Today I told my son’s preschool teacher that my husband and I are separating. Her advice, being divorced herself after 30 years of marriage, was to do anything in my power to hold on to my man. She said that it’s just too hard to find a decent man these days so I should stick with this one because at least he brings home a decent paycheck.
This isn’t the first time I’ve received this advice (always unsolicited), and every time I’ve heard it I’m left feeling incredibly sad. Sad for the woman saying it, sad for the men I know who don’t fit that bill, and sad for all the other men I know who are wonderful in so many ways but handicapped by their inability to love and partner with someone. I’m not a man-hater and this is not a post about what a-holes they all are. I love my husband; he is a good person and loving father. I feel sad too that, despite our mutual desire to share a life and years of work to that end, we simply are not good partners to each other. Yes marriage is work, but doing the work doesn’t guarantee success.
At first, I dove in to the hard work of marriage. I made compromises and met him in the middle. But years later I looked around and realized that the middle was nowhere to be found and I’d compromised so much I hardly recognized myself. I missed me. Like a best friend who moved away and only called occasionally, I missed me. So I stopped working on my marriage and started working on myself. I hoped this might benefit the marriage, but in many ways it just shined a brighter light on all the broken parts.
I can’t know what the future holds but I know that the type of thinking expressed by my son’s preschool teacher is part of what got me into this mess in the first place. I don’t want something I don’t want just because their isn’t anything better out there. For me, being lonely in a relationship has always felt lonelier than actually being alone. I hate what the separation means for our kids and I’m doing everything I can to lessen the impact for them. But I also can’t raise our boys to believe that the example we’ve set is what love and partnership is.
Today I read a fantastic article by a writer named Brendan Tapley* about how it’s time for men to step it up in the relationship department. Tapley talks about growing up with 3 sisters and having been both fascinated and horrified by the endless and repetitive relationship advice women’s magazines dole out. He summarizes the headlines of these columns as:
“Why You, Woman, Must Improve Yourself Constantly in Order to Have a Relationship With a Man, Any Man, No Matter How Unworthy He Is!”
Tapley points out that, with good reason, women today have a “profound lack of faith in [men’s] ability to love them, lighten their loads, and be true partners.” Tapley says the 3 things men must do to create lasting and meaningful relationships with women are:
1. Stop using the “I’m just a guy excuse” for thoughtless behaviors such as “forgetting her birthday or being selfish in bed. The ‘just a guy’ defense invariably shifts the burden of thoughtfulness, introspection and conscience–the very acts of love–to the woman.”
2. Form and maintain meaningful friendships with other men. According to Tapley, “from an early age many men are trained to go without loving gestures from [their] first male role models: [their] dads.” Tapley says that this withholding of affection creates the idea that to be manly is to survive without love and, therefore, the very act of behaving lovingly feels emasculating.
3. Let go of the macho bullshit (I’m paraphrasing here). Tapley writes, “As women have become bread winners, started families solo, and grown to expect their best connections to come from other women, modern masculinity has responded by narrowing itself.”
This article resonated with me and reverberated my rejection of the preschool teacher’s advice. I love my two sons way too much to saddle them with these same emotional handicaps. I don’t know what is ahead for me in love and marriage, but I do know that I have some skills. I have the skill to love with zeal and compassion. I have the ability to be happy most anywhere at most anytime. And I have the skill to create a life dictated by my deepest beliefs and desires. Hopefully, I also have the ability to pass these skills on to my boys.
Soundtrack provided by Nancy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy6-JU36lYg
*Brendan Tapley’s article “Man Up!” appears in the Dec/Jan, 2011 issue of BUST magazine. BUST is a smart and feminist version of all the other girly magazines we’ve suffered through.
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