I probably wasn’t ready to get married.
I dated my ex-husband for two years before we got engaged. We were engaged for a year and a half before our big, lavish wedding. We got divorced four years later.
Looking back now, I’m not quite sure that I was as mature enough for marriage as I had thought I was. Truthfully, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even think about whether or not my maturity should even be a factor. The harsh reality is, I wasn’t exactly “marriage material” at the time.
I always considered myself to be pretty independent. When I was in grade school, I was always popular and had a large group of friends. I was trouble from a young age, and my friends and I did a lot of things in our tweens and early teens that I sometimes can’t believe we lived to tell about. But I also grew up in a time when so-called “free range” parenting was the norm, so I wasn’t exactly being watched like a hawk by my single mom or my 3x a week dad. I basically got to do whatever I wanted, which at the time I thought was the greatest. Now, however, I realize that I ended up having to pay a major price for doing whatever the fuck I wanted, whenever I wanted to, without any structure whatsoever.
We didn’t have to do chores in my house. My mom would try to get me to at least clean my room, and would threaten to ground me if I didn’t, but I never followed through and neither did she. Eventually I would come home after a sleepover at a friend’s house or a night out on the town, and find that she had cleaned my room for me. The concept of taking care of my things and picking up after myself was completely foreign to me. It wasn’t a natural instinct and it also wasn’t something that I was never forced to practice.
I didn’t learn how to do laundry until I was in college since my mom always took care of that too. And even then I would tend to wait until I was down to my last pair of underwear (sometimes even going to the mall to buy more) before making the excuse to drive home for the weekend to let mommy wash my clothes.
I know – I’m cringing too.
I was basically an invalid.
But as I said, I really didn’t realize how incapable I was of taking care of my own basic needs because I always did things that gave the appearance of being independent. I spent nearly every weekend at a friend’s house, often exploring the city in the middle of the night, unbeknownst to our parents. I went away to college for 4 years and managed to survive, although I realize now that I didn’t really cook or clean for myself there either; instead I lived off of cafeteria food, ramen, and pizza, as college kids do, and my frustrated, but anal retentive roommates would end up cleaning for me out of pure exasperation. It’s not like college guys really gave a shit if your room was a mess, lets be honest!
The only time I was ever expected to do anything for myself was when I went away each summer to sleep-away camp. Nobody despised the dreaded chore wheel more than I did. I usually half-assed whatever I had to do, just to pass inspection, so I could leave my bunk and go flirt with my latest crush. It was all about priorities for me.
Needless to say, when I met my now ex-husband, I wasn’t exactly wifey material, in the sense that I was the exact opposite of a domestic goddess. I hid my ineptitude from him for a little while, stuffing my mess under the bed and in closets whenever he came to visit my apartment when we were first dating. Eventually, and over a slow period of time, I revealed myself more and more – but only when it was too late and he was already in love with me.
Now with all of that being said, I possess a million other wonderful qualities that, in my opinion, are more important than being born with “the neat gene.” Clearly it was those qualities that made my now ex-husband propose to me, even knowing that I had some major flaws. On many levels we were a great match, but there were fundamental issues in our relationship that ultimately led to our divorce, and if I am going to be completely honest, my lack of initiative when it came to bettering myself was definitely at the top of the list. And how was I supposed to know that I should even be working on bettering myself, when nobody had ever expected or demanded that from me in the past? Regardless, it’s embarrassing to admit how deficient I was and still am when it comes to domesticity. We like to think that gender roles are much more blurred these days, but the truth is, for the most part, women tend to take care of the home, and often they are the ones complaining that their husbands are taking advantage of them by acting like Neanderthals. For me it was the opposite. I was the Neanderthal.
To be fair, my marriage probably never stood much of a chance due to things outside of either of our control, but that’s another story in and of itself. There are always things that occur between partners that are nobody’s “fault.” But looking back, I think that if I had been more mature and more open to change, perhaps we could have conquered the even bigger issues.
As anyone who has ever been married or has ever lived with someone can attest to, sharing a space with another human being is the ultimate test to a relationship. There is a reason people say the first year of marriage is the hardest. In the past, many people didn’t live together until they were married, so the first year really the period of time when the real adjustment period would take place. Now a day, that’s hardly the case. So I think it’s fairer to say that the first year living together is the hardest. Learning about each other’s annoying habits and attempting not to rip each other to shreds over them can be extremely challenging. While my ex had plenty of annoying habits of his own, I think he definitely was forced to put up with a lot more from me. The difference is that more successful and reasonable couples will usually use that first year to iron out their differences or at least adjust to each other’s quirks. That never happened in my marriage. My ex-husband could never adjust to the way I had been accustomed to living.
Why did I always have to leave my shoes out? Why was my laundry still folded up in the basket and not put away? (And for that matter, why was my mother still doing my laundry – as in coming to our home, picking up my dirty clothes, taking them back to her house, washing them, and delivering them back to my house folded. God – couldn’t see at least have put them away for me too??) Why could I not hang up my clothes if I decided not to wear something instead of leaving things draped all over the bed and in piles on the floor? Why can’t I put the cap back on the toothpaste and why can’t I rinse the sink after brushing? Why are these papers on the counter? Why was the dirty plate left in the sink? Why, why, why?
