Loving the One You’re With, is it really the Road Less Travelled?

A few months ago I read, with great enjoyment, an old but still very relevant book, The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. The book is subtitled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, and it is definitely worth reading.

The author, is a psychologist by training and brings out several interesting ideas with examples about common types of neurosis and disorder in the human psyche. Yesterday I started reading the section on love, a main theme in his book as can be deduced from the subtitle. He defines love, as the ” the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth“. The author admits that his chosen definition might not be the only one, or even the correct one, but he is content with emphasising the choice and action elements of love. He refers several time to the “work of loving”.

The author also acknowledges that love is too big and too wide to limit to a single definition, so he tries to establish common grounds through a process of elimination. Because while philosophers and psychologist differed significantly on defining what love is, there is general agreement on what love is NOT. The books itself gives several examples on cases of dependency and self-sacrifice that are clearly not love. But the author also insists that love is NOT an emotion, it is action. He repeats several times that “love is as love does“. He also feels that the term “falling in love” denotes an emotion based on erotic attraction. It is nature’s way of tricking us into reproducing and preserving the human race. Once the honeymoon phase ends, he says, we slowly fall out of love and this is where the work of loving starts. What he calls real love, or true love, is rooted in the will, so choice and intellect play a huge role in it, unlike the falling in love, which is all emotions and seems mostly to be out of our choice or control.

Interestingly, he does not deny the potential and power of the emotion. He explains, that falling in love with another person destroys the boundaries of an individual’s ego. The lover becomes hugely invested in another person, and this destruction of the ego, feels exhilarating. When we fall in love we are reborn into the wonder of feeling unity with our beloveds. He compares this unity to the one we felt as newborns with our mothers and the whole universe. But the novelty of this feeling wears off, and we soon find out that our needs do not match those of our lover, and the ego boundaries rise again. For babies this is the moment of starting awareness and experience, and for a couple it is where falling in love ends and the work on loving starts. The journey of loving, as he sees it, is made of the effort of listening, giving attention and bracketing, the conscious act of putting oneself into the shoes of another, suspending judgement, and seeing the world through their eyes.

This rational view of love mirrored one I have believed in for the longest time. It is also rooted in the teachings of Christianity where the sanctity of marriage, and monogamy, need to be protected and preserved. It is also a simple practical tenet of life: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Or simply just love the one you are with and ignore all impulses of love that come your way, because they are an illusion anyway. True love is hard work and commitment to a common goal, to raising a family, to mutual spiritual growth. I agreed with this wholeheartedly until a few years ago, and I still agree now but with many reservations.

I have seen many working marriages, even good ones, that are based on types of partnership and reciprocity, on the work of loving, in the words of Dr. Peck. These marriages always have some rewards and fulfilment for one partner, or both, and they can be very solid, with each partner being courteous and attentive to the other. But while I once believed that attaining a good marriage through the work of loving is the only happiness possible, I now recognise that this type of love has its limitations.

There are times when two souls, despite all good intentions, can head towards two different paths of evolution. There are times, when one partner evolves, and another stays on the same path. No amount of loving work can fix this. The answer sometimes is to accept it, and continue to love, if not the husband (or partner), then the children (or the life/business/career/home) we created together. The mutual love for the children carries many marriages through. Countless women have settled for it in my culture. They married, they loved and adapted to their lot, their destiny, and that was their life. But sometimes there are other choices. The author himself admits, perhaps grudgingly given his Christian background, that he believes an “open marriage is the only kind of mature marriage that is healthy and not seriously destructive to the spiritual health and growth of the individual partners”. So deep down it seems that his belief in the work on loving, in exclusive monogamy, is rather flawed.

The work of loving, and the will to love are powerful antidotes to human promiscuity and experimentation. It will certainly allow many couples to experience gentle loving, and sometimes very happy, relationships. It is a good rule, but it does not explain everything there is to love, even if it accounts for most shades of it. From my observation, I feel it is rather the road we are most likely to travel towards a rational and secular type of love. It accounts for the true love of friends, companions and for most lasting partnerships. The rarest type of love, however, is the one that stirs the soul. And the journey to this type of love is truly the one very rarely travelled. I will try to delve into this in my next posts.


You can borrow a copy of the The Road Less Travelled from the Openlibrary, which is an excellent resource for reading out of print books.

Anything But This….

