One Hand Clapping
For many years — far longer than it should have — it mattered to me if he loved me. I gave a lot of thought and put much effort into pleasing him, into being a good and caring wife. I believed my own success was measured by how happy I could make my husband.
It was difficult to know if he was happy. He was not much for casual conversation. He hoarded his words the way a miser hoards his silver. I looked for signs that he was satisfied. When other women complained that their husbands criticized or tried to control them, I felt lucky to be married to a man who let me be; who never said harsh words or pointed out my faults. However, he never praised me, either. He did not recoil from my touch, but neither did he seek it out.
When my father passed, it was a time to take stock of my life, of my marriage. I stopped acting out of habit and paid close attention to any change in our dynamic. I suppose I always suspected the truth, but it was at this time that I finally came to terms with it: I was in our marriage alone. He was physically present but emotionally absent.
He was never purposely cruel, but neither was he particularly loving, and there was a kind of cruelty in that. He made few demands of me, but neither did he notice or appreciate my efforts for him. Whether I made him his favorite dinner or let him fend for himself, it mattered to him not at all. He could be just as happy eating something small and simple, just enough to satisfy his hunger, as to eat a meal that took me hours to prepare.
If I attended to the small things for his comfort and convenience or if I was lazy and selfish, he cared not one whit. If I made our home nice and cozy, or did not bother to clean or neaten up for days, he didn’t seem to notice. If he wanted to sit and read but there was something on his chair, he wordlessly moved it. He asked for nothing and did not complain when he didn’t get it. Sometimes, he’d say or do something to please me because it seemed expected of him. Initially, I took these small scraps as appreciation but I came to understand he was simply making the minimum effort he felt he could get away with. We coexisted civilly, politely, but without intimacy.
In the early years, my duties as a wife and homemaker defined me, gave my life focus and purpose. I played my role, day after day, putting one foot in front of the other, not paying much attention to where I was going. Or why.
But eventually I realized that he neither saw or understood my feelings, and that any effort on my part in that direction were for naught. He moved through life without engaging. He was quite happy to exist inside his own head. Emotionally, I was superfluous.
It was then I began to consider if there weren’t more fulfilling ways to spend my life.
And that was the beginning of learning to love myself.