Jul. 6th, 2011

corvaxgirl: (Default)
Long-time reader, first-time et cetera.

A couple of weeks ago, the husband of a woman that I know tangentially just didn't come home. After leaving her freaking out for a few days and calling the police, he subsequently emailed (emailed!) her to say he wasn't coming back and was seeing someone else. He still hasn't come back or seen his daughter. (Oh yeah; they have a baby girl.)

I feel absolutely awful for her and hope she has her friends around her, but my question is a bit different. Over the past few years, I've amassed 5 or so stories of these things happening among friends of friends, or acquaintances, sometimes with some kind of grotesque twist (friend-of-friend's boyfriend walks out on her while she's in the bath, so she physically can't chase him). And they just haunt me. I don't want to ask, why do men do this, because I know women are just as capable; but why would anyone do this? Why ask a woman to marry you, pledge yourself to her, have a baby with her, kiss her goodbye in the morning and then, no warning, just be gone? None of the women saw it coming; there were no obvious signs. So (the real question, obviously): How do I know my husband won't ever do that to me?

I have no reason to believe he will; he can't stand to see me hurt or upset. I told him about this particular situation, and he is as baffled and heartsick as I am. But all these other women presumably thought the same. How to make sense of this? How can anyone have real trust and faith in a relationship when these things happen?

Making Peace With Uncertainty

Dear Peace,

If you've read The Vine for any length of time, you know why "anyone" would do this. Some people — many people — go to whatever lengths necessary to avoid confronting a difficult situation or conversation. "I resent the way you speak to me in front of the other bridesmaids," "I think you have a problem with alcohol," "I don't love you anymore" — nobody really wants to say those things, because nobody really wants to hear those things. It's uncomfortable on both sides. Yelling and crying may happen, and usually do. The instinct of many people is to remain silent and wait for a lightning bolt, literal or figurative, because given a choice, they would rather not anger or hurt others — or, more to the point, suffer the consequences of that rage or pain.

In the incidents you mention here, cases where a spouse just folds the tents and splits with no notice, the discomfort/pain avoidance instinct is definitely in play; you can chalk it up to a fundamental lack of courage. You could also argue, for some of them, that the departing spouse has decided on a scorched-earth policy as a perverse way of "making a clean break" or "making it easy on" the other person by "letting him/her hate me." This is bullshit post-hoc rationalizing, of course, but the kind of person who bolts in this fashion is usually the kind of person who can convince him-/herself that s/he's done it For The Good Of All. And that part is true, in its way, but…you know. Still.

And below and behind and running through all of that, I believe, is the good-guy syndrome. It's a variation on why certain exes push so hard for a functioning friendship, like, 18 minutes after you've broken up — if you guys are friends, everything's cool between you, and if everything's cool between you, your ex doesn't have to think about or take responsibility for any selfish/shitty behavior. When you see it on a grander scale, when a woman gets out of the tub and sees empty hangers creaking in the breeze of her husband's abrupt departure, as twisted as it sounds, I think the husband is trying to think of himself as a good guy. If he says out loud, "I don't love you anymore," "I don't want to be married to you anymore," "I don't want to be a husband and father after all," if he admits these things to himself and admits that he doesn't want to shoulder responsibility for his choices, then he has to think of himself as a fucking baby, or a guy who exists outside heteronormative blah blah, or whatever negative. I can't swear to this, because "naked and wet S.O." does not read "run away" to me, noam sayin', so it's a theory, that's all, but I think that, instead of having to admit, to his wife, to himself, to the world that he does not want these duties and these people and this life, which would make him a bad person? He would rather make one crappy hurtful choice about the handling of that, and in his mind, that makes him a basically good guy who did one crappy thing.

Again, I'm not defending it. I'm not even sure this is the thought process. Maybe they're just like, "Fuggit," and throw some undies in a bag and that's it. But I think it's basically a desire to skip over the painful part of breakups completely and fast-forward straight to Six Months Later.

As for how you know your own husband won't do it…you don't. I mean, you do — you can look at the people and the kinds of behavior you surround yourself with, historically speaking, and you can deduce whether he's going to pull that kind of nonsense. If "can't stand to see you hurt or upset" tends to take the form of hiding or flight…I mean, you do know these things. We all know about people, unconsciously.

And yet, we don't. Many of us keep secrets from ourselves, even, never mind from the people we love, or try to love. You can never know everything. You have to trust people, and you have to live up to their trust in you; that's what love is, handing over your heart and trusting that it won't get left out on the counter overnight or slammed in a door or something. Sometimes, that trust isn't warranted, and we always find that out the hard way, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, or try. It just means that some people aren't good, and the biggest leap, sometimes, is trusting ourselves to handle that if we have to.

Anyway: it's hard, and these stories are distressing, but I really doubt your husband has a go bag stashed in the garage ceiling. Let yourself freak out about this stuff for a short time; then run a bath, and get in it with him.
- Tomato Nation

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April 2012

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