I would never get involved with a married man. This is a rule I am unlikely to break because of my experience as a divorced woman. The script will be familiar only with different actors.

During the final stages of my ailing marriage, my ex husband found someone new. I strongly suspected this, but never worried about validating my suspicions or confronting him. I was loyal, and accepted the emotional wasteland of my marriage, after I was given the opportunity to give complete and unconditional love to the small human being my husband and I created together. I believed that he would soon rally back and we will be able to build something out of our flawed partnership for the sake of our child.

In this naive conviction, I was shocked then crushed when the husband chose the other woman and sent me away with my babe in arms. The world as I knew it ended. But then I awakened, and after experiencing the crushing loneliness, only possible within a relationship, I found out that now I was merely alone with my little baby. Soon I was aware that I was no longer standing under the looming shadow of my husband’s perpetual discontent. I began to see opportunities I never noticed before, I prospered in a new job and lived in new places.  While I regained my freedom and happiness, the other woman ended up with everything I lost; the tyrant husband, the shadow of discontent, and the unhappiness, followed closely by another divorce.

I am not crazy. I never want to become that other woman.

Not For Me

Twice in as many days I have been told that I should be open to change in my life and look for a mate. One well-meaning friend and her mother spoke again about getting me to color my prematurely grey hair. And my supervisor at work told me that I should not let the child rule my life. Sometimes, like today for example, I feel they are right.  My child who turns five tomorrow is a tyrant in the making, he figures he owns me.  When I went on a long-deferred bike ride with him this afternoon, I could not even ride in a circle of twenty meters around him, and he did not want to ride next to me complaining it is too hard. In fact, I can hardly call my outings with him exercise because I normally ride so slow, that I always feel a breath away from toppling over. Not fun at all.

Yesterday I started thinking about relationships again. After breaking up the only dating experience I had since my divorce, I have come to the conclusion that I do not have it in me anymore to invest emotionally in a new relationship, with all the insecurities it brings. If I were ten or even six years younger maybe I would have had no other choice than to go through the endless questioning of am I beautiful enough, tall enough slim enough, or hot enough to be marketable with men.

Today, I do not want to market myself as a commodity or promote my female assets and attractive appearance. Yes, I may be open to love again, but it is a different type of love that I am looking for. When I was still brand new on the marriage market I settled for a second-hand candidate, who is much older but far less mature, so I got duped twice.  Had I married the boy next door from back home, I would have had the wonderful comfort of being with someone I have known all my life, growing with him and through him. I gave this transformation process my best shot with my ex, and I changed dramatically to adapt to him, but even that hasn’t helped keep my marriage together.  Today I feel I have neither the time nor the energy to learn about someone and adapt my personality to suit him, least of all a man who has never gone through the journey of a marriage.

When my supervisor raised the subject, and she is perhaps the nosiest woman this side of the Atlantic (a quality that comes naturally to almost all women of a certain age, from a certain are in the middle east), I brushed off her suggestion of having a boyfriend by saying that it is hard for me to shake off my conservative Arab identity and adopt a free attitude to casual relationships; I only wanted to protect myself from her nosiness. However, I feel that my excuse is not that far from the truth. Middle Eastern culture is one that expects a woman to mold herself to the wishes of her partner, so a traditional relationship is not entirely a 50-50 partnership, the woman does two-thirds of the work while a man, a good one that is, can get away with one-third.  For a long time, women have resorted to various dubious methods to overcome this particular mindset, and they usually get their way by rejecting their men in bed, or denying certain privileges. These soft-power devices can only be used in traditional settings, and are thus becoming less prominent in the modern world. Nevertheless, the traditional role of women in a marriage will take longer to evolve into an equal partnership. Men still expect women to meet them more than halfway on most issues, and what is worse, is that mothers raise their daughters to lower their expectations in regards to partnership in marriage, thus repeating the cycle endlessly.

My parents have a traditional marriage. The role of my mother was mostly confined to raising the children and looking after the home. Thus, I was raised with these lowered expectations and carried them into my marriage. It took me almost seven years to realize that when things went wrong in my marriage, it was not because I could not cook, or did not keep the house up to the standards of my husband. After years of desperately trying, I understood that my marriage was a disaster, not because of my failure to meet the golden criteria of my ex. It just shattered because I was with a man who expected me to change completely to please him, while he was never ready to do so. The lesson was tough, and it took me too long to learn. That is why I am forever afraid to fall into the same trap. And that is why I am afraid of this traditional Arab identity to surface if I ever let my guard down and entered into a partnership where I felt the tiniest bit inferior.

