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sex and disrespect pt. ii

Memory Lane

Dating

I did a lot of rationalizing. I would try to assert myself and my boundaries, even tried to break up with him a couple of times. One time I decided we were breaking up because we were going to stay in a hotel with some friends and I didn’t want to share a bed. Yes, to most people this is not a big deal. I’m not even sure today I’d be that concerned about it, though I do believe it fosters an intimacy that is best reserved for marriage. Anyway, at the time, he threw a huge fit. He was angry and weird, and we got in the usual you-chose-religion-over-me argument.

I realized that more than the actual problem was the fact that every time I had a boundary he could not find it in himself to simply respect it. Just be respectful and and support me if I’m feeling uncomfortable. Don’t act like a crazy person and make me feel guilty for trying to love my God in the way I believe in. No tantrums, no guilt-trips, no arguments. I was being disrespected, so I tried to leave.

Obviously it didn’t work. He fed me some lines about how I was beautiful and he would cope. I believed him and we moved on. Except we didn’t move on! It would come up and up again where he would be a nice little boyfriend until he cracked. He would start being pissed we weren’t having sex and I would say, fine! Go date someone else! Go have sex somewhere else! If you can’t deal with this, then don’t. Be free. Then he would COPE. 

Always coping, and I always rationalized. It was hard in today’s culture for guys to deal with physical boundaries. They have hormones and wild friends and porn. I let it slide. I started carrying the guilt for having so many needs and rules. He was really struggling for me and he must really love me.


Engagement

Then there was a ring. When we got closer to our wedding the reality of natural family planning started to hit home. For those of you unfamiliar, NFP/fertility awareness is a cycle-tracking system where you avoid sex when your body gives you signs it could get pregnant. I’m into science, and aside from the fact that this is encouraged by my faith, I believed in it from a purely biological standpoint. I was always open that this would be the path I would be walking, due to my religion/love of God/choice for what was best for my body. I had been tracking my cycles for years for purely health-related reasons. 

Welcome back, Moody Boy. Beyond moody, actually. Hurtful and angry more than ever before. Isolating me, withdrawing affection, ignoring me. Where there should have been supportive respect out of love, there was hurt. The guilt of enforcing my rules weighed even heavier. Again, I tried to go. Again, I started to feel like it was less about that actual issue and more about the lack of respect. Why was it so hard for him to be kind and supportive? This was my body, anyway. I didn’t want to put chemicals in it! 

I offered him a way out and told him if he couldn’t find a way to respect me then he could find another woman to be with. To be clear, this wasn’t an ultimatum, it was honesty. There are many women in the world who are happy to go on the pill, but it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel like he could manage to meet me where I needed, so maybe this wasn’t going to work out. He told me no, he’d cope, he didn’t want to lose me. After months of arguing, we didn’t talk about it again. 

And again, I rationalized. He was just struggling with the stress of engagement and graduation. This would be fine. 


Marriage

We did fertility awareness and it did work fine. He didn’t make a big fuss about it anymore, but things were worse in a different way. Every month I was anxious. Whenever I couldn’t have sex because he didn’t want to get pregnant, I would hold my breath, hoping he didn’t want to that night. If I said no, sometimes he was fine. Or sometimes he would tease me and tell me I was useless. Sometimes he would roll away and not even want to hold me. It was everything or nothing, those nights. Message received. If I wouldn’t be available for sex, he wouldn’t be available for love. 

I can’t tell you how long the weekends were when we both were off from work and I was fertile-myrtle. It was constantly in the back of my mind. What a relief when I was in the clear- I wouldn’t have to be on guard, I could relax, I could be available to him whenever he wanted. 

And the relief when I got my period month after month! I can’t tell you how many pregnancy tests I hid in the bathroom garbage. Because, obviously, if we got pregnant it would be all my fault for choosing NFP. If we got pregnant he would be mad and it would be my fault and then I would really be alone, and so would that baby. 

How twisted that I lived in this place for so long. I was the gatekeeper ready to serve at the pleasure of his moods and somehow felt I deserved it. He was burdened by my rules and my faith, and he was really great for not making me go on the pill. What an angel. 

Unfortunately, whatever he wanted sometimes didn’t mean sex. This is personal and probably a little graphic, so if you’re feeling easily scandalized or aren’t in the mood, wander somewhere else or fast forward to part five.

sex and disrespect pt. i

Pick your Player

I asked my therapist today (shout out, hey) if sex would be too much to talk about here. Verdict: this needs to be talked about. The times are behind us when it was okay to stay in the dark. Now, when a man (or anyone) does something shitty we can shine a light on it. We get to say we didn’t like that. We didn’t want that. We didn’t ask for that. I don’t care that other girls are doing it, all your friends are doing it, or porn or Chive or Barstool says its normal. I said no, and that meant no. And now I get to talk about it. 

