“When I’m with you I feel like I’m cheating on her.”
I winced as I retreated, needing a moment to reconcile my husband’s derisive statement.
“I’m the Other Woman?” I beseeched. How could that be?
I was a faithful wife. Dutiful. A partner in the business of our lives, as my husband frequently described me to others with what I believed at the time high praise, especially to a woman who, though once career-minded, stayed home to raise her children. Yet somehow, some way, I had become the detestable, an intruder in a life I had only days earlier called my own.
In that moment I recalled the 1992 film, Single White Female, in which a new roommate calculatingly adopts the identity of the woman whose apartment she shares. I believed my ex husband’s mistress, now fiancée, the same. She injected herself into my life and took my place. Stole my husband and my lifestyle, and today even creepily shares an apartment with him in the same complex where we once lived together as a young family.
Two and a half years later, I finally understand my husband’s words. While a wife I played many parts. But there was one part for which I apparently needed an understudy—his beloved. Yes, I loved my husband. But I was no longer in love with him, and he not with me. Not for a long time. We both felt it.
There are many different types of love. But in order for a marriage to endure, to stand the test of time, to survive illness, financial troubles, and whatever other challenges life throws at us, that one indescribable feeling, the feeling we dismissively categorize in the catchall of love, needs to be present. But not only present, omnipresent, as in pervading every aspect of a couple’s life together.
Love, as we say, is in the air. “Love is like the air we breathe. It may not always be seen, but it is always felt, used and needed.” (Unknown)
I knew that love once. Long ago. Now as I date, a part of my consciousness separates from the sea of activity around me. I absorb. I assess. Could I love this person? Is there a hint of the indescribable in the air, right here, right now?
Most of the time I already have my answer. No.
I believe the potential for love can be sensed within moments. If that moment is not there, I do not believe it ever can be. At least not in the way I would want. Yes, we can grow to love someone we like. We can respect them. Feel attraction. But experience passion? I remain skeptical.
At 41 years old, I have been advised by some to settle for less. Accept the realities of my situation. You are divorced. You are a single mother of three. You are in your forties. You are, you are, you are…
I may be a lot of things but hopeless is not one of them.
My children are vacationing this week in San Francisco with their dad and the other Other Woman, now his bride-to-be. Yesterday the kids called to describe their visit to Alcatraz, the notorious penitentiary known for its perfect record for unsuccessful escapes. As I listened to them recount their day, I silently recalled my now ex husband’s refusal to take me there when I suggested it a few years earlier during a long weekend away. Somehow when it came to me and my wants there was never enough time, enthusiasm, or interest. My children, aware of my desire to also see the landmark, offered to return again with me. My heart warmed at their thoughtfulness, and then I felt regret.
A healthy marriage should be filled with that same sentiment. For years mine was not. I spent far too long accepting less than I wanted or deserved. I gave and received (and received and gave) less attention, less devotion, and less passion – in both love and in life. I lived in solitude as a result, watching the world go on without me from the microcosm I created at home.
Prisons are frequently referred to as correctional institutions, psychiatric hospitals as mental institutions. And, of course, there is matrimony, which is oftentimes described as the institution of marriage. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines an institution as “a place where an organization takes care of people for a usually long period of time.” The marriage I knew did no such thing.
Visiting Alcatraz remains on my bucket list. Except the next time I visit San Francisco it will be as a single woman. I still believe in marriage and hope to be married again one day, though to a man who can be a loving partner to me, and I to him. I no longer live in the confining prison of a loveless marriage, truly one of the lucky ones able to escape.
And freedom has never felt so good.