9/9/01 - 6/21/10

A love neglected,
stealing away while you sleep.
Left with a thousand
if only's and
what if's,
such a tragic waste
of love's chance.
Don't wait until
Wake up!
Say it today.

J and I exchanged some e-mails over the weekend. They were painful, but also loving. The hole in my heart will heal over, but never entirely close.

I awoke early today, sometime around 5:30am. The sun was already up, and I couldn't turn off all the thoughts crowding my brain. One more odd coincidence that my divorce became final on the first day of summer, the longest day of the year.

Speaking the right language

The first book I read once counseling began was The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman. Any book that tries to break down a subject as large as love into five neat boxes is bound to be an oversimplification, but I found the book to be enlightening.

I will start with a couple of quotes I highlighted from the book:
"Love is not our only emotional need. Psychologists have observed that among our basic  needs are the need for security, self-worth, and significance. Love, however, interfaces with all of those."
"Meeting my wife’s need for love is a choice I make each day. If I know her primary love  language and choose to speak it, her deepest emotional need will be met and she will feel  secure in my love. If she does the same for me, my emotional needs are met and both of us live with a full tank. In a state of emotional contentment, both of us will give our creative energies to many wholesome projects outside the marriage while we continue to keep our marriage exciting and growing."
He uses this image of each of us having a "love tank" that we need to try to keep filled if we are to lead full, enriched lives. While it is important for you to find many things in your life that "fill your tank", it is also an important part of marriage to do what you can to keep your partner's tank topped off.

His basic premise is that we both give and receive love in five basic catagories. They are:
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical Touch
The author's point is that though we express and receive love in many ways, we tend to gravitate toward one or two of these methods in our daily interactions. One of the main difficulties couples experience is when you are not speaking the same language (no surprise there). You may work many hours in order to buy gifts, when all your wife wants is quality time. You may think that flowery words are the language of love, when all your wife wants is for you to take out the garbage. You think you are showing your love in an obvious way, but it may go by unnoticed by your partner because that is not how they most easily feel love.

It was an interesting exercise to try and deduce not only what J's preferred language was, but my own as well. The book points out that it is typical for you to show love in the same way you wish to receive it. This makes sense, but I don't seem to fit into that neat box. Without necessarily realizing it, I seem to express love through acts of service quite a bit. This is especially true with my friends. I take pleasure in doing things for other people, and it is probably an expression of my love. But on the flip side, I don't wish that people would do things for me.

The more I tried to pigeon-hole myself into one of the catagories, the harder it became. I of course appreciate kind words, but they often make me uncomfortable at the same time. Part of that I am sure is the heavy-handed self criticism I have handed out in the past. "Don't tell me I'm great. I know better." I have been working to improve this, and I think I have made progress. I suppose if I had to pick, I guess I fall into the quality time and physical touch camp.

But the more important exercise (certainly as it related to our marriage counseling) was to see if I had been speaking J's language. The author mentions that your spouse is likely giving you lots of clues in the things he/she expresses, says, comments on, or complains about. I won't pass along my guesses as to what her language might be, but it is safe to say that I wasn't speaking it very clearly.

But poor choices in the past don’t mean that we must make them in the future. The author even gives you a little script to use if you need a launching point:
“You know, I have been reading a book on how to express love, and I realize that I have not been expressing my love to you in the best way through the years. I have tried to show you my love by _______, but I’m  now realizing that that probably has not communicated love to you, that your love language is probably something different. I am  beginning to think that your love language is probably _______. You know, I really do love you, and I hope that in the future I can express it to  you in better ways.”
What really hit home was that I wasn't doing enough to keep her "love tank" full, in any language. In my last relationship, I spent a lot of time trying to make my partner happy, at the expense of my well being. It not only left me feeling weak and ineffective, but it was ultimately futile. I came to realize that true happiness can only come from within, and I think I went to far in the other direction with J.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think I was a cold-hearted jerk or anything. I think I was actually quite encouraging, but after reading this book I realized I was not doing enough to help J find happiness. With the failures of my past relationship, and in coming to believe that happiness comes from within, I stepped back more in my relationship with J. I believed that she knew how much I loved her, and wanted her to be happy, but now I know I wasn't communicating it correctly, or often enough.

Despite your best efforts, you can not "make" another person happy, but by showing them love and keeping their tank topped off, it gives them the strength to find true happiness on their own. You are not propping them up, but standing behind them always with your love and support. Though I sought to encourage her when ever I could, I wasn't helping her find the strength by making her feel loved.

After finishing the book, I went to J and told her all this. That I loved her deeply and wanted her to be happy. That my expressions of love were not frequent enough, or communicated very clearly in the past. That I had not done enough to make her feel cherished, significant and special. I wished to change all of that and pledged to do so.

Unfortunately, it was "too much, too late" as the phrase was coined by someone close to me. But if isn't too late for you, and it probably isn't, then I think this book is worth the read.
"Love doesn’t erase the past, but it makes the future different. When we choose active expressions of love in the primary love language of our spouse, we create an emotional climate where we can deal with our past conflicts and  failures."

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

There is no script

I think its probably just people when they cheat on other people, tell themselves that they're doing it because they have to, because there is fate involved, and whatever happened, you're better off and probably the person that you broke up with is better off, and this is the way it was meant to be. This is fate...The ex-partner is just collateral damage
~ from This American Life's "Infidelity" episode.