This is perhaps what killed my relationship project. It came down to a woman in the middle of her life, and a younger man who is still starting his first test-run. I feared that at some point I will have to change too much, or sacrifice too much to make it work. I feared that I would be obliged to make myself look younger, maybe try for another child at the eleventh hour, or change too many of my ways to be accepted as a possible partner.

My friend’s mom already flashed the warning signal in my face. No matter how much men tell you they like you the way you are, they always love you in younger or prettier versions. This was true in my experience, and unfortunately it doesn’t even stop at the color of the hair, it went beyond to influence, taste, friendships, and private activities. Even how long you stay awake every night after husband falls asleep.

If my life was a Hollywood movie, I will meet tomorrow a single father, a blameless victim who is trying to rebuild a family for his kid,  or stumble upon a long-lost male friend, who has finally found the courage too look for me after he became free himself. But, eish, as we say in South Africa, Hollywood this isn’t. It is just the drudgery of everyday life, and no matter how I wish for it, It is impossible to have an already broken-in husband, without first going through the pain and blisters of trying to fit a boyfriend. If I really wanted a mate, I will have to go to square one, and look amongst the junk, the flotsam of broken marriages, or the ones nobody bothered to pick in the first place. Try to sift the one genuine gem from mountains of fakes, and go through all the idiocy of dating, pretending, and trying to please. No sorry, not for me. I am particularly proud of who I am now, and where I am. I did not arrive here without pain or sacrifice, and I am comfortable and happy in my own skin. My gray head of hair suits me fine. My boy is my buddy and my companion and I enjoy being around him, most of the time. When the time comes for him to spread his wings and leave me  for his own set of friends I will resort to my work or the activities I normally never have time for. I will not be different from many of my single childless friends, I will still be happy. I will not change to catch a man, I will not change to please or keep a man. I will only change to please the woman who looks at me from the mirror every morning, because she is the only person who is guaranteed to stay with me for the rest of my life.


Tactless Ex-es

My ex will not win any prizes for tact this lifetime. I have suffered enough for his tact throughout our marriage but mostly during the awful times around our divorce. It could have been worse, of course, had I at any point contested the divorce, asked for more child support or a better settlement.

One of his most awful deeds at that time was forwarding the acrimonious emails of his mom and his older sister to my inbox. The emails had been intended for his eyes only, hateful words against me from people who hardy know me, that might have massaged his pride and given him the support he “needed” in a predicament he most certainly asked for. I was extremely hurt by his action at the time-which I assume was his intention in the first place. Nevertheless, this action went unpunished on my side because at the time I still cared, and most importantly I still needed him to look after Robert while I tried to get back to work. To tell the truth I do not believe I could ever punish my ex for anything because I am fully aware of my son’s love to him and I do not want to be the one to demonize his beloved papa for him; soon enough he will get to know him by himself and make a judgment. I will not extend the same curtsey though to the mother and older sister of my ex, I still want nothing to do with them and that relationship will never be salvaged. My rationale is that my son has only one father but more than one aunt and he has a loving grandmother already. Maybe it is also my way to punish my ex indirectly since I cannot get him directly.

Today featured the latest installments of tact from my ex. He dropped off our son with me while I was attending a baby shower with the girls. I noticed a yellow envelope in the front pocket of Robert’s baby bag. I took it out to see writing that looked familiar. On one side of the envelope it said: “From: Duzi* (brown-noser)” the other side said: “To: XXX (boss)”


I could not believe my eyes, it was a birthday card I had given him in 2004 or more likely in 2005 (the year I first attempted to split up with him).  What is the purpose of giving it back? I have no idea and I do not care. The card however gave me an insight into the woman I was five or six years ago, feeling the pain, the pressure, the joylessness of my life and still trying and struggling to put a brave face on it, and still loving in my own helpless way. It definitely did not make me miss that marriage.

At the time I was helping my ex run a service station in the Eastern Cape and he was my boss. It was perhaps the toughest few years in my life both personally and professionally. Not even getting thrown out of my home with a six-month old baby comes close, because in the Eastern Cape I was oh, so alone. I had no friends, and no support whatsoever. It is no wonder that in the end I sought the help of people who were almost strangers to me, to make my break and escape.

