Are You Alone, Yet Married?
Feeling single and alone in a marriage.
As I’m nearing the end of my marriage (trying to, since my husband won’t divorce me), I look back at the rollercoaster of emotions throughout the past 17 years.
They weren’t all bad. Our best time was during my first pregnancy. His low libido skyrocketed (he found my pregnancy sexy while I felt like a cow) and he finally stepped it up as a partner. So…9 months out of 17 years…that’s a great track record.
We didn’t have a strong friendship by the time we married. I planned the entire wedding; his contribution was picking one song and showing up on the right day. It wasn’t all his fault. I’m a control freak and took charge without considering it a team effort.
Everything went south after marriage. His work meant he was far away and unable to be home earlier than 8 pm (most often past that). Excluding weekends, that’s 4207 missed dinners. It would have been 4314 if not for coronavirus quarantine. With that metric, it highlights the missed opportunities for nightly conversation and bonding.
To this day I still eat on my own, even when I make dinner for my kids. It’s a two-decade habit to make a sandwich and wander around the house while eating it. Sitting down to eat alone every night when you’re married is more depressing than convincing yourself that it’s acceptable to multitask eating with some other chore.
When we first got married, I tried to make fancy dinners. I’d then put them in containers to eat for lunch. I stopped when he told me he doesn’t like leftovers (it wasn’t my cooking, he would do this for takeout as well). Not eating leftovers for food is both inconvenient and expensive. I enjoyed cooking and it took away my New Wife Thrill to make dinners for my new husband.
I’d get invited to dinners and happy hours after work. Pre-kids, I was a social butterfly bouncing around between friend circles. My friends’ husbands would show up and I was the only one without a mate. Every time. It used to embarrass me but as years went by, my friends became accustomed to my marital state and stopped asking if he would attend.
Our lack of communication meant he didn’t hear a recap each time I went out (I guess that’s a thing couples do? Talk about their day?). I felt alienated having experiences that I couldn’t share.
It’s like I was single without the perks of being single.
I never understood the mantra, “communication is so important in a marriage.” I get it now.
We barely talked in the evening. He was tired from his commute and only wanted to watch TV. Initially, I didn’t mind it. I like TV too. Unfortunately, it replaced our only time for communication.
My only daily outlets for chatting were my work spouses (usually whoever sat near me). That’s where I’d get to talk about my cats, food, entertainment, gossip, and…well everything. It didn’t cross my mind that they were the outlet that I could have shared with my spouse.
The less you talk with your partner, the more you won’t talk to your partner. Last year we were to the point where the only in-depth conversation had would be over the merits of The Mandalorian.
He hated his jobs (yet still traveled far for them) and didn’t want to discuss them. I only found out two years ago that he had employees. I don’t know any of their names.
I can’t blame him for not talking to me. I bickered and fought with him in our early years. It thought that was normal since that’s how I grew up. Fighting at least got him to talk, really talk with me about his feelings and viewpoints. It’s the only time he gave me more attention than the TV.
Eventually, a shift happened where the fighting changed to indifference. It happened after the birth of our firstborn because we never wanted our children to see us fighting. Indifference leads to resentment. Without communication, there was no way to resolve the resentment.
Resentment is not a good thing.
It hurt to not talk and have him reciprocate. I felt no connection with him. That spilled over into our bedroom. We rarely had sex but when we did, it might as well have been between two strangers.
Take your life, throw a bomb on it, and whatever’s left is your life once kids come along. A relationship must be strong before children are born to survive. Probably not a good sign that when the pregnancy test showed positive, I called a friend instead of my husband. When we tried for our second child, my husband asked, “this time, can you tell me first?”.
While he was and is a very good father, he wasn’t around. He would arrive home from work after they went to bed.
My happy hours and after-work dinners didn’t end because I had children. They ended because I didn’t have a spouse who could watch the kids while I went out. People who didn’t know me well snarkily said, “you know you can let your husband watch your kids, right? They can survive without you for a night.” Well, not when they’re alone at home until Child Protective Services is called.
When others found out about my husband’s absence in the evenings, they were shocked. I would tell them that I was a single mother, Monday through Fridays.
When anything goes wrong with the kids in daycare or school, it’s on me to drop everything at work and get them. I leave them in our afterschool care program right up until the end of the day so that I can squeeze in work. Truthfully, I used my work time to do household administrative duties (paying bills) and paperwork (an autistic child means a constant stream of insurance forms to fill out).
The stress of being a faux single mother wore on me. Hats off to real single mothers, y’all are serious troopers. My life was rigid and left little room for fun. Leave work, pick up kids before childcare closes, make dinner, nag at kids to eat dinner, bath, story, bed. For years, that was my routine. Sure, I occasionally became “fun mom” by mixing it up after work but that sometimes led to meltdowns and tantrums which I had to deal with on my own with the absence of their dad.
If both parents are around, there’s at least an understanding of how the evening went. How the kids behaved and any struggles. It’s completely different when every single day the onus is on you to tell your spouse everything about their own children. It felt like a weekly status meeting at work.
I don’t fault him for his absence and I’m grateful he worked hard to help provide financially. I fault him for not recognizing the extra workload it put on me and the additional effort needed when he came home to rebuild “us”.
Some couples can go to counseling and resolve these issues. Date nights pop up and more snuggling on the couch happens. Not for us. The more we did marriage counseling, the more can of worms it opened. Then we’d go home and stew in resentment over issues not resolved within our allotted 55-minute appointment.
In the end, it took a toll on my marriage. I’m at the end of it now (assuming he’ll agree to the divorce) and I see how utterly tragic it was for two people to be married but completely alone.
It’s been seven months since we’ve been in social isolation. It highlighted our emotional distance. We text our questions for each other from opposite ends of the house. We still don’t eat meals together. Planning every single meal for children during a pandemic has brought as much fun as stabbing my earballs with a fork and yet, he and I don’t even plan our meals together. He’ll order himself lunch from Grubhub while I scrounge in the freezer for something to whip together for myself.
Turns out, proximity didn’t solve our loneliness.
Last night, a friend swung by and she stayed over for half an hour. I haven’t seen her in months and it was a relief to stare a new face without the confines of a Zoom window. I wanted so badly to scream, “take me with you!” when she left. Being in the physical presence of my husband but still feeling alone is draining and unbelievably depressing.
Much like coronavirus, my thoughts on partnership have mutated and evolved. I’m in a relationship with someone else who also feels lonely in this marriage. It isn’t bringing out the best in us. It isn’t making us appreciate each other. We aren’t the ones on Facebook posting, “If I’m going to be stuck inside for months with someone, I’m so #blessed it’s with this person!” We’re doing what we’ve always done, which is to just exist without feeling any spark of life or happiness with another person. This isn’t a partnership I can tolerate anymore.
He’s okay with that fucked up symbiotic relationship, but I’m not. It’s not fair for either of us to keep up the charade of lonely roommates. If I’m going to feel alone, then I might as well be alone.