Friday, December 3, 2010

Awesome Relationship Advice from Non-Moms

I have said on numerous occasions that before I had Lila, I pretty much knew EVERYTHING there was to know about being the perfect parent.  No way would my kid refuse to go to bed or talk back to me!  Straight out of the womb they'd understand that there is a way we do things and they would adhere to that set of rules because they would KNOW the consequences. 

Well, this is total bullshit.  Ann you quickly realize that this being that you have brought forth from your loins is not actually a dog to be broken and trained but is actually a person with likes, dislikes, a will and a really super cute pouty face that you adore so much that you would do just about anything to never see that face sad.

The same was true before I had Lila when considering how I would act in any given love relationship with the father of my kid(s).  There were plenty of things I would NEVER put up with.  Joblessness? Leaving dirty socks all over the house? Snapping at me because of something totally unrelated?  Fuck that shit.  I would NEVER tolerate that kind of behavior.  Not to mention that it would never happen because I'll be damned if I am going to be with some broke-ass slob with a temper. 

But you know what they say about the best laid plans?  Yeah...well shit happens. 

Quick Background:

My relationship with Lila's father isn't thrilling.  In fact, lately it's almost excruciating.  Ever since having Lila we have had a tough time financially.  Not because of her but because he is in construction and when the housing market collapsed so did his business.  There has been a lot of stress and strain on our relationship because of this and we have seen setback after setback trying to get back on track.  I handle stress by wanting to be alone and he handles it by stuffing his frustration and basically believing that he's unhappy because of me.  I in turn get stressed because I feel like he is blaming me unjustly and he gets more frustrated because I just don't get what hes stressed about and it keeps growing.

Getting to the Point:

We don't really fight.  We like each other over all.  But day to day life has intruded in such a way that literally weeks will go by and suddenly I will realize we haven't kissed since last month.  I was talking to one of my single friends about this and  he gave me this advice:

"Children learn what they live.  If you two aren't happy together you should separate because it is better to have two happy parents apart than to have two miserable parents together.  You're just depriving yourselves of true love and happiness elsewhere and children adjust."  (This coming from a person whose parents stayed together until he was in his 20s and has never been married or had children.) 

I am paraphrasing of course, but this brings me to the simple logic of life without children.  The above advice makes total sense when you look at it on the surface.  Before I had Lila, if I wasn't head over heels in love I totally would have felt deprived.  I would have felt like something better was obviously around the corner and I would have known that I would be fine if I packed my shit and moved out.

But it isn't as simple with a family as it is with a couple.  Because as much as I am NOT head over heels for HIM, per se, I LOVE our family.  I love to watch Lila and Daddy playing and I love to go to the zoo or the beach or to dinner as a family.  I love our house and love playing CandyLand with the two of them. 

For much of my youth I assumed that "LOVE" and the chasing of what my friends and I called "the spark" was what life was all about.  This lasted when I became "WE" and it was just Ben and I.  And there were plenty of moments where I kind of felt that "spark" wavering and assumed it was only a matter of time before I'd have to be moving on.  All that changed when we became a family.   Suddenly I understood that this spark would certainly end up smoldering.  The intense would eventually become so-so, and that although plenty of people believe that without that fierce desire and passion in a relationship that it is doomed (as evidenced by ever-rising divorce rates), I started to believe that there was something far more important to me: COMMITMENT.

Ben and I are not married.  But at some point (around the time I decided I would have a kid with him) I decided that this was the life I was choosing.  I decided that for as long as my child exists, I would be bound to him by her.  Obviously, there are things that would negate this decision.  For example, if he ever hit me or did anything to hurt Lila or me, or went to prison or buried body parts of hookers in the basement then I would certainly have my own permission to walk away.  But in forming a family, I decided that there was "greater good" that I was now a part of in this unit, and that my individual happiness comes second to that.

There have recently been some instances that have made me question whether we even LIKE each other anymore.  And when I sat down to try to consider my options, I couldn't just think about the practical stuff (I would have to leave my house because its in his name; the car's in his name; I would have to stay with my parents who are pretty heavy smokers; I would want Lila to have the comfort of her house but I would want to keep her with me).  I had to consider the toll that this move would take on 3 people, individually and as a group.  Lila would miss one of us every day.  I am the parent who takes care of her when she's sick and does the day to day stuff like baths and medicine.  He is the parent who has fun and does fun stuff.  I am the one who sets the rules. He is the one who is more laid back.  One of us would always miss that first trip to the ocean or getting the Christmas tree or watching the Wizard of Oz together on the couch with popcorn.  We wouldn't do those things together anymore and each of us would be deprived of that wonderful occasion.

But what happens when you feel like you just don't care anymore  What happens when the sight of this person makes you want to slap him?  What do you do when you realize that if you have to listen to one more fucking Dave Matthews song blaring from the basement that you are going to burn the house down? 