In the Eastern Cape I visited a therapist for the first time in my life. During that maiden session I poured out my disappointment and grief about a marriage that has never really given me any joy. I spoke of a husband who almost always undermined me. I will never forget the therapist asking me whether there was anything good in that marriage, and me finally admitting that there wasn’t. I haven’t been to a therapist again after that. That session was a watershed experience and set in motion my escape out of that marriage. Soon after that I drove from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town. My ex, having realized that there was no stopping me changed his tact at that crucial juncture and started prying on my emotions my still present love – or dependency, on him.

It was to be the beginning of a couple of years where I remained torn between leaving and staying, and I ended up deciding to stay once our son was conceived. It is ironic that after all that the final decision of divorce was forced upon me, but it was the correct thing to do. I have never looked back. I do not look back unless the memory is forced upon me like it was with this card.

I will just post it here for the record. It meant something in its time, but it is now just a piece of history. All I can say is, why the heck does he return the card and not return the books I gave him as presents all these years, now that would have been something I can use.

*Duzi is the nickname my ex gave me. I never looked it up and now I think he meant doozy.  It is given many meanings in the urban dictionary among them: bizarre, daunting, but also extraordinary. Knowing my ex I doubt he ever meant it in a nice way. It was rather an expression of how odd he found me.

Relationships: The View At Midlife

As my life starts to get into some semblance of orderliness and my son slowly outgrows his attachment to mommy, my mind starts to wander and think about relationships and whether I am ready for a new one in my life.

Since my divorce I have put myself completely out of that market-place, and Cape Town is notorious for being the wrong place to put yourself on the singles market if you were a straight woman. A straight man meanwhile will have lots on offer for his person, my ex can testify to this as he had started “seeing someone” before I even left. I remember asking him very offhand about another woman a week or so before I was pushed into leaving, and he went ballistic.  His rage was so animated and full of pointed fingers, it shocked me into noncommittal silence, and told me more than I really wanted to know.

My ex is perhaps the strongest factor putting me off a relationship, because in all honesty there nothing that I miss about that marriage. For me it was a short step away from a wasteland in every way, and every year that passes gives me more reasons to celebrate rather than regret my divorced status. Celibacy is fine once you get used to it, and Arab women are well-designed to cope with and accept frustration on that front, so I have no reason to complain like many of my female friends do when they spend a long period of drought in relationships and sex.

An Arabic saying goes: Solitude is better than the unworthy companion, and I spend my evenings living this wisdom. My days are filled with my son and life is good, so far. Still sometimes I wonder, should I ever venture into this territory of relationships, what is there for me to find? What do I have to offer? After all, I have half of my life behind me.

Sometimes I feel sad when I contemplate all the things I have missed. I have had a childhood love, a first love, and a committed love and they have all failed for me, and in this failure I have become more cautious, afraid and cynical. I believe that I will never have the same capacity for giving in a relationship as I had in the past, and I fear that I will never really know the next man in my life. After all, it took me nine years and a divorce to truly know my ex.

A friend of mine has been with the man who is now her husband almost forever. She knows this man’s feelings and quirks like she knows herself, it must be such a great comfort to sleep next to a man who you can trust, whose history you know, who was your best friend’s brother or just the guy next door whose mother is your mom’s friend. You might have gone to school with the first girl he dated, or you might have giggled and gossiped about him with your girlfriends long before he wriggled his way into your heart and your life. The circumstances of my life did not allow for such a relationship. I grew up away from my birth country and the summers were fertile times for fantasy and short infatuations but these do not survive over long distances and do not outlive the volatility of teenage feelings. Another impediment in my character is that I am not easily impressed by the guys I meet, and even in my younger years I gravitated towards older men rather than boys of my age.  In forty years of life, my heart fluttered for no more than half a dozen men. Some of my loves were platonic and childish, others were merely one-sided crushes whose only product was love-lorn sighs and a heightened sensitivity to love songs. Ironically, my lack of experience in relationship dynamics were often brought up by my ex as one of my key failures.

I don’t know how anyone can condemn such a thing as the lack of history, especially when it is such a transient state in anybody’s life. I have missed out on meeting the man whose history I would become, I was just a station in the life of my husband, he came to me from a history of another marriage and went on -I presume- to his future as a brooding single man, whose mysterious sadness and misfortune in marriage would intrigue and touch the hearts of many unsuspecting women as it did mine.