As a Catholic girl growing up in a Catholic world, I was raised in the purity culture. Yes, I went to the talks, signed the pledges and wore the ring (slight eye roll, I know). Thankfully, I grew out of the trendy purity bit and matured into an adult embracing chastity. In short, choosing chastity was choosing to love my partner and myself according to where I was in life. This meant when I was dating, sex was for marriage. For a little while I fell for the “we can do other stuff” line until I raised my standards and started avoiding the “I’ll take what I can get” bros. 

Insert Nice Boy. I let him know right off the bat what my boundaries were. Sex was in marriage, “other stuff” not going to happen, and it wouldn’t be “I’ll take what I can get.” This would need to be a joint endeavor. This was something I believed in and I truly valued intimacy enough to save it for the man who could commit to me for always. Nice Boy might not have understood it or believed in it, but I expected support out of respect, at minimum, and love, at best. He agreed. 

They say actions speak louder than words. They are correct.

Over and over we struggled with this. Obviously, we were attracted to each other and tended to be touchy-feely people anyway. We never had sex, but the “other stuff” still found its way in. Not for lack of trying to avoid on my part, but he had started enforcing a system that followed us into our marriage. We would start toeing the line. I would put the stops up and re-direct the situation. Either a) it didn’t work and I was left feeling guilty or b) he was moody. This taught me several things. 

Option A. I couldn’t talk about the guilt or make suggestions on how to improve in the future. He wasn’t on the same page and wasn’t as invested. It stopped being worth it to talk about. I would swallow the shame, go to confession, muscle along quietly trying to choose what I believed in. Lesson: It wasn’t worth the discussion. I am alone here.

Option B. Moody Boy. Withdrawal of affection, a little or a lot of anger depending on the day. Conflict. Loneliness. Blamed for choosing God over my boyfriend (fiancé, husband). Lesson: Don’t do what he wants and you are isolated. It’s your fault you have so many rules. 

Good luck making your pick!

anger management

Dear Soon-To-Be Ex, 

I’m angry today. We’re going back and forth between lawyers about the house and other things you’ve decided are non-negotiable. Who the hell gave you the power to decide what we negotiate on? Look, when we bought that damn house I was under the impression we were starting a family together. Also that you wouldn’t continue to be a completely shitty husband.

If anything was a non-negotiable it should have been: Thou shalt not be an eternal man-boy who only cares about himself. FYI, when you tell a woman you’re going to have a family with her and let her make a permanent commitment to you that also includes real-estate, you don’t turn around and say “I married you because I felt bad.” Fuck that. You didn’t accidentally date me for four years then randomly wind up with a ring then stumble upon a church for a wedding. You were an adult male with a brain. You should have done the negotiating back then. 

If only we all had the balls you have. I think you really believe you’re in the right and need to get everything you deserve. Certainly the last thing you deserve is to keep that damn house. Honestly, I don’t think you can be trusted to own your own property. You’ve left a little snail trail of rage everywhere we’ve lived and I think it’s time we looked at it.

House One. A lovely little place across the street from the ocean. The first week we lived there we were working on getting internet installed and you lost your damn mind on the phone with the help-line people. Obviously, I know, they can be extremely frustrating. I can’t say I’ve ever screamed at any of them though, let alone ripped the TV mount out of the wall. That shit was nailed in pretty good, too- a jerry-rigged mess from the tenants before. I think that was the first time I was so close to such explosive rage. I quietly snuck out to the other room to wait for things to simmer down. It’s normal to be stressed during your first move, right?

House Two. Look, I know this house was falling apart and had a weird smell and I’m sorry I picked it out. Actually, I’m not sure if I should be sorry, since we both looked at it together and signed the lease. Sure, I was stressed about the short time-line we had to move and there weren’t a lot of options, so I guess I was in a rush, but you were there too. If you didn’t like it you could have slowed down and talked to me about it instead of being pissy the whole time we lived there, blaming me every time you stubbed your toe or had trouble getting a pan out of the kitchen cabinet. Such a treat, being there for two years. 

I can’t really remember what triggered this particular blow up, but I know you came home from work one afternoon and walked right into the kitchen to punch the freezer. The freezer! That thing is metal! And you dented it! Honestly, the most jarring part was how unprecedented it felt… There I was, minding my business folding laundry or something, then BAM! RAGE! Such an intrusion into my space. An unwelcome visitor in my day and my home. 

I think this was the first time I mentioned you could be a little frightening. This made no sense to you, which, in turn, made no sense to me. If I’m married to someone who could dent the freezer door in the middle of a nothing day, how am I to know what turns that anger on and off? How am I to know when it’s going to be turned on me? We didn’t talk much about it again, and I covered the dents with some magnets and pictures and wedding invitations. Bury that, no one will know, probably shouldn’t tell anyone though. Here’s a clue, past-Becca: if you have to hide shit like that, it’s probably not great.

