Two Hearts Need Not Beat as One

“We must learn how to be alone…but not expectant, not needing the other in order to feel fully alive, and unafraid, and ready for the road.” ~DHG

I’ve never been the marrying type even though I tied that knot at the age of 29. While I enjoy, and can’t resist, a good, dysfunctional relationship, I’m at my best when I am alone. The spiral of relationship dependence easily sucks me in, and I sink, deep and deeper into the identity of the Other until he becomes sick of my whining and clinging and casts me back to the sea. That’s when the spell is broken, and I’m brought back into my own where I stumble and stutter for a while until I find my feet again. Then the next dysfunctional relationship presents itself. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The awareness of my become-dependent-get-dumped pattern hit me in the mouth months before I said, “I do” to the sweet, simple country boy, Lance*.  I was less concerned, this time, about the dumping part and more concerned about losing my identity. I felt like I was giving up ‘everything’ even though I couldn’t list anything that comprised the everything I bemoaned. But I did the “I do” anyway, hoping for a different outcome. Lance was passive and genteel. Quiet and laid-back. He was everything I deplore in a man – all smiles and empty eyes, no strength and fire. Still, I married him. He showed well in public. As long as he didn’t talk, which he didn’t do much, thankfully. He could tell a joke, though. Typically at my expense. But oh, how they laughed and declared, “what a great guy!” and then looked at me with eyes that said, “Finally! Annmarie did something right.” I sank deep into my new role, and adopted a new identity. However, since Lance was so passive, I pretty much got my way. All the time. I didn’t have to yell or cry or threaten to leave. I would declare, “this is how it is and shall be.” and he replied, “ok” every time. I could have easily taken advantage of his passive nature further than I did.  I could have been a real shrew. Luckily, momma taught me better than that. As the marriage wore on and the responsibilities of home and hearth fell mostly on me, I  told Lance I needed him to be an equal partner in our life. He glanced up from his cycling magazine and said, “ok.” Then he sat there, shut off to the emotional needs of his wife and children.

To be fair, Lance wasn’t a bad guy. He had moments of genuine tenderness. And when his jokes weren’t on me, they were funny.  For a couple of years, he did well to make me laugh. But the occasional laugh didn’t support my growth and forward momentum. It moved me to work harder to bridge the chasms between us, which prevented any hope of developing an identity separate from my marriage. I didn’t know what a wife should do, so I suffocated myself to breathe his air. This was my choice, based on my distorted needs and familial beliefs. In order to paint the portrait of a ‘good marriage’, I never complained; in fact, I talked about how good things were to anyone who would listen, and I supported him endlessly. Two adoptions and a major surgery later, I courted a deep, frightening depression. In therapy, I examined every corner of my life. Except my marriage. And when I finally did, I was at my breaking point. The rage and resentment was deafening. I went home and made my last declaration; it’s time to divorce.

Since giving Lance his pink slip and sending him on his way, I have had to work tirelessly to develop a sense of self.  I too-quickly bounced into a frighteningly abusive relationship. It almost made me appreciate Lance. Then, battered and fragile, I began Internet dating. Granted, my emotional state was not the ideal condition under which to search for my soulmate, the love of my life, but dating provided a distraction and allowed me time and experiences during which I could examine my relationship patterns and see precisely where I was going south. I confronted my need for approval and  practiced saying no; I voiced my feelings, asked to have my needs met, using delicate words, and weathered rejection after rejection after rejection. Eventually I started to see that; in fact, I wasn’t being rejected. It simply was not a good match. I was fortunate to have met some wonderful men who have become lifelong friends. They have helped me see my worth and won’t let me settle. No matter how tempting the dysfunction is, they keep me in check.

I believe in the long haul. I believe in having a monogamous relationship. I believe in the sanctity of marriage, but I don’t feel a need to rush back into one. I’d rather focus on the immediate ground under my feet than on the road ahead. I can’t say with an ounce of certainty that I’ll retain my independence if I find a relationship partner. But, maybe I will if the relationship becomes, through mutual, shared effort, a loving partnership. Meanwhile, I am going to relish being “fully alive, and unafraid and ready for the road” so much so that it becomes a deeply ingrained part of me – a part I’ll not be willing to surrender; then I’ll be able to consider the road ahead.


*Not his real name


I can only promise myself that I will focus on what is…not what will be or what was. I have this moment, and it is a moment in which I choose to be fully present.

My son is sleeping a few feet from me. His allergy-labored breathing is the soothing metronome of my evening. I must remember to tell the tooth fairy that he is crashing in my bed tonight, so it knows where to find his tooth. A flash of lightening brings thunder that brings my daughter padding into my room. Son, daughter, puppy, and cats pile on and under sheets in my bed. I turn off my desk lamp and type by the LED of my Mighty Bright book light. Just because I don’t sleep, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

I spent most of my day crying from exhaustion after pushing through two weeks of 10-hour days in a writer’s residency at Goucher College. The residency ended Friday. Saturday I was still buzzing with the heady intoxication of new friends, inspiration and motivation. The hangover set in close to midnight.

My two weeks at Goucher gave me a solace I so desperately needed. I was surrounded by my “people” – fellow writers who ‘got’ each other easily. Writers who existed in a space where competition did not exist. It was a nurturing environment. I drank deep. My writing life had been shelved for nine years prior to this residency. The man I divorced was given his pink slip for many reasons – the most salient, his refusal to allow me time to write. Lance – as he shall be referred from here on – harbored resentment towards my writing life. He distrusted it as though he suspected an affair. Because I thought it my place, I demurred and resumed my position as faithful wife. Those were empty years.

My children were with my parents for the two weeks I was in residency. The house was quiet and clean. After the first week, I missed them terribly, so much that the phone calls became frustrating. I wanted them to talk and talk and talk like they do when they are home. But the beach and TV and dinner and pool were distracting. Meanwhile, happiness and loneliness fought for my own attention. With each day, loneliness won. Come Sunday morning, I was distraught. I crawled from my bed at 11:00 a.m., weeped through two hours of traffic on 95 North and ambled through the rest area food court in a stupor looking for my children. I sobbed when they saw me, jumped up, and tackled me with hugs. My parents were concerned for me, seeing my sadness so palpable. We said hasty goodbyes – band-aids are best ripped off. The car ride home was difficult for me. I was emotionally wasted and anxiety about maintaining my new life patterns were looming large. I focused on the chatter of the children to make the miles slide along.

Once we arrived home and began to unpack, make dinner decisions, clean up, mess up, and even argue a little, I came back into my own. My hinges have begun to come together. And now, late at night, during a thunderstorm, glass of wine almost drank, cats relocated from bed to my desk, kids curled around the puppy, I take the first tentative steps to recreating a writing life for myself.

“My insecurities are in all the right places. Have a look.” ~B. Wakefield


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