Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Stuff that Did Happen

When I was 22 I married my first love, the first (okay, only) guy I ever had a serious relationship with.  We dated all through college and it was fun and exciting and we could not keep our hands off each other.  People told us we were too young to get married.  My roommate told me I'd never have the opportunity to have a romantic tryst in Paris.  None of these warnings seemed reasonable.  What nobody told us, until after our divorce, was not to marry the first guy you were ever serious about.  There are plenty of examples where it works out, even my own parents, but it often doesn't.  At one point I did want to break up, as I thought that was a way we could be sure we were right for each other.  He was so upset, told me we'd have to have all new friends, could not talk to each other, that I backed down.  When I did finally leave him, two years after we got married, I held onto that idea to ease my guilt, that if only he'd given us that break then, we'd either be happily married or avoided a divorce by never getting married.

He was a nice guy, a bit arrogant but who isn't when they are getting top grades at MIT?  He had a crazy, sometimes mean, family, but again don't we all?   The second year were were married I stopped visiting his horrible relatives and dropped out of school, but still became clinically depressed.  I stopped being attracted to him and didn't exactly have an affair, but we did dip our toes into an open marriage, I can't even remember why - either it was fun (more and varied sex!) or we were trying to save our marriage.  I did some pretty awful things, probably subconsciously hoping that would make it easier to break up.  I was miserable, stopped eating, drank a lot and cried all the time.  Even after he kicked me out of bed he let me stay on the couch until I found a place to live.  Like I said, he was a very nice guy.  It's what is now termed a "starter marriage" - no house, no kids, no regrets.  As a middle-aged (yuck) married mom, I now know every marriage goes through tough times and it's hard to know if things could have worked out.

There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently, both for that marriage and my current.  If you get married in a church I believe you need to have pre-marital counseling - a grand idea as far as I know, although I can't say from first hand experience.  I probably would have lived together longer, had serious talks about goals and philosophy of child-rearing, career, etc.  Looking back gets you nowhere, though, or does it?

We recently finished our next "From Left to Write" book club book, "The Stuff That Never Happened" by Maddie Dawson, a novel about a woman married to the same man for 28 years but also in love with another man.  We hear about Annabelle's current life, where her husband, Grant, is busy writing a book, her kids are out of the house and she feels neglected.  The chapters alternate between the present and past, which covers meeting her husband in college then dropping out to move across the country to join him, where they live with his academic adviser's family, and he works all the time.  She alludes to infidelities and confesses she fantasize about a past love and, to add to the mix, Annabelle's daughter is convinced her own absent husband is having an affair.

Judging (no pun intended) from the comments on some of the other blog posts inspired by the book, she's selfish, does not have enough to do, and screwing over her sweet husband with a jerk.  I have to confess I sympathize with her.  We are told we are responsible for our own happiness, but aren't the loves of our loves somewhat responsible for keeping us happy? How long do we continue to be miserable, and when an opportunity for happiness is thrown in our face are we supposed to ignore it?  My own uncle told my parents I should have stuck with my vows, but he himself was married to my divorced aunt.  Annabelle took the opportunity she thought would make her happy.  I moved into my own place, which is where Annabelle eventually ended up as well.

People are always surprised when I tell them that I kept the sex of our first child so a secret from my husband (there's a point here, I swear).  I believe I was able to keep it a secret since he really didn't want to know - I thought I gave it away so many times.   In the book there were two other people affected by the affair, who were so wrapped up with their own lives they were literally clueless as to the happenings around them.  They were the "wronged parties" but my take is they had a part here too.

I certainly don't long for my ex-husband, any leftover dreams about him (which usually ended up with me waking in relief we were no longer married) ended about 18 years ago, but I do know I want to be happier in my marriage than I am today.  I think by going back to her past, and talking it out, Annabelle saved her marriage.  I'm still working on my solution.  Then again, I'm living in the real world, Annabelle gets to have a happy ending written for her.

I received a free copy of the book as part of the From Left To Write book club blog.


  1. I think you and I got this book in a similar way. I didn't have a "starter marriage" and I'm so thankful of that, but it could have so easily happened. At 22 how can you possibly know yourself well enough to commit to another person for life? I know people do, and are successful (my parents actually) but I don't think that's the norm.

    I came away from the book feeling like Jeremiah manipulated Annabelle. I don't think he was a particularly good man, exciting yes, but "good," no. It's hard to say no to excitement though, especially when the person that is supposed to be there for you really isn't.

  2. Thank you for such an honest post. And even though some I do think Annabelle did a selfish thing, I don't think that is always bad. She honestly felt she made a mistake and the passion she had with Jeremiah filled a void she had with Grant. Unfortunately, she learned the hard way that passion only takes you so far.

    Thanks for the link back!

  3. Nicole, thank you so much for these very wise insights into Annabelle--who moved into my head a complex character and stayed there growing more complex by the day during the year I was writing about her. (She's since departed, thank goodness--even though I loved her throughout and missed her for a long time.) Although she is not me, I, too, sympathized with her dilemma. And I love it that people see her differently, because I think we're all seeing her through the lens of our own experiences. Some people are horrified that she cheated on Grant early in her marriage and can't get beyond that; others (including many of my friends who read early drafts) saw Grant as a horribly selfish, stuffy guy who didn't deserve her. One friend even said she was so disappointed that Annabelle didn't run off with Jeremiah at the end--when I thought he was clearly impossible! See? You just never know how people are going to take things.

  4. Such a painfully honest post Nichole. Hope it wasn't painful to relive it for your blog. I always enjoy reading your posts.

  5. The perspective of a first marriage certainly lends itself to a more enlightened second marriage. At least it seems to have in your case. I met my husband in my freshman year of college, so I only have the perspective of the one partner in my life.

    Thanks for your enthusiasm for the From Left to Write book club! I am loving everyone's posts.

  6. I sympathized with her, too! Love your post.

  7. Thanks for the honest post. There is someone I thought I was going to marry at 21. I screwed it up, but I think subconsciously I knew it wasn't going to be a good match over time. One thing that Annabelle was lacking was closure. That's what you got. Had she run away with Jeremiah in the first place, she would have seen that he wasn't perfect and wouldn't have been able to idealize the situation.

  8. Hi Nicole! :) I finally managed to get one post done. Check it out!



    p.s. I married my first (and only) love at 18!! Eeek!