House Three. I was in the kitchen having a glass of wine with my sister who was in from out of town. We were chatting and laughing, doing the sister thing. Out of the bathroom walks my husband, tripping on something and hitting his shin or toe or whatever. Naturally, very uncomfortable, I’m sure. Did you really need to punch another fridge, though? Multiple times? This time took a lot more magnets to cover up. My sister was there for this one too, which was interesting. Because now it seems you have a weird little habit, and now someone else is watching. And this time when we moved out the landlord noticed. You really weren’t interested in paying her back for the damage. Please. If you’re going to throw tantrums like that over bruised shins, just man up and deal with the consequences. You were man enough to punch the shit in the first place.

House Four. Last house, I promise. This time was special, because we were actually arguing about something important. It was towards the end, and you were pissed because I wouldn’t say I loved you more than God. You were mad and let me know “I can’t even be at home because it reminds me I’m always in second place.” Simultaneously you managed to blame me for your constant absence (not my fault), make me feel guilty for loving God (not a bad thing), and tried to make yourself more important than God (narcissism, much?). 

So, there we were, me refusing to deny my religion, and you refusing to accept it. And then you punched a hole through the drywall. Probably not hard to do, but it was a bummer because the house had just been purchased. Also a bummer because this time I was right next to you and your rage was directed at me. Not that it hadn’t been pointed in my direction before, but this was the first expression beyond purple-faced screaming I had earned. I made a joke, told you to get a less expensive habit. We both laughed. It seems while you developed a habit, I developed a coping mechanism. Humor diffuses all. 

Thanks for developing a pattern I could pick up on. Thanks for teaching me that I shouldn’t have to wonder when my husband will stop punching walls and start punching me. 

Maybe instead of worrying about what is non-negotiable in our divorce, you crazy asshole, you can start working on that. Anger management: non-negotiable. 

a letter to you on your birthday

Today, in a bizarre toast to you on your day, I made the decision to go through my box of old love letters. Back when we started dating I went to TJ Maxx and bought a box with purple lilacs and French script printed on the cover. What a perfectly romantic place to store the letters you’d been sending me from school! How heartbroken our little teenage hearts were when you left! We knew it was the beginning of a long road paved by the military; lined with long-distance, hard-work, and loneliness. 

Your letters were sweet and short and written in between desperately busy days. You wrote to me about how beautiful I was. How sweet and kind. How much you looked forward to seeing me again. How much you looked forward to the next part, the next month, year, whatever, because it all meant we were closer to seeing each other again and always inches closer to the ultimate: life together after school. You wanted to see me wake up in the morning and hold me at night. You wanted to tell me you loved me and laugh with me. You wanted to be friends. You wanted to be family. 

What do I do with those letters now? Do I throw them away and pretend they never existed? Do I reduce them to some manipulative scheme and dismiss them? Do I let them sit in my heart and feel the love I felt when I was 18, 19, 20, etc., etc, etc. 

I’d like to think it was real. If you were manipulating me I don’t think you knew it. I’m not sure you loved me as deeply as you claimed or as intimately as I needed, but I think somewhere and somehow you loved me. In some universe, when you addressed cards as my love, I really was your love. When you wrote me that I was beautiful and would be a perfect mother and wife, that you would take care of us and protect us, you didn’t know yet I would need protecting from you. You didn’t know that you would tell me someday you wouldn’t want kids because you didn’t want them to grow up to be like me. That one day you could watch me tip the man in the parking lot and look at me, seriously, and say “I fucking hate you” and pretend you never said anything at all. I don’t think you knew on our first Valentine’s Day when you called me your heart and soul that on our last Valentine’s Day you would get me a blank card on the way home from work and never write in it. 

Buried even deeper in the box is a list of things you loved about me where you told me I was smart. I don’t think you knew we would get in a door-slamming, sleep-on-the-couch fight because you thought men were smarter than women, and especially that you were smarter than me. That you could tease me and call me dumb and useless and I would laugh it off. 

How do I reconcile these people that I knew? There was the sweet, sensitive boy who wrote these letters. He surprised me with a weekend to the beach one of our first married summers. We took a ferry to an island and spent the days eating seafood, sleeping on the sand, drinking and smoking cigars and singing 90s songs on the porch. We were at home together. You used to open your arms up to me and ask for a hug while you were on the couch- I loved that you did that. I would be busy, cleaning or folding clothes, and you knew that sometimes an interruption was best. Your arms were strong and warm.

How was that the same man who could leave me alone in a house night after night for hours at a time? Who could disappear to a bar with friends without caring to tell me when he’d come home? Who wouldn’t hug me or touch me or speak to me unless I begged him? Who could scream til he was blue because I took too long curling my hair? 