Please do not get me wrong, dear blog. I am not actively seeking to complicate my life with a relationship. At the moment I am content to put my head to the grindstone. I work to pay the bills and forge a decent future for my son. The joy I have in life almost exclusively revolves around him. Occasionally, however, I do catch the passing interest of a person, from the straight male variety, but they mostly spell TROUBLE in red capital letters for me. There is the balding middle-aged guy who greets me every morning as I make my daily trip to Robert’s school. He must be well off I tell myself because he has his breakfast every day at that fancy coffee shop cum deli in Green Point. Perhaps he does have a wife, or a couple of ex wives who are glad to be rid of him, who knows. There is the journalist and media specialist I met on one of my assignments, I went out with him for coffee once, and he makes no secret that he has a family somewhere out-of-town. I exchange friendly chats with him every once in a while but I do not see this going anywhere past amicable friendship. There is also the businessman I met on my flight to Geneva, he is getting a boat built here in Cape Town, and he will sail it one day towards Europe. He is smart and wealthy but he reminds me too much of my ex, someone who can tell a thousand and one stories about the world but is uncomfortable divulging information about his private life. This man also has an ex-wife, with grown children, and a two-year-old daughter by another woman. He did not say whether she was also an ex or a current partner; I am more than familiar with this type of omission.

These poor possibilities of relationship may seem sad to anyone else but I am a realist. Also since I was raised in the Arab misogynist society I am less likely to question the fairness of partnership equations when it comes to long-term relationships between men and women. In my culture as long as a man can financially provide and can function in the bedroom then he can marry any woman he sets his mind on; age and compatibility in minor things such as education are not a consideration.  Rich men in oil kingdoms are well-known for fathering dozens of kids by teenage wives well into their sixties and seventies. This was before the age of Viagra and co, and I am sure modern Arab men can continue to break records in the next few generations. My birth country is not one of those rich oil fiefdoms and people generally have a hard time providing for one family, and this is perhaps the only reason Syrian men stick to one wife, although many of them can and will be unfaithful at some stage.

I left my birth country at 28 to go and work in the United Arab Emirates. While I was at home I still got offers of marriage from reasonably aged and decently educated men. Things changed when I went to the playground of the wealthy and would-be wealthy. An octogenarian with whom I had a professional conversation while I was working as a secretary started hinting at marriage, and a colleague of my father’s whom I know to have a wife and family in rural Egypt also tried to make me consider relocating with him to the land of the Nile. Thinking back at how depressed these encounters made me, I feel lucky that I said yes to my ex husband. At least he was younger, better-looking and more educated and intelligent than my other suitors. So if this was my lot at 28/29 years, what can I expect as a single mother of 40? Not much.

I cannot rewrite my history or unlearn what I have learned over the past decade, so the next man in my life will have a woman who cannot love as freely as she did before, which is really a shame, and my previous experience makes me shy away from any man with a past, and the only solution I find is to look for a younger partner. I don’t know why this is such a bad idea, especially in my society. History tells us that Mohammad’s first wife was a woman with history and many previous husbands. She was rich and perhaps offered stability and comfort to the younger man. Early Arabs did not have qualms about a woman marrying a younger man, it is only modernity that made such a partnership unacceptable.

Of course this is only fantasy at this stage. I cannot think of one good reason to venture again into the uncertainty of partner search. We all know that the good ones are already raising their children with their blissfully happy wives. The good-looking widower who is a single father to a child? This is a figment of the imagination or something that we saw on Sleepless in Seattle and even then he would go for the single woman who never married.

Not even escape literature has a willing partner for the 40-something single mom. All heroines of romance novels seems to be blushing virgins (not the case for the males of course). That said, perhaps there is a niche market for me, writing trashy escape novels for desperate middle-aged females.. My first novel will feature a 40-something single mom and the 30-something single hunk who falls for her; dreams are free.

That’s Me in The Corner

Last week I reconnected with a dear friend from the home country and we had an online chat. The talk led me down memory lane and made me think of old songs and music that I listened to in the past, songs that punctuated my life and formed a sort of accompanying sound track to its incidents.

I think everyone has these songs, those that we fell in love to, and those that helped us fall out of love.  Because of my background my soundtrack is an odd mixture of influences and genres, my current iPod play list has songs in Arabic, English, Spanish and German in addition to instrumentals, new age and podcasts. For this blog though I will stick with songs that have special significance for my life.

