Saturday, January 31, 2015

Why Men Become Absentee Partners in Committed Relationships.

A Facebook friend whom I've never met posted an article written by some self-help writer or psychologist with a headline that read something like "Why Women Leave Men They Love." Out of curiosity, I had to read it, and I quickly responded to the post during my lunch break, though I tried not to sound defensive. I've seen the same article reposted, and I'm sure there are a number of women who have found satisfaction in the truths the writer expresses about why women leave men who are otherwise respectable partners.

First, the main argument of the article is that women will leave a marriage or a committed relationship when the man in the relationship is absent, emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc. The writer suggests that men must be present, paying attention to their women, or their women may very well leave them.

The post was especially poignant because I could hear my ex wife's voice as she complained that I had not given her my attention. I had made her feel less than first. She respected my devotion to our children, but she resented that even when I was physically present, I was often emotionally distant. She even quoted one of her life-long friends who told her that when our family photos appeared on her Facebook feed, it was clear by the look on my face that I had already "checked-out."

In all my confessional candor, I have to say that there were many times that she was right. The writer of the posted article claimed that the roles could be reversed, but it was clearly a one-sided argument that inspires me to ask, why would a man (or a woman) check out of a relationship while remaining committed to being there physically? Also, why do so many who leave a relationship seek justification for their leaving?

I harbor very little resentment towards my ex for doing what she felt was necessary for her personal happiness. I wish for things that can't happen now, like that we had actually gone to the marriage retreats we deemed were too expensive, or that we had committed to going to counseling before we started looking for happiness outside of our relationship. Resentment isn't the impetus for writing this response. Instead, I want to challenge those who post such one-sided articles to consider the complexity of a thing such as marriage and divorce more fully before they fire away and relax, satisfied that the truth has been made clear through the words of some blog.

The truth is, I can't explain why all men who become absent in a relationship do so. I can only speak from my experience, and I can offer caveats to those who care to read.

If your partner is checking out, do you have any responsibility in creating an environment that he or she should choose to avoid? At a certain low point in my relationship with my ex, I started tallying the number of positive things she said to me each day to compare to the number of negative. When it gets to the point where you are evaluating your relationship the way an accountant evaluates a budget, the environment is no longer conducive to those warm, loving feelings that inspire closeness and a desire to remain present.

There is much to be said for choosing your partners wisely. Sexual attraction may wane over time, but it is an important part of a love relationship. At least it was for me. When your partner makes you feel tired and old and boring, the flirtations outside of your committed relationship become more tempting. When, a couple of years before our split, I had contemplated asking for a divorce, I remember my closest friends telling me that the grass was not really greener on the other side of the fence. I knew they were right, but when your yard is barren and stubbled over with the stones of strife, even poison ivy can look like a rose bush. When it seems impossible to please the person who is supposed to be your better half, then checking out is a mechanism for "doing the right thing" for your family while numbing yourself to the negativity felt in the relationship.

At some point in my marriage, I lost the desire to please my wife. I no longer felt like her lover and friend, but felt like an employee whose manager was never satisfied. So, though I seldom went away on business trips or long weekends at the hunting lease, I did spend hours pedaling my bicycle as far as I could in a day. Though I came home from work to help with supper and to be there for the kids, I did stop being there emotionally for my wife. I can remember my internal arguments for working it out: the mathematical computations about the expense of divorce, the emotional images of my broken family, the thought of sleeping under a different roof than the one my sons would share. I figured that if I could just make it through the next bitter patch, there would be a good day that would refill the emotional spring from which I had been dipping.

There may have been a number of root causes, but there were two people responsible for the breakdown in our relationship. I don't blame the outside forces and distractions, but look inward and I would challenge anyone who is in a committed relationship to do the same thing. Don't look for solace or justification in some blogger's words, but instead, ask yourself if your relationship is a place where joy is being nourished, and if not, is it worth it to you to join your partner in finding that joy together or will you pack your things and chase the dubious promises of happiness that leaving will bring?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Turnip Greens and Garrison Keillor

I used to love his show, but it was easier to commit when I was single, and a drive towards Chapel Hill to get a better radio signal required only a couple bucks' sacrifice.

Today, he is doing what I like best, giving a poet the podium, and the musical guests are folksy, bluegrass...the music of nostalgia.

The poet reminds me of AP English IV, when I was the student, not the teacher, and Mrs. Williams explained that the speaker could be free to wander the hills of his youth, even while bound to his meaningless existence, a prisoner in a cell of his own making, and I eagerly raised my hand to participate, as was my habit, and I said, "but isn't that true for everyone? I mean, no offense, Mrs. Williams, but I'm often wandering the hills of my mind while you have us diagramming sentences..."

And she would crease her lips in that smiling smirk and sigh, and remove her glasses and put the stem in the corner of her mouth, and she would say, "you are special," and the class heard her sarcasm, and I embraced her approval.

The turnip greens are steaming my tiny kitchen, as the radio chats, an incessant voice like an old familiar friend who doesn't mind my checking in and out of our conversation as I think about poetry and remember that theology conference at Duke where a Harvard or Yale lecturer discussed the role of preacher as poet, bringing the divine to the vulgar because we cannot understand God without metaphor...And I think about my agnosticism. Someone said, "Agnostics are just atheists without guts," but I rather like believing that I could be wrong about my discoveries...I choose honesty when love and faith are at stake.

I remember when all it took to be a fake was the gentle sucking in of a girl's cheeks to feign dimpled beauty like a character from a Thomas Hardy novel. Before Tinder dates could steal someone else's Instagram images, before Botox injections could plump a lip, before reality T.V. taught us that to be famous for nothing was something...and I dream of a rustic hillside town with a single filling station and the smell of the corn in the air, and I imagine crossing paths with a country girl whose smile is a dream I am willing to lose myself in, twelve hundred miles away, and twenty years later...

The ham hocks at the bottom of my turnip greens have lured the tomcat from under my house, and he paces restlessly outside my window, aware of my antipathy, yet audacious and cold, and for a moment, as a Prairie Home Companion comes to an end, as my sons celebrate a living room triumph over a digital foe, I am where I want to be.

Listening to the Rain, a Facebook Status Update

Though I know it to be a blessing,
there's solemnity in this sound.


Surrounding this house,
undermining the foundations of memories of cold nights
in leaking tents when the cold could not be kept
from the quilting of musky sleepy bodies bound in
musty sleeping bags, and the shivering ensues, soul-quaking,

conjuring images of those who
find kinship under bridges, the freeway overpasses...
edging their ground sheets from the paths of icy rivulets,
iridescent with motor oil...

Survive tonight and find the high ground is cleaner...
winter rye greener,
but the lowlands will bear the shameful flotsam...
debris of our careless lives left behind to be carried
on the shivering shoulders of muddy rain-flooded creeks.

So fall, rain.

Ahead lie dryer days and summer's oven-baked earth
cracking open like the dark gaps that grew between me and you.