I used to think the kind version of you was the real one, and the dark version was the one that needed excusing, and there were plenty of excuses. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe that version was real enough, but those roots can only grow so deep. At the core and buried underneath is your darkness and sadness and hatred. I think it might be rotting you away, because it certainly tried to rot me.

I’ll put it so you can understand: I think your kindness is real in the way paint is layered on the canvas. You’ll paint it on thick enough until even you believe it and everyone else sees something beautiful. In the end, though, the canvas is weak and thin and when the paint starts to chip off there’ll be nothing beneath but sadness. 

Happy birthday.

Love,

Me

the morning i left my husband

The morning I left my husband we both cried. I was going to the airport for a weekend trip, he was leaving to visit family for a few weeks. We both knew when he came back I’d be moved out.

I saw him in the kitchen that morning and we looked at each other a little awkwardly- were there rules on saying goodbye to your spouse? We did what we’d always done, held each other, until I rolled my bag to the front step and closed the door behind me.

He followed. Sometimes I wish he would have followed me forever. Or just found a way to stay good.

We held each other in the front yard. Me on my tip toes, my arms around his neck. Him bent over with his head on my shoulder, keeping me close.

More crying.

Somehow I endured a Lyft with a driver who talked the whole ride about nothing. I wanted to fall apart and scream and sleep all at once.

How do these people not know this is the day I’m falling apart? How do they all keep looking at me and talking to me and breathing near me?

Don’t touch me. Don’t look at me. Please.

The flight cross-country is a long one. Longer when you feel like you’re somewhere between crushing, overwhelming sorrow- and I mean sorrow, deeper and broader and more absurd than regular old sadness- and simply not existing. I just shrunk smaller and smaller, collapsing inside myself, somewhere quiet where it was a little bit safe and far from laughter and iPhones and snacks.

Honestly, it was almost was comical- “Hey, how are you, where are you going?”

“Oh, just leaving my husband. I’ll have peanuts, thanks.”

Who was I to walk away? This Catholic girl, marriage is forever, love-him-till-I-die girl? How do I leave those arms, that face? Those joys, those hopes, those dreams? The routines, the rhythm. The long mornings in bed on Saturdays. Brunch by the water on Sundays. Summer nights- bushels of oysters, bottles of wine. Endless fights with the dog about staying off the couch until we realized we liked him on the couch.


It was a summer night when our marriage met the start of it’s end. The emotional distance was getting to be too much again, and I had finally worked up the courage to confront him.

Strike that. I confronted him all the time. This night, he agreed to talk.

We met on the couch, fans oscillating furiously against another heat wave. Just a little extra misery, salt in the wound, courtesy of California.

He admitted he knew he’d been off.

I always can tell right away- the touches don’t linger. The sex is lazy, at best. Slow Saturday mornings are gone. I beg for brunch. He turns away in bed, doesn’t come at all. He’s with his friends more often than not. There’s no pet names, no chats about the day. He just exists.

Somehow he denies it and tells me nothing is wrong- until finally something is wrong.

This time, it was kids. He told me he didn’t want any.

So I told him we were done.

I already knew, really, that the problem wasn’t kids.

It was me.

You see, we had always planned on having kids. At least, I had always planned on kids, and he had always been agreeable.

All I’d ever wanted was to be a wife and mom, to have a little home and family where we could grow in love and grace. From the day I could hold a doll, I was planning on it. At seventeen I chose nursing so I could have time at home to raise a family later. Now I was halfway through grad school because I thought it’d be easier to finish before toddlers were running around. We had just bought a house with an extra room!

You cannot tell me this man I married somehow overlooked the fact that kids were part of the plan and then realized overnight he didn’t want it.

The truth is, he did not want them because he did not want me.

The night of his grand reveal he packed a bag to stay at a friend’s house.

We were crying, again.

Clearly, a lot of crying goes into killing a marriage. Crying and saying I love you, crying in doorways, crying outside. He told me he was going to drink till he forgot everything, saying something about the biggest decision of his life being a mistake. The mistake was me, I guess.

Even still, that night I followed him out the door until he made me go back inside. We both were crying so much he couldn’t leave.

It didn’t matter; there weren’t enough tears in the world to save us. 

It was another summer night, weeks later, when I told him some men chose women like me. Some men wanted women of faith who wanted children. He could tell me he wanted me to stay, but he didn’t want what made me me to stick around- my faith, my dreams, my heart.

It was enough when he, so sincerely, so kindly, conceded, “It’s okay, we’ll figure it out. I’ll just cope with it.”

That was that.

I am not a woman to be coped with. I am a woman to be cherished.

Welcome to your final descent.