January 2011

It’s been said that the truly good relationships are not difficult. And if a relationship is difficult, particularly early on, it’s not meant to be. My relationship with Mack has been fraught with complications since the first night I met him.

You see, when I met Mack he was living with another woman. I did not know this before we met. He came clean the night of our first date, when she called in the middle of one of our first kisses. Mack explained that they were living together, and not married, and that the relationship essentially had been over for years. They were like roommates. Albeit roommates who slept in the same bed but didn’t touch each other. There was only one bed in the house, so where else was he to sleep?

During the two months we communicated prior to meeting, Mack held himself out as available. Unencumbered. Free. So when he told me this on our first date, I was crushed. And pissed off. We left the bar shortly thereafter, and it was my intention to never see him again. That lasted less than twenty-four hours. As I mentioned earlier, he came to my place the next day, and thus began a torrid affair.

In the midst of the affair, Mack proposed with the stand-in ring. He then moved in with me, exactly two months after our first date. After he moved in, we went to the jeweler and got the official ring, which I’m still wearing on my left hand. When Mack and I had our meltdown, just over two weeks ago, he packed up and moved back in with his ex. She was not totally his ex, of course, since he had been going back to the house he lived in with her nearly every day to work in his studio, although he now slept in my bed. And he worked on her house and did other chores for her while he was there. You see, during the period they lived together, they incurred some debt, and Mack is in the process of paying off his portion of that debt. So he works in the studio and on her house, and whittles down the debt. It’s kind of like alimony. Only with alimony, the relationship actually is over and you pay the debt from a distance.

So here we are, with Mack living with his ex who agreed to take him back in a roommate capacity on a trial basis. With one caveat: There is to be no contact with me. That’s right: Mack’s roommate/ex-girlfriend has forbade him from seeing me. If he does see me, it seems the roommate arrangement will be terminated. Why doesn’t Mack just move out and get his own place? Money unfortunately is an issue. So Mack is in a pickle. In fact, if it weren’t for the money conundrum, I think the complications of our relationship would all but disappear. And Mack is not moving back in with me because he’s worried if it doesn’t work, the roommate/ex-girlfriend’s home no longer will be an option and he’ll be living in a basement in North Dakota.

I completely understand his reticence, therefore, regarding moving back in with me. I also understand why I now am on the down-low more than I was during the two months we actually were having an affair (if you call sleeping with an unmarried man who lives with a woman he doesn’t have sex with an affair). So here we are back to sneaking around, only we’re being even sneakier than before. I am the other woman. A role I do not play well. And yet I’m wearing an engagement ring. Yes, I do understand the irony.

Indeed, the gravity of the situation is bearing down mightily upon me today. And so I wonder if something this complicated is destined to end badly. Is it possible to slog through the issues and come out the other side, happily ever after?

I’ll tell you one thing I know: Those people who say that good relationships are easy and difficult relationships are bad, are idiots. Relationships are difficult. All relationships. They take patience and care and nurturing and commitment. They are never easy. If your partner matters to you, you put forth the effort to work it out. And if you think your relationship is easy, I’m guessing you’re not paying attention. In fact, you might just be living together as roommates.

Have you ever asked  yourself if a relationship is all about sex? If not for the sex, would there be anything left? If there is no sex, can there be a relationship?

Mack and I got together today at my place for the first time since he moved out. Two weeks ago tomorrow. Which means we haven’t had sex in two weeks. Yes, we fooled around in the car exactly one week after he moved out. But today, he came to my place, where we lived together. The key difference between car sex and home sex is the level of intent. Sitting in a car and making out and fooling around like teenagers is lacking in intent. You just sort of fall into it. But when you meet at home, where there’s a bed and you’re alone, well then you know the potential for makeup sex is very real. And so the level of intent is much greater. And if you have sex under those circumstances, you mean it.

When Mack and I made plans to get together today, I honestly did not know if he would allow himself to make love to me. He said we were going to talk. And so I thought maybe he would keep me on ice today and make me continue to think about what I’d done. What we’d done. I thought he’d continue to make us think good and hard about where we’ve been and where we’re going. The thing is, that’s all I’ve been thinking about for the past two weeks. But if Mack was intent on keeping my at arm’s length, there was nothing I could do about it.

He was to arrive at 2:00 p.m. At 1:55 I was standing in the hallway looking stealthily through the peephole: far enough away that my eyeball wasn’t visible from the other side, but I could see any darkened figure approaching. At 2:09 my cell phone pings. Mack has sent me a text message: “I’m on my way.” It seems prudent to abandon my post at the peephole. I go upstairs, pet the kitties. Pace. At 2:30, I begin peeking out the blinds from the bedroom upstairs. More cat-petting. At 2:35, the cat perks up her ears and looks toward the street below. She loves Mack, and so I know he’s walking up the drive.

