Do you find some people wear you down over time? The tiny quirks shrugged away early in the relationship eventually become festering boils. We all seek companionship, yet it seems we’re not setup to tolerate the same people and situations for long. Comfort wears thin.
I recall my grandparents on my father’s side and their weekly visits. The performance changed little each time. Grandpop sat in a recliner staring into space, swirling his Seagrams while Nana kibitzed and helped Mom in the kitchen. I was just a kid but I vividly remember the look on Grandpop's face. It was as if he were sedated, trapped in a room without an exit, and seriously contemplating how peaceful death would be.
What do I know? As I said, I was only a kid.
Every few minutes he’d instinctively defend himself, say something, and endure another lashing. If he ignored the wife, she said he never listened. If he voiced his opinion, she called him derogatory names in Italian (stugots). I assume my pop was used to the banter because it didn’t affect him. My mother dried the next dish and brought her husband another Bud.
I watched and wondered: Isn’t marriage supposed to be a happy union? Where’s the love and affection? I’d rather be alone than in misery. Maybe watching this scene damaged me—more than Linda Blair pissing on the floor in The Exorcist.
When my Nana passed, an interesting thing happened—Grandpop suddenly came back to life. His slouching shoulders squared, his subdued voice boomed, and his glassy stare cleared. The quick recovery, apparently, also involved another woman. The relatives were disturbed. It seems by their standards he hadn’t mourned sufficiently. (Nobody can set your time limit for mourning. You’re done when you’re done.) This new woman was regarded as evil. Nobody understood how he could go there so soon.
I didn’t see it that way. Sure, he loved his wife and shared decades of memories with her. Still, the air between them grew stale, as it often does between couples who have been together forever (although most won’t admit it). He didn’t kill his wife. She was oblivious to how the relationship was slowly killing him. Her departure was serendipitous. What a contrast to the formulaic scenes in romance films.
I blame the social pressures around the permanence of marriage. It works against nature. It must. Look at the statistics. Of the happily married minority, half of them are lying and heading down the dark path that consumed my grandfather. Most happy marriages have expiration dates, whether stamped on the certificate or not.
Why be sad about it? If your relationship continues blossoming in the fall, that’s awesome! If it doesn’t, might as well get back in line and try again. You should be improving along the way. Consider your past relationships as reps and sets towards strengthening your emotional fitness.
Let’s pledge to leave before we become zombies. Whether it’s a spouse, a job, or your hometown—when things start breaking bad, don’t be sad. Break away.