Real Bill V
Bill Long 11/18/04
Beginning Again--with Relationships
After the inevitable trauma attendant on divorce (mine was final on 10/01/01), you have to decide how you will reconstruct your life. One of the big questions for a middle-aged man is the way you want to "reconnect" with women. You realize immediately that even if Locke's tabula rasa was the blackboard on which you thought you wrote on your early 20s, it definitely is not the case today. I sometimes think I carry more baggage from my past than Amtrak does on its Coast Starlight route. Each of us has our generic backpack on board, but then we each have our own individually monogrammed luggage, whether or not it has been stomped on by the Samsonite gorilla. This essay will describe some of my individual baggage.
The Way Things Ended
The way my marriage ended was, to me, shocking and humiliating. I tell the story in 52 and Strangely Found, but suffice it to say here that my wife of 24 years informed me in May 2000 that she was in love with a maximum security prisoner who had been serving time on and off at the Oregon State Penitentiary since his armed robbery in 1974. He was a "long timer" at the Pen, who finally had "transformed" his life, according to her. Even if I believed it, it would not and did not give me much consolation. Well, the events of the 18 months after that revelation were unbelievably painful for me (and, I think, the kids), and what made things worse was her effort (ultimately successful) to knock five years off her boyfriend's prison sentence so that he got out in September 2003. They immediately moved in together, bought a house and were married in April 2004.
From all I can tell, and I do keep a considerable difference, my ex is happier than she has been in a long time. Though friends have tried to console me with the thought that their painful breakup is imminent, I rather hope that their relationship works, especially for the sake of the kids. But the mere voicing of that last thought has immense implications for me in my new "relational" life.
Sorting Through the Baggage
Here is one way to look at it. We were married for 24 years. To think that she is now most happy with someone who, rather than writing 10 books in the past 24 years and doing lots of other things has been sitting in the "Big House" for that time, makes me ponder. It makes me wonder how I could have a made such a misjudgment in such a crucial area of my life and whether that misjudgment was merely a product of youthful enthusiasm and blindness or goes to the core of my ability to perceive. That is, can I ultimately trust myself to make good judgments, especially as it relates to women and close relationships?
An argument can be made for a "yes" and a "no." The optimistic approach, which I tend to want to adopt, tells me that I was under the influence of an ideology in those days which completely blinded me to the "truth" about women. It was a combined ideology of the democratic spirit of Christian faith (i.e., God loves everyone equally; I need to imitate God; I need to love everyone equally; she is a good one to love; therefore love her, regardless of her social location or skills or interests, even though we shared interests) as well as the raging spirit of first-generation Boston feminism (patriarchy is the theory and practice that has led to the unjust oppression of women, which oppression should be reversed by men yielding to women on anything they say. Of course, this will be denied, but this was how I heard it.) that led me not only to get married but to think that anything she did was perfect, right and should be fully adopted by me without question.
Even the characterization of this in 2004 sounds pretty dumb, but as far as I can remember it, this was my mental world as I approached marriage. The fact that I never had had a girlfriend before I got married (and only dated once) and that I grew up in a home with four boys with no women, aside from my mother, ever in the house, made me all the more susceptible to these arguments, I believe. I never dated because from age 16 I was so utterly committed to my "mission" of the study and promotion of the evangelical Christian faith that I never thought that spending a lot of time trying to "connect" or "fit" with a woman made any sense. The right woman would come along when "God" brought her, and it would be wonderful.
What I just said almost makes me want to gag. It embarrasses me as well as defines me. But, as I tell my students, history may influence you or even define you, but it need not determine you. Can I take my own advice? That is the tougher issue. I don't think I am bedeviled any longer with the nagging sense that I cannot choose well. I think that I am learning to do that all the time, as I date and talk and ask questions and smile and think.
But the more pressing issue for me now comes from another direction and that is not whether I can perceive what or who might "match" me but whether I believe it (a relationship that "works" for me) can happen. I think I am an agnostic on that one right now. It is not that there are not potentially attractive, smart, self-sufficient, deferential, Bill-obsessed women out there (all of which seem to be important for me) but that I seemingly am more delighted by my own company than that of a woman at this stage. Maybe I am just more aware, even hyper-aware, of how many things can go wrong between a man and a woman in life and the costs that you may pay for things going wrong. But I think that the single life has now given me something that I never really perceived I had in 24 years of marriage, and that is time to think, and I don't really look forward to having that time disappear unless I want to give it up. That, I think, is the dominant reality for me now. Maybe there will be a time when an intimate relationship(s) is something of great importance to me. Somehow I can't see that happening now or in the near future. Which may make me all the more attractive to some women.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long