lips. I had wallflowered myself in the friend’s den. She came in and sat down right beside me, and I mean right against me, and asked, “Can I hold your gun?” (innuendo intended) It was the brightest female smile I have ever seen. My shyness was averted, as she did all the work. We were on equal intellectual footing with some similar interests – but also some marked differences. Remember, I’m still me. I’m still a fixer as well as a shy introvert in desperate need of approval and a fear of ridicule. She gave me comfort and affirmation. After what I had just been through a few years before, how could I not fall in love with her?
On our early dates we discovered some of our differences. Strangely enough I am sort of a cowboy for real. Being shy, I’m a loner. I like things simple. Jeans work for me. Having social anxiety disorder (unknown to me at the time) I avoid social situations. She had been an actor and singing performer. She was always (still is) the life of the party, but with dignity. She had been a Page in Washington DC. She had traveled to, and studied in, London and Germany. She enjoys fine wines and dinner parties, and all the social graces. All these things, while I understand them intellectually, are emotionally beyond me. We discovered these differences. I remember it distinctly. We were sitting in Yesterday’s (a restaurant/bar) in Five Points (the college quarter of town), enjoying a meal and we both agreed we could work around them.
We did work around them. She did help me with some of my difficulties. She and I never fought. We hardly ever disagreed. But all the while two things were happening inside me. My S.A.D. was growing deeper. As she wanted to be herself and socialize more, I became more anxious. Also, things that I did as a teenager for myself, like playing music, I didn’t do. She didn’t like a lot of the music I liked (though I enjoyed her music). But I just wouldn’t play my stuff around her or play my keyboard or draw or do other things like that. I was too embarrassed to have her hear me or see what I was doing. In the latter several years I had become a virtual hermit. I had an office in the home and I just stayed in there.
She was feeling the pressure of her own desires, wanting to get out more, meet people, making couple friends. I tried. I really did. But I would get anxious and nervous and I would end up ruining the evening for her. She was making good money and wanted to plan trips to London, but I would weasel out, afraid to go, making excuses that I couldn’t get out of work. Plus I really don’t enjoy the idea of London. I’d rather go to Japan or China. Still, that shouldn’t have kept me from taking a trip with my wife. But it did, or I used it to do so.
In the end I asked for the divorce, because I could no longer live with what I was doing to her. I was hurting her on an almost weekly basis. Not intentionally. I was running from the world that she wanted to be a part of. Our differences, while we had worked around them, we could not totally hide from.
The divorce was as friendly as any divorce can be. I still love her and feel disgusted that I could not give her the simple things she wanted. But I did not know the beast that had been growing in me since childhood. That beast, combined with our differences, was just too much.
What did I learn? Again, I learned not to forsake your inner self. If you like to dance through the living room when you are alone, hook up with someone you do not mind dancing in front of. Do not reach above your own station. If you recognize differences do not fool yourselves into thinking you can work around them. You may for five years, or ten, but not for your entire lives.
Be friends in as many things as possible. It isn’t enough that you both like movies. Everyone likes movies. You have to like the same movies, the same books, the same hobbies, the same tv shows, the same vacations, the same music, or lack thereof. You don’t have to match 100%, but a 70% match (a D in grade school) could lead to problems years down the road.
Sex is an opiate. We all like it. Make sure you both like it the same way, in the same amounts. If you like the lights on, your partner needs to also. If you like them off, they should feel the same. Make sure of this or someone’s eyes may wander, or someone may feel neglected, or feel incomplete, or unfulfilled. Two things can kill a marriage: 1. Arguing over money. Be equals, keep in your station, talk things out and make agreements. 2. Lack of good sex. What makes good sex is a personal preference so your preferences must match exactly. There is only one way to find this out. You must talk, in all the nitty gritty dirty details necessary. Better to learn early than late. Just doing it doesn’t tell you much. Divulge your deepest desires and your darkest fantasies. Better for your partner to squirm now and say they want out then to have it happen years later.
If you are not comfortable with yourself, do not expect to become comfortable just because you find a friend. “Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.” (Desiderata) Do not look for someone to fix your inner self. You are no good to yourself and certainly no good to anyone else if you can’t take care of yourself, by yourself. If you can be perfectly happy alone then you are ready to find that special someone. Stand up for that individual that you create, the person you are. Do not let anyone or anything like working toward love allow you to change. Change for these reasons and your inner peace will fade, and that is something no lover can fix. This does not mean you cannot find friends, buddies, chums, play pals. It just means you are not ready to mate for life. This does not mean you cannot change at all, but once you pick a partner you have to be able to make changes together.
Here I will add one last thought.
Love and marriage, as we currently define it, is only a few centuries old. Marriages used to be arranged and husband dalliances were never questioned. Husbands beat wives for burnt toast and the law looked the other way. Things are different now, and much better if you ask me. Now we marry for love. But marriage is still defined as being for life. However, we now generally live three or four lifetimes as compared to when marriage was first conceived. We may have three or four careers. Careers change people; their networks, their interests. Lifelong marriage in the 21st century is always going to be a tricky thing.