Sure enough, the doorbell rings seconds later. I open the door, and there he is, on the landing. I let him in and we embrace. He holds me for a nice long time. A good sign. Yes, I’m watching for signs; hypervigilant. Does he still want me? Is he here to call the whole thing off? We sit down on the sofa and he picks through my latest blog, intent on reprimanding me for something I’d written. But his arms are around me. A good sign. We continue this exercise in distance and restraint. But then suddenly we’re kissing, I’m moaning, my shirt is off, my mouth is envying his penis, and the world is back on its axis.

We go upstairs. To the bedroom. The sex is passionate, hungry, desperate. It was everything it used to be when we fell in love. Everything it used to be before we lived together for weeks. We found our way back to the place we’d been before everything fell apart.

With this lovemaking, had we gone backward, or sideways? I don’t think either of us cared. At that moment, we were where we both ached to be, regardless of how we got there. We have a chance. All is not lost. This love is not destined for the dungheap of all our failed relationships. The sex is alive. Our passion is as big as it’s ever been. And to my thinking, our lovemaking today was better than it’s ever been. (Okay, bondage night is a close second.) Afterward, we lay there in each other’s arms, talking, crying (okay, I’m crying, he’s not), laughing. Laughing. I had missed laughing with Mack. If there’s one thing Mack does as well as he makes love, it’s that he makes me laugh. That’s the top two things on my list of what I want in a man, checked off. And it bothered me that he slurped his coffee? Made noises with his mouth when he slept that sounded like he was going down on me? What is wrong with me? Why was I complaining?

Well, it’s all about the frog. Which I explained to Mack today. I’ve lived alone my entire life. And suddenly, after two months of dating, I lived with Mack. I was like the frog thrown into the pot of boiling water. And I wanted the fuck out. But if Mack had put me into a pot of tepid water, and slowly turned the heat up, I would have been all cozy, and been perfectly content to stay in the pot. Mack thought that was a lovely metaphor. “Except the frog dies,” he said. “Everybody dies sometime,” I said. And we laughed. God, I love laughing with Mack. 

Can sex heal? Yes, judging by my experience today, I think it can.

No, this post is not about drinking wine out of a spittoon. But I bet I could better cope with the fact that my relationship with Mack is hanging by a thread by drinking lots of wine and acting irresponsibly.

Mack has backed off a bit since we decided to try to work it out. His backing off is painful. There are moments when I want to retaliate for what feels like being sent off to stick my nose in the corner in a time out. I want to throw another childish tantrum and tell Mack I’m not the only one who did something wrong here, so why am I the only one being punished? But I won’t do that, because that’s the kind of behavior that got me into this pickle. 

More importantly, I love him and I’m not ready to toss our relationship onto the top of the dungheap of all my other dead relationships. I’m forty-seven, for fuck’s sake. And he’s fifty-seven. Do you really just say “fuck it” these days like you would when you’re in your 20s or 30s and you feel like you have a whole lifetime of relationships to burn through? No, you don’t. Just like life becomes more precious as you get older, so do relationships. You figure out what’s important and you hold on tight.

So what’s important? Money? Status? Power? A big fat house? Lots of shoes? For some people, certainly. But is that what’s important to me? I would unequivocally answer, no. But Mack thinks otherwise. And for good reason.

I should back up. (Yeah, backing up to fill in some blanks from my first post, Backing Up.)

After Mack left, I was angry. And deeply wounded. I wasn’t thinking clearly. Which is my lame excuse for posting a blog which identified Mack, and painted a very unflattering picture of him. At the same time, I depicted myself as someone who feels money and status are of supreme importance. Equally unflattering. It never occurred to me that Mack would read this blog. But of course, Mack did read the blog. And here we are.

But where are we? Are we backing up? Are we going sideways? Can we have a do-over of Black Sunday? Can we undo the mistakes? Or at least leave them behind?

Mack, understandably, is more doubtful than I am. After all, my transgressions were greater. I hurt him deeply. Even so, after some discussion, Mack and I have agreed to not back up. For some reason that we haven’t quite articulated, backward is bad, but sideways is okay. So we’re going sideways.

What’s the difference between backing up and going sideways? I think backing up means artificially moving back to a place where you no longer are. It means pretending things didn’t happen in a relationship that have happened. It means putting the genie back in the bottle or rebagging the cat. It can’t be done. Moving sideways means stopping to take stock. Looking at where you’ve been, being in a sort of holding pattern, before moving forward again. When you go sideways, you continue with the relationship; you don’t abandon it, but you don’t move forward, either. Instead, you assess how you got where you are, and consider whether you feel the relationship is worth investing in further, before moving forward.

When you go backward, you take the engagement ring off your left hand and put it on your right. When you go sideways, you leave the engagement ring on your left hand. But you don’t plan the elopement. Instead, you spend time evaluating the relationship, and hopefully strengthening the foundation, while standing still.