Fuck. I was the worst.
I always say that I lack the instinct for putting things away, and I think it’s a pretty accurate statement. Sure there were times that I did things on purpose, out of spite, but most of the time, probably in part due to me lackadaisical upbringing, it just did not occur to me to put my shoes away or take the empty water glass into the kitchen instead of leaving it on the coffee table. It wasn’t a natural inclination or knee jerk reaction for me to do that. And that is honest the truth.
But that’s not an excuse.
What I now understand is that it really doesn’t matter. It’s not enough to say “I’m not purposely being a dick.” Being a dick, regardless of meaning to be, is not ok. And me being one created too much tension in my marriage and led to a vicious cycle of events.
Two things began to occur. My ex began to resent me for, in his mind, just not giving a shit about his needs, and I began to resent my ex for constantly nagging me and picking on me, and for “not loving me exactly the way I was” – which now we know is the most moronic thing that you can expect from someone when you suck at life, like I did.
He couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just put my shit away, and I didn’t understand why, if it was so important to him, he just couldn’t do it himself and save us the fucking argument. Resentment led to extreme passive aggressive behavior. Sometimes I could come home to find all of my shit thrown in one of the closets. Other times I would purposely leave shit lying around just to spite him. Neither of our reactions to the problem was particularly helpful or particularly mature. And although there were many times that we were both wrong, I can admit now that he had it way worse than I did.
You see, I didn’t understand the fundamental necessity for a good marriage – self-awareness. And it’s not just enough to be self-aware, you have to be willing to admit to your deficiencies and be open to working to change them. Obviously compromising is important as well, and yes we compromised all of the time, but only on a surface level, as in – we will go where you want to eat tonight and next time I get to pick. Sure, that’s compromise, but not on a deep level. Real compromise is doing something, even if it’s annoying to you or if you don’t understand why it’s a big deal, merely because it’s important to the other person (within reason of course – you obviously shouldn’t compromise your morals or do anything that makes you uncomfortable or that’s illegal because of your partner – duh).
At the time of my marriage, I lacked the maturity to recognize that doing these small, “easy” things for my husband, even if I didn’t get why they were such a major deal, would end up benefitting both of us in the long run. I was too hell bent on “winning” the fight and digging my heels in (because NOBODY ever tells me what to do!!), that I missed the lesson: Nobody is winning when everyone is miserable, angry, and resentful. Nobody wins when nobody’s needs are being met. There are no winners in divorce.
Plain and simple: I was a fucking spoiled brat.
I recently read a great article that finally helped me to “get it.” It was literally my story, explained in a way that really touched a nerve for me, because it was so true! The author writes about how a dirty dish in the sink is so much more than a dirty dish. And he’s right. I used to spend so much time being pissed at my ex for harping on me for what I considered to be trivial things. I mean, if we were happy (and again, we weren’t always happy – but for other reasons), and we loved one another, then why should a pair of shoes on the floor, or a stack of junk mail be the biggest deal? Why spend a hundred days a year arguing about a dirty plate in the sink. I didn’t get it because I wasn’t mature enough to comprehend the bigger picture.
The irony, of course, is that now I am single and I live alone. I am the sole person responsible for anything and everything getting done in my house. All of the chores that I used to shirk off and make my ex-husband (or mother) do, I had to learn to do for myself. I have to deal with making the necessary calls to get my lawn taken care of or my central air maintained, I have to remember to pay all of the bills on time, I do the laundry (and sometimes even put it away), I cook for myself, and I shop for all of the household necessities, among many other things. To most, these would seem like small, meaningless, and easy tasks, but for me these are things I am first being forced to do on my own in my mid 30’s! I’m still a mess, but I’m working on it. At the very least, I finally get it now, and I know my weaknesses. I have vowed that if I ever live with a man again, I will be a better and more mature partner. I will never be perfect, I will make mistakes, and it will probably always be hard for someone like me to just put the goddamn dishes in the dishwasher – and to rinse them first, but I understand now why these things are so important.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to respect, and I didn’t respect my ex-husband enough to put in the extra effort. And that is something that I will always have to live with.
Ultimately, my lack of domestic prowess was not the reason that I got divorced. But it gave us a hundred things to fight about on a weekly basis, so it certainly didn’t help. I do hope that the next man I am with, gives me some slack to make mistakes, and helps me to become better at these things. Because, although I take full responsibility for my behavior, it didn’t help when my partner berated me all the time. A little bit of understanding, patience, and support might have gone a long way.
For now, only time, and another live in partner, will tell if I’ve really learned my lesson. Fingers crossed.
Full disclosure: I have about 10 pairs of shoes in my doorway, 3 piles of junk mail lying around, a sink full of dishes, laundry still in the dryer, and two empty seltzer cans on my nightstand. Sometimes self-awareness alone isn’t enough to fix the problem. You also have to try to do something about it. That’s what I am currently trying to work on. And it has gotten better…last week there were 15 pairs of shoes 5 empty seltzer cans!