You want to say I’m brave, telling this story? Okay, fine, for this one post I’ll go along with it.
Brace yourselves, because shit is about to get crazy sexist and totally un-PC up in here. You can call me brave. . . NOW.
I believe I bear partial responsibility for my husband’s infidelity.
It was normal day when he called, midweek. The big kids were still little kids then. It was cloudy, a little drizzly, not unlike today. I was home for the morning, and had just been thinking how much I hated our floors. Seriously, they were so ugly.
His voice was tense, a little needy. He hesitated, and when he spoke, he sounded . . . weak. “I think I need to talk to someone about my anxiety. Do you think -- Can you help me find a therapist or something?”
A need expressed, clearly, humbly, from the person to whom I’d committed the very best of me.
I said sure. Yeah, okay. Fine. I then suggested he take a deep breath, get over it, and get back to work. Oh, but I tacked on an “I love you” at the end. No need to be callous, right?
Bear in mind, professionally I had directed multiple people to therapists. I had reassured them there was no judgment, no stigma, nothing to feel bad about. He was asking not just because I was his wife, but because I knew how to handle a concern like this one.
Not when it was my husband I didn’t.
There was another time, when I told him he didn’t care about his kids because he wanted to make cookies, and they’d already had a lot of sugar that day.
Then there was the time he’d had a bad day at work, and vented about a harsh comment on a review until I changed the subject. He sounded so weak, talking about the things that hurt him. Whining that it was unfair. I hated weakness in a man. Oh, somebody hurt your feelings? Dude, just no. Don’t. Get over it.
And there was the time he finally told me everything, in the middle of night, in a whisper. “I’m sorry I’m such an asshole.” Then he cried.
If I had held him before like I was finally able to hold him then, our story might have been different.
Before, I only wanted his strong side.
If you know my husband personally, you know he is a strong man. He has strong muscles and bones, with an equally strong personality. In a word, Jake is a force. If he is in the room, you know it.
It’s hot. And it’s endearing. I love it, always have.
He’s also a human being, with the full range of emotions human beings can have. Oh, and he cries when animals die in movies.
Actually he cries at most movies. Deadpool was the most recent.
When we were engaged, the movie-crying thing was a weird little slightly uncomfortable quirk I decided I could tolerate. Because, tears. On a man’s face. <cringe>
If you were at our wedding you will remember I sobbed uncontrollably through my vows, by the way.
See, what I really wanted was my idea of Jake. I wanted his sensitivity when it suited me, like when I needed to be listened to, or when my feelings were hurt, or when I felt afraid. I was the woman, so I got to have hurt feelings and moments when I was scared. He was the man. He didn’t get the luxury of uncomfortable emotions.
Oh, and it’s not just me. In Daring Greatly, which every single person on the planet should be reading, author Brené Brown writes about our cultural attitude toward men and vulnerability, with this unsettling quote from a one-time lecture attendee:
“[Men] have shame. Deep shame. But when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us. . . My wife and daughters . . . they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but c’mon. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that.” (Brown, 2015, p. 85)
Of course, when you marry someone, you don’t actually get to marry just the parts you like. I had committed to living the depth and breadth of the human experience with this man, fears and hurts included. There was no contingency for picking out the parts that didn’t suit my (completely antifeminist, fairytale, painfully limited) notions of what a man should be.
I constructed our marriage until he fit – or I thought he fit – my ideas of what a good man was.
That, I believe, made it infinitely harder for him to be a “good man” when the choice was set in front of him.
Choosing to accept emotional availability, or any other form of intimacy, when it’s offered is a personal choice, and I do believe we are all individually accountable. I don’t blame myself, nor do I take responsibility for, Jake's actions. Yes, those choices were wrong; no, he shouldn’t have made them. I do not offer and he certainly has never offered an excuse for any of it. But I believe my attitude towards him, my preconceived notions of what I was supposed to have in a husband, made it far easier for him to make the choices he did.
I wasn’t there for him, for the first ten years of our relationship. I made it look like I was, even to myself. But I was only there for the aspects of his fully human experience with which I was comfortable. As far as the rest was concerned, he was on his own. Or, preferably, not experiencing them at all.
And no, I don’t believe anyone else was there, ever, to love him unconditionally and without judgment in his most vulnerable moments. I certainly don’t think he found that elsewhere.
In fact, I don’t believe he found it anywhere, ever, until we were able to surrender the weight of our preconceived ideas and find genuine acceptance in each other.
Finding someone who knows you – even the worst and weakest parts of you – and loves you fully anyway: That’s everything.
Too late, perhaps, but not too little.
Brown, B. (2015). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Avery.