Originally posted on 06-03-07:
I was at the farmer’s market with my backpack yesterday, stocking up for the week, when I had an interesting conversation with the blueberry vendor. I had been buying them at another booth that sold them in plastic packs, but his were sweeter, and organic. He had them in bulk, so he was selling them by the pound instead of by the pack, and I wasn’t sure how that translated. I asked him to weigh out a pound so that I could judge, which he did, and I said that was good, that I would take another third of a pound. He started to add more to the bag he’d already weighed, and I said, “Could you put them in another bag, please?”
He looked puzzled.
“The pound is for me,” I said, “and the third is for my wife.”
He looked amused, but complied, saying, “So you keep separate books?”
“Yes,” I said, “we do. Actually we don’t live together.”
“When I retired, I found I missed having my time alone, so I moved into an apartment,” I explained.
“I understand,” he said sympathetically.
“I wasn’t used to having a constant companion,” I said.
“I understand,” he said, and after a pause, “My wife would never go for that.”
“You have to be very insistent,” I smiled.
“I can imagine,” he nodded.
“It was very difficult for a while,” I said, “but we’re best friends, now.”
We finished the transaction and I went on to find the peaches.
I was thinking about the conversation later, and about what it took to make the separation: you have to be willing to risk losing everything in the relationship. Having solitude, independence, freedom have to be that important. Understanding how important they were did not come easily to me.
I started writing about our relationship a year after I retired, and ten months before I left. I showed the writing to her, and we talked about it, and we tried to work out a compromise.
Part of the problem is my enjoyment of being helpful, and involved in that is a difficulty I have watching someone else struggle with something that I could easily do. Part of the struggle for me, then, was resisting those urges to step in and take over. For Eve’s part, she had to cut back her expectations, and to resist the habit of mentioning that something I usually did needed doing. It wasn’t easy for either one of us.
As weeks and months went by, I kept upping the ante. I still felt constricted, and was trying to pare the constraints away when I became aware of them. Eve was feeling more and more deprived, wondering how much more she would have to give up, what was going to be left.
We finally decided I should see a therapist—she was already seeing one—and the perfect one came to mind. We had been pretty regular, for a while, at attending a weekly meditation group lead by Howard Cohn, a Vipassana teacher and also a therapist. It would avoid my having to explain the Buddhist aspects of my point of view, and we both liked and respected him.
I went for several weeks, and all our sessions were good for me, but the next to last one was the eye-opener. I somehow got into telling him stories from what had been one of the happiest times of my life: the years when I was single and smoking pot, between wives two and three. I was elated walking back down the hill to my car. That was what I was missing: not the smoking pot, but the total independence.
It took some thinking to decide where I would go with that, but the end result was that I told Eve I wanted a place of my own. It was not what she wanted, and she was not happy about it. She felt I had misled her, and that I was deserting her. I told her it was not deceptiveness, but ignorance of myself that had put us in that position; that I was sorry, but that I couldn’t imagine changing that aspect of myself; didn’t want to give it up.
I had some misconceptions about what it would be like being on my on. I had fantasies of the kind of sexual freedom I had in the old days, but times have changed, and I have changed. I couldn’t mislead anyone, or allow them to think there was a future. As I said yesterday, “Women tend to think that I am in love with them, and that a life of cohabitation, companionship, and shared bliss stretch out before us to life’s end.” I couldn’t allow anyone to think that, and once I made that clear, no one was interested.
So there have been some adjustments of fantasy to reality, but the end result is I am happier than I have ever been, even when I was young, high, and sexually active. I was chained to pot in those days, and laden with misunderstandings about myself, life, and human beings that caused suffering to me and others.
Eve has come to see the benefits for herself, too. She can do anything she wants to the house without my consent, and she has re-discovered a strength, resilience, and self-sufficiency she had forgotten she was capable of. She also doesn’t have to deal with my showing her “Hatcher’s better way,” or as we came to nickname that aspect of me, “Mr. Fussy.”
Everything changes, of course. My body isn’t getting any younger, and some options will doubtless be removed, but others will likely open, too. It could all end in a heartbeat, and inevitably will at some point, but in the meantime I have a big smile on my face
Why Is This Man Smiling?