Marriage is a complicated subject. Everyone’s is different because every two people are different. But it would be difficult to find two people more opposite than Nick and me. When we met, he represented all the things I desired: safety, security, solidarity. He was dependable, steadfast, and gentle. He was also stubborn, inflexible, and quite set in his ways after 32 years of bachelorhood. I had plenty of flaws of my own (surprise: still do!), but somehow each of us managed to overlook the other’s, and we chose life together.
Except we didn’t truly have a life together. We did ok for the first few years, but once we had children, our marriage turned more into a business partnership. It was very efficient, but it felt less like a family and more like we were running a company: I managed the house and kids, and he managed his work and providing for our material needs. He stayed in his lane, and I stayed in mine. We were living parallel lives. While I trusted Nick to take care of our family, I lost trust in him as a confidante, the person who held my heart in his hands. He became our family’s business manager while slipping out of the role of my beloved husband and partner. I began to turn more to friends and activities to fulfill my emotional needs, and I spent less time at home.
In addition, I had the sneaking suspicion that my job as a wife and mother wasn’t nearly as important as his. This message came at me in many different ways: the way our family life seemed to revolve around Nick’s work demands, the way our budget dictated our life, the way our culture has normalized both spouses working and the accompanying lifestyle…or maybe it was how we were running our family like a corporation, as if productivity were the highest goal. Not only did this disordered way of life put an insane amount of pressure on everyone; it also caused competition and resentment to flourish, which resulted in some major contention between us.
So here I was, living out my lifelong dream of being a wife and mother, feeling utterly alone in it. Unless my efforts to make a home were valued by the very people for whom I was making them, it all seemed frivolous. My life started to feel like a cliché. I knew things were bad when I started to feel a real sense of sympathy for Betty Draper whenever I watched Madmen. I started to wonder if maybe going back to work was the answer. At least then, a paycheck would affirm a job well done. I felt compelled to compete…to somehow make my home maker role valuable to the corporation-as if it had no inherent value. My choice appeared to be Restless Housewife or Career Woman: there was no in-between.
The expectation I brought to the marriage was that it was my duty to take the lead in providing financially. If Allison chose to work from home, that was ok, but my misguided view was that she should do it the way I preferred it because I was most important in our family (or ”company”) since I provided the money. I thought that money and providing for material needs was what was most important to a family.
What made it harder for us was that I had grown to be a man without knowing how to have deep relationships – ones where I opened my heart and really cared for and connected with the other’s heart. I was pretty good at having shallow relationships, and until we had children, our challenges were relatively minor, so it was easy for us to get along on the surface. Additionally, I was afraid of emotions - mine, Allison’s, whoever’s. To me, emotions led to conflict, and conflict may cause me to lose control, and I felt better if I was in control. So, I did whatever it took to try “to keep mama happy,” which fit into the image I had of being a “gentleman.”
Sadly, at that time, I was unsatisfied but content – it seemed our relationship was normal compared to the marriages around me. The thought was yes, we could always work on communicating better, but fundamentally, we had the best life had to offer. Thank God that Allison knew there was more to life and kept fighting for it (literally and figuratively). She may not have known what and how to do differently, but she wasn’t going to settle, regardless of how much money I made.