The melancholy strings of REM’s Losing My Religion take me back to my marriage. I picture myself sitting next to my husband in the car humming along to the words that spoke of my life.

My marriage was a singular fight of trying to keep up with my ex and trying to squeeze out a little bit of love and appreciation out of him. I often felt I was stuck in a corner, especially at the beginning of our relationship when I literally had nobody to turn or speak to. Sometimes I thought the feelings we shared originated only in my wishful thinking or my dreams, because there was nothing tangible in my life to show that he loved me. That is exactly what I thought the singer was talking about when he said:

That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spot light losing my religion. Trying to keep up with you and I don’t know if I can do it.  Now I said too much, I haven’t said enough. I thought that I heard you laughing, I thought that I heard you sing. I think I thought I saw you try.

Listening to it now is like riding in an emotional time capsule, it takes me back ten years to the feelings, the emotions and the torment. I can see myself then, in the passenger seat of a car on a Johannesburg free-way, humming along to the song next to a silent and brooding partner. Yes, that was me in the corner.. No more, no more.

Inside Dialogue – Ways of a Strange World

There is a full moon outside, and it is the last full moon I will see from this window. I remember seeing the one just before Robert was born, and thinking that when the next one comes I will be holding a baby in my arms. I spoke up my thoughts and dreams at the time to Ron, and I thought he shared them.

Now there are no more future plans for us to share, no more dreams. The pain is intense, it tears at my gut, and along with it there is furious anger that wants to claw out at his eyes, and tear his heart out, like he did mine. Anger and pain alternate in waves, and my head throbs with their intensity. At the end of the day, I feel drained, yet sleep eludes me. It is hard to sleep next to a stranger, and harder still to lie next to a loved one who has become a stranger.

I lie awake and think, of words, intimacies, and laughs we shared, and I wonder how many of them were contrived. For two years I was very happy, but my castle was built on sand, and it crumbled as all sand castles do. I will need time, to sift through the rubble of this marriage. I was married to two different men, and someday I will know which of them was real. Tomorrow we put an end to this. I will try to get over my feelings of bitterness, anger and disappointment. I do not want to waste further energy on destructive emotions. I would rather put my energy to better use. The most profound hurt, though, is the fact that I still love Ron. I know it, because I am still capable of making excuses for him and his behaviour. I am being too kind on him, though. There are other people out there, who come from broken homes and abusive families; people who survive violent crime, wars and torture, and can still rise above their pain, and give back to humanity. In fact, strong people can move on beyond the hurt of their past. They make it good, by breaking the chain of hatred and refusing to pass it on. The weak are the ones that wallow in the misery of the past and spread it like a disease. At this juncture of my life, I don’t want to pass along the pain, indignation, hatred and disappointment onto others, especially not onto Robert; I will not criticize, vilify or degrade anyone. The passage of time will be the greatest test, and the future will tell on everyone, as it did before.

This month among my close friends there was the wedding of Jason and Fiona, and in a few days’ time, a little girl ‘Olivia’ will be born to Monique and Bart. My friend -and future house mate Jackie broke up with her boyfriend, and I am getting divorced. I remember the irony of Ron saying that 2008 will be great. “What was he thinking?” I ask myself, and it is a question that will keep coming up for some time, and in relation to much of his actions in the last two year. 2008 is a leap year, and in my culture leap years are billed as difficult and unlucky. I do not agree with this theory; I think that a leap year is a period of adjustment and purge. It clears the slate and heralds new beginnings, and things that are waiting to happen tend to occur. Ailing people die, and also ailing marriages; people tie the knot after long engagements and babies are born. We are just part of the dance of human relationships, on simple or leap years. Change is always part of life.

And that’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

If I had thought that I was going to tackle raising a child on my own, I would perhaps been daunted by the sheer magnitude of the task. Maybe I would have chickened out and lost my chance to have one. I am therefore glad that I was too short-sighted to glimpse into the future.

Over the first six years of our marriage, I did everything Ron’s way. I gave up my simple dreams for his grand ones, and I even talked myself into completely adopting his dreams instead. Whatever I did, or did not do, failed to make him any happier. Ron’s unhappiness sucked my energy and I only experienced glimpses of contentment when I was away from him. His constant grumpiness was frequently blamed on me: My inadequacy, my poor cooking, my substandard cleaning and lacking organization skill, and my overall laziness. My unhappiness though had one reason: I was living my life in a mindless pursuit of some lofty goals and dreams he set for us. The days were rushing past and I was missing the pleasures of the journey, because of intense concentration on the goal. Also, I was getting older and it was becoming harder for me to lie to myself and deny my longing to become a mother.