To be honest, I simply have to try not to think about it.  Self help gurus and armchair clinical psychology has told us for a few decades now that our individual happiness is our inalienable right.  We are told that if we do not pursue our own self-fulfillment then the people around us will suffer.  And on some level, I know that to be true.  But isn't there something to be said for sticking it out because it's the right thing to do?  If no one is really suffering and in fact, you believe that the benefits to your child outweigh the detriment then don't you sort of HAVE to live up to the commitment you made?  Not too many years ago, when society was considered much more civilized, people generally felt that loyalty and commitment were what made men great.  Selfishness was abhored and altruism was an essential value to society.  Many of our kids now don't even know what altruism is.

I don't want to be miserable in a relationship that I don't want.  And I don't want to inflict that misery upon Lila.  I have no idea what the fate of our relationship will ultimately be.  But the decision to split is simply not just a matter of what will make me happy.  It is a matter of voiding the existence of a family.  I don't think that decision can be made just by looking at what the obvious answer would be.  And I don't think it is something that should be done without really weighing all the options.


  1. This is big stuff. And I don't have the answers. I can give you my thoughts though.

    (Some quick background on my upbringing: eldest child of 6 kids in a very strict, conservative Mormon family-- dad (usually) worked and mom was home. Very poor (as in, "free lunch at school" poor) Parents are still married, going on 37 years.)

    I got pregnant at 19, by a guy I barely knew (here's the part where I let you know that I hate religion and pretty much do whatever the hell I want to whenever possible) and quickly became a single mom, as he (from day 1) had zero input or affiliation. I dated a guy from high school, who grew to love my kid, and he legally adopted her about a year into our marriage. So I can sort of identify with both scenarios, though with different circumstances. Robert has a PhD from UC Berkeley and is a mechanical engineer for a biomedical firm outside San Francisco. I am a junior college dropout who almost didn't even graduate high school (I was an asshole) and have not "worked" for 10 years. I would absolutely have a different standard of living if he and I were to split up, no question. I'm still an asshole though, so this financial reality is not what keeps me here-- I do really love him and often am crazy about him as well. Because you know there's a difference. I don't want to be apart.
    Since Ben is not working, he obviously would not be able to help you with any expenses. And I can personally promise you that returning home to mom and dad, as an adult with a child, is right around the most horrifically fucked up nightmare you could imagine. However, your own personal happiness IS valid. I think you just have to weigh it out.

    Also, I think it is worth noting that I honestly do not believe that there is One person. I really think that there are any number of people you can be happy with, given circumstances and points in life. And I think it's totally normal (and even okay) for those sparks to wane sometimes.

    See? I told you I don't have the answers, but I can tell you that I'm long winded.


  2. Total outsider here, but I'll throw in my two cents' worth. It doesn't sound to me like you aren't in love with your partner. It sounds to me like you are suffering intensely from circumstances beyond your control, and that is seriously interfering with your ability to feel the positive emotions that you know you both have (or have had). I don't know for sure that your relationship will get better when the economy improves, but I'd put 20 bucks on it. That is not, in any way, an exhortation for you to not make whatever changes you feel would be an improvement in your life and your daughter's life, but I totally agree with you that the math of family happiness is much more complex than simply following your own bliss.

  3. Love your blog. I feel the same way in my marriage. However, as an only child of divorce I have decided to stay. It is not that I hate or dislike him- I feel nothing much. Motherhood (two kids age 3 & 4) and a full time job have sucked everything out of me. I have decided to rediscover my relationship with my husband. We have been together for 17 years- there must be something there. Nothing kills a relationship like kids. If you have a babysitter, maybe you can start "date night" just so you are forced to work on it. I have found that the more he and I talk - even about stupid things- the better we get along. Also, I don't know about your sex life- mine has dwindled to nothing (and I really don't care- I am tired)but scheduling sex will help improve his mood and attitude toward you. My goal is to try to get through the next 15 years as best I can (my youngest will leave for college then) and then reevaluate the situation. I know it sounds depressing, but I think you are smart to consider everything before making these big decisions. I hope you find what will work for you.

  4. I'm with Jessica. In times of high stress, sometimes I really just want to smack the shit out of my husband for opening his mouth. When those stressful times are extended, it becomes less obvious that it's the stress at the root of the problem and it becomes easy to question the foundation of the relationship itself instead.

    I think as long as you still feel confident in putting the family unit ahead of your own needs, and worrying about your partner missing out on things like days at the beach and the Wizard of Oz, then you're okay.

    My mom left my dad when I was 15 years old, after 17 years of marriage. My sister was 11 and my brother was 2. I never really got over the fact that she couldn't hang on another 2 years until I left for college and my sister was about to go to high school - rather than making her switch schools in junior high. My brother at 4 wouldn't have been much worse off than he was at 2.

    My point is really just that it depends on the situation, but sometimes it really is better to stay together - even if just for a predetermined amount of time - especially if you don't fight. My parents never fought, so their split was a slap in the face out of left field.


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