I believe in fate and destination, but so much of that lies in our own hands.
~ from "Give to Live" by Sammy Hagar

In the movies, there would be dramatic music, or the sound of a needle being dragged across a record. The camera would zoom in on the moment when she decided she did not want to remain married to me, that she no longer loved me.

I spent months trying to find out what that moment, or series of thoughts were that made it clear in her mind that divorce was the right decision. Through months of counseling sessions, I imagined that even if we didn't save the marriage, at least I would come to understand (if not believe) where she was coming from. That like the play Betrayal, we would walk back in time to that point where she turned away from me and our marriage. That by going through our history together, the pieces would start to fall into place. They did not.

J believed in fate, that things happen for a reason. I did not, and I think that bothered her on some level. When she said we were destined to find each other, to fall in love, to be together - I believed we were just very, very lucky. As I have stated elsewhere, I don't think there is a grand plan that guides or controls the thousand events and decisions in our lives. I don't think things "happen for a reason". Things happen, and people try to find reason.

I can't imagine that even those that believe in the "things happen for a reason" way of thinking, ascribe a grand plan to every bit of minutiae in their daily lives. You almost necessarily have to draw the line somewhere or you might go mad. I don't think anyone subscribes to the belief that every traffic signal has meaning. But if you get in an accident, or narrowly avoid one, maybe you will subscribe significance to the timing of the red light. But then it just seems a matter of convenience picking and choosing what things are significant. 20/20 hindsight and rewriting history.

J and I met when I was working at The Keg Restaurant. What were the fated things that happened to bring J and I together? My losing my job after college? That one restaurant called a couple days earlier than another? That she dated a brother of a friend of mine who worked at the restaurant? That she chose that camping trip, and I was still awake and helped her with her tent when she arrived? Do we go so far back as to say that her Mom's car accident several years earlier was part of the plan, since J may not have moved back to Washington state otherwise? Is it all those things?

I am not here to berate those that do think things happen for a reason, or to try to change your opinion. I think our personalities, talents and upbringing may predispose us to certain behaviors and influence our life decisions. There may be something nudging us along this river of life, after all. That when we stray away from our character, there are events or decisions that may guide us back. Who knows? But when people say the that "everything happens for a reason", I reflexively find it to be a lazy attempt to comfort another, or justify their own actions. It is one thing to try to find meaning in the seemingly random, but to chalk up something within your control as destiny - well it doesn't feel all that great to be on the other side of fate.

I am paraphrasing, because my point is not to publish our private communication, but J said in a letter something to the effect that she feels there is a great plan for us in the future, and that this was all just a necessary step. What she said was probably supposed to both comfort me, as well as justify her decision to divorce, but I found it insulting. It makes me feel that our marriage, and the decade we were together, was just a tough lesson we had to learn to find our true happiness. That there was nothing either of us could have done to avoid this.

And it seems a little too convenient - that what she called destiny has changed from us being together forever, to now us being destined for something/someone else. Some may argue that we are just not privy to the plan, and that every little thing, positive or negative, is part of the process. If that is the case, then saying x,y,z is our destiny also seems presumptuous, since we really have no clue what part this event/love/wrong turn will play in the grand scheme of things. Who are we to read tea leaves and interpret destiny on the fly?

What I do believe is, that though things don't happen for a reason, if you are wise you can find reason even in the blows to the gut life hands out. Lemonade from lemons, new insight from pain and failure, the chance of a new path when a door slams shut, etc. People who have lost a loved one have been inspired to do great things in their name. And so many have found new passion for life after (or while) battling an illness. But I can't imagine someone walking up and saying, "well, your son died for a reason" or "good thing you got cancer."

In my own life, I have found new insight into myself that I probably wouldn't have gleaned without help from counseling. But I don't think our marriage had to end to make this understanding possible. Because of the divorce, and the sale of our house, I have been in a position to help out some friends. I probably wouldn't have had this ability otherwise. But to think "well, I guess I got divorced for a reason" seems ludicrous. We are all just doing what we can, with what we have, and what has brought us here.

Right now, I am feeling ripped off, betrayed, and sure, a little bitter (though probably not as much as it sounds on paper). I don't believe that J cheated, but it still feels like she was unfaithful in a way. That she did not have enough faith in me or our marriage to speak openly and honestly, and that she left mentally long before she left physically. There are still times when I wonder how we could have had such different views of our relationship, and what being married meant.

My friend mentioned that he has seen divorced men become embittered against women and marriage, but this is not how I feel. I have faith in love, belief in marriage, even if I never find those things again.

The 90 day waiting period is up, and the divorce will likely be final a week from today. I have no idea what the future holds. I don't expect any answers to my lingering questions anymore, at least not from J. There won't be a movie-like close up to zoom in on those key turning points, or a tidy happy ending by the time the movie ends. The script won't be released sometime in the future so I can pour over the hidden plot twists that I missed the first time through, or look ahead at the chapters that haven't happened yet. And I don't think there is someone out there that I have now been released to find true happiness with.

But it could happen, and I have hope that it will. But I don't think it is destined. I think it will take love, effort, and more than a little luck. In the meantime, I will continue to try to create my own meaning with everything this life has brought.