When I left Ron for these reasons, he was the one who came back to me. He claimed he was starting to see things my way. He wanted to join me, living the good and simple life. He came on very strong, saying all the right words and making all the right moves. He charmed my friends and made them sing his praises. Everyone expected me to give him another chance, so I relented even though I was still enjoying my hard earned independence. As Ron grew more confident of my presence on his side, glimpses of his intense and grumpy persona started to show. Again, I was party to long conversations detailing his woe; I was sucked into the trials and tribulations of dissolving the business, and finishing the work on the house. And although I had left the past and all its baggage behind I tried to come with supportive advice and encouragement. I did not want to be part of any decision that involved the past, but Ron insisted on making me part of it. The pressure made my cool analytical mind realise that the conflict of interests between us is still very real, and that I needed to break away for good. Yes, I staged the break-up in a very cruel manner, intentionally perhaps, in order to make it final and drive the point home. In the end, however, it was out of my character and I suffered for it.

Last time the pain was unbearable for me. In theory I am more capable of finding happiness without Ron. I can take pleasure in simple things, and enjoy the here-and-now without lamenting over what or where I could have been if I had made different choices in my life. The burden of regret and blame was a main feature in our married life; Ron was on a mission to recapture his position in the world, the position and prestige he lost through the break-up of his first marriage. I felt as if I was living the consequences of decisions he had made even before we met. I would have been perhaps better off without this baggage. Still, I could not take the final step on my own. The price, for me, was too high, because it meant giving up permanently on someone I loved. I desperately needed to love someone, and Ron has filled this need for so long. When I realised that I cannot live with a cruel ending of our marriage, I begged Ron to give us another chance. I honestly thought that Ron and I were capable of patching things up between us. If it was possible for him to let go of this hunger for things that we could not attain, maybe we would have been both happy. But in the end his hunger won, and our “happiness” in the past two years proved to be an illusion. For my part, and at the risk of sounding stupid and naïve, I admit that I was blinded by my own happiness which became absolute with the arrival of Robert. Ron grumbled frequently, and I played counsellor to his outbursts of discontent, but I wasn’t extremely alarmed by them. Ron had an aura of unhappiness about him ever since I knew him, and I was beginning to accept that perhaps it was just part of his personality. He is just a chronically unhappy man, and I needed to get used to it. Maybe one day he will learn that happiness is a choice, it is the wisdom to be content with what you got, and stop regretting missed opportunities. Unfortunately things did not work this way. The fight for my marriage is over, for good this time. Ron has given up the fight, and I have learnt that one person cannot win, no matter how hard they try.

If I try to examine my feelings at these developments I come up with a whole spectrum of emotions. They come in waves of coordinated or contradictory shades.

I swing between sadness, anger, disappointment and worry. Notably absent from my gamut of feelings from two years ago are the guilt and the sense of terrible loss and emptiness. My life has meaning and purpose now, with or without Ron. Robert needs me, and he is someone I can love and cherish for the rest of my life. As for Ron, I hope he will find happiness elsewhere, although I doubt he ever will. Sad really, considering that even when I met him ten years ago he was fond of repeating this mantra: “I just want to be happy”. Happiness my friend is a choice, not a goal. Perhaps you did me and Robert a favour by allowing us to leave this black cloud of gloom behind us. It is going to be hard for the next few months, but there is light at the end somewhere, and we will be happy, with the grace of God.

Thank God for Friends

I went with Jackie this morning to drop off Kirsten at the airport. The sun is just starting to rise over the Atlantic and it is going to be another gorgeous day on the southern tip of Africa. Last night I had a chance to go out with the girls for a little farewell dinner, and we all had a nice evening.

Robert’s adventures during Kirsten’s visit to Cape Town included his first time at a restaurant with mom. Kirsten invited me and Jackie to a Sushi lunch at Saul’s. It was a special occasion for me because I haven’t had sushi in over a year. Robert was mostly obliging but needed some attention midway through the meal, where I had to take a break and give him a feed. It was great that we decided to go out during lunchtime, the restaurant was not too busy and we could pass the baby around and entertain him between us, without much disturbance to the patrons.

During the past week I spent a lot of time with the girls either visiting at Jackie’s or at the park. Kirsten came over to dinner one day, and stuck around many times for feeding sessions, bath and bedtime, while I was home on my own. Her visit was a godsend for me; it helped me deal with the current stress of my life at the moment. I am still trying to get re-licensed for my load control work, and Ron is proving to be a reluctant child-care provider at home. Things are not going to get any easier for sure. I still haven’t heard from Miriam, and if I contemplate the emotional and financial cost of having a nanny it makes me sick, but that is the way things are going to be in the future. From the moment of conception, a baby is by and large a woman’s problem, and this is proving true in my case as well. But no matter how things turn out, having Robert in my life is worth it. He is the reason why I wake up every morning; he simply makes my life worth living.

Ron deals with problems differently. He has now a new constellation of friends, with whom he hangs out frequently. I am not needed in this arrangement, and I don’t think he wants me to ever meet his friends. It is his way of having his own life. He pointed out to me once that I should never try to pursue other interests while looking after Robert or breastfeeding him. “You have to understand that you have no life anymore, your life is the little boy”, he said. Of course, I knew that from the moment Robert was born. He is my life, and I am happy to have it that way. The way Ron said it, however, makes it sound like a prison sentence. At the moment I am trying to come to terms with this attitude, but our relationship has taken strain as a result. Caring for Robert is not a chore, and it makes me really angry when he views it as such. It is a privilege to be around and care for a healthy, happy, and intelligent child. It is wonderful to look into his innocent eyes and see the unconditional love and trust he bestows on us as his parents. I would give anything in the world to be able to care for him myself rather than hand him over to a nanny. In this respect, our priorities and attitudes – as they are over almost everything else- are vastly different.

I am glad that Robert is still blissfully ignorant of the stress. He is mostly happy and contented. If ever he is fussy, then it is because of his itching gum. I noticed also that putting him onto solids is giving him some constipation, and I bought him a natural laxative which the paediatrician recommended. On my next visit to the nurse I need to ask whether it is advisable to use it regularly.

Today’s funny pictures: I tried to catch him on camera in the middle of one of his razzing sessions, and the result is what you see here. It looks like the symphony of razzing requires a lot of concentration. This week also he is starting to make up babbling syllables. I am very excited that he has mastered: ma ma ma, and is starting on ba ba ba. We await the first incident of da da da any day now.

Under the Surface : What is really happening

I am starting a series of posts which will be hidden for a while. I have been sugar-coating reality and buffering people I love from a cruel twist in the story. Things aren’t going well in this household. I feel very sad, mostly because I know how these realities will come back to hurt my son when he is old enough to know what is happening.

But I will fight ferociously to keep the sadness and ugliness at bay. I will not let my negative feelings impact my child’s view of his dad. The problems that I have with dad are between us and I will not put them on my child’s tender shoulders.

Ron and I have different sets of values and priorities. We therefore tend to move in opposite directions. The first six years of our marriage Ron charted the course and was satisfied with it, while I followed. But I was a reluctant traveller on this route, my natural tendency was in an opposite direction, and Ron felt as if he was dragging my dead weight behind.

The marriage came to a breaking point, when I finally realised that I was travelling in a direction I felt was totally wrong.

Against all odds, we came back together again, and these past two years I set the general direction, sort of. Ron convinced himself that he was happy to start a family with me, content to be a retired dad. But under the surface he was disappointed and unhappy, his goal was in another direction, and he felt that I was dragging him away from it. He hid his disappointment from himself and from me for some time, keeping himself busy with other dreams; dreams he thought we could share. Sadly, these dreams proved to be inadequate, for both of us, and reality reared its ugly head again: We are simply two people travelling in different directions. We cannot stay together for very long, sooner or later we need to go on our separate ways. The past two years for me were the time when I was the happiest, perhaps because Robert made my life complete. I now know that I always wanted a family, and had I met a different man, perhaps I would have had several children.

Things turned out this way for us, we were given Robert, and I have no regrets. The decision to have him was not an attempt to glue the relationship together; at least this wasn’t the case for me. I cannot speak for Ron, so I will speak for myself: Robert is here because he is wanted and loved. Robert is here because I loved his father. Robert is here because I refused to admit failure. Robert is here because I did not want to be the one who declared the marriage dead. Robert is here… and I do not regret a day in nine years of a dysfunctional marriage. He is definitely worth it.