So tonight our relationship remains alive. Wounded, but alive. And I shall drink Merlot out of a spittoon, in honor of going sideways. Plus my heart just hurts, and I want to feel better.

When I was in undergraduate school, my chosen major was journalism. The only thing I knew for certain I loved to do was write. The only way I knew to  make a living writing was to be a journalist. So I chose journalism as my major. Near the end of my freshman year, my father convinced me that I’d never make a living writing, and that I should be sensible, and change my major to business.

My father is an engineer. At the time he was an entrepreneur, having started his own sales and manufacturing business that employed a dozen people. My father was the smartest man I knew, and like most daughters, I wanted to please him. I wanted him to be proud of me. So beginning my sophomore year, my major was general business administration. I didn’t choose a major any more specific than this, as business was not really my thing, and so I couldn’t pinpoint in exactly what direction I wanted to go in the college of business.

I made As. A couple of Bs. And one notable D. In biology. Animals and Man. I think that grade was a protest against a professor who refused to teach evolution. When I got out of undergrad, I went to work for an insurance company as a claims adjuster. Everyone else in my family worked for my father, including my sister, her husband, and my two older brothers. I, on the other hand, wanted to strike out on my own. And so I did. After several years of working for insurance companies, I quit, moved into a garage apartment at my parents’, and went to law school. I was an editor on my law review, and head brief writer for my law school’s moot court teams. I won awards. I was published. I found an outlet for my writing. Even if it was legal writing. It still was writing.

When I got out of law school, I discovered that a lawyer who writes well can make a pretty good living. And so I did. I like to write briefs. I like to win, especially at written and oral advocacy. But my heart was never really in it. It pays the bills.

I’ve had an ongoing fantasy for years of just ditching it all. Moving to the Caribbean and selling beaded ankle bracelets on the beach. And writing. Or moving to Canada and living in my parents’ cabin on the lake. And writing. Somehow just giving up these golden handcuffs, and being set free of the grind.

But I’m afraid to ever really do it. How could I give up my cushy easy life?

And then I met Mack. Mack has lived his entire life in pursuit of his dream. His dream of being a singer songwriter, and a writer. Despite opportunities to do so, he never gave up his dream for an easy, obvious existence.

I envy Mack. When I saw the way he lives his life, when I got to know a man who never sold out, who never let money be more important than his passion, I wanted to be him. I joked with him the other day that I should give up being a lawyer, and we could run away to Canada and live in the cabin with the cats. And write. 

He said the cats would be eating our faces within a month because we would have killed each other. The cabin is small.

But I want what Mack has. I want to be free of this existence to which I sold out when I was too young to know any better. When all that mattered to me was pleasing my father. And when Mack was living with me, and living the way an artist lives, I hated him for having the strength to choose that life. I hated myself for selling out, and being trapped by a paycheck that can fund unlimited trips to the sushi bar.

I envy Mack and the choices he’s made. And that was a problem. It had me picking at him and criticizing him, and ridiculing him. Little did he know, I envy him.

I hope from here on out, I can focus that envy on his penis. His cock. Yes, I do envy Mack’s cock. Or something like that.

Is it possible, in a relationship, to back up? If you’ve made some missteps, can you retrace those steps, and try again?

Mack and I met six months ago on a website. No, not a dating website; a website on a topic in which we had a mutual interest. We hit it off. Big time. He pursued me on the site, and shortly thereafter we began communicating outside the site. We wrote to each other for two months, and the sparks were flying on paper. I was smitten before I ever felt him in the flesh. And then we met. If there ever was a thing as love at first sight, this was it. (Being the skeptic I am, I remain somewhat unconvinced of the phenomenon. In any event, this was as close to love at first sight as I’ve ever been.)

We met on a Thursday. The next day, we met again and slept together for the first time. I was enthralled. Mack is ten years older than me. A talented musician and writer. And he called me a lawyer who’s really a writer. Telling me things like that, coupled with the best sex I’ve ever had, and I was gone. It didn’t hurt that he was nicer to me than any man I’ve ever been with in my forty-seven years here on earth. Yes, I fell for Mack. Quickly. And hard.

Within six weeks he asked me to marry him with a stand-in ring. Several weeks later, we went to the jeweler, picked out the official ring, and he proposed again. By the light of our first Christmas tree. The first tree I’ve had in nearly a decade. We both cried that night. Mack and I cried a lot those first few months. Tears of joy. And of pain when we were apart.

At forty-seven, I’ve never been married. Mack was married once, for six years or so, about twenty-five years ago. Since that time he’s been in a few serious relationships, and one woman he lived with for fifteen years. But he never married again. I’ve never lived with anyone. Unless you count the guy I lived with in my twenties for three months, which was agreed to be temporary from the start.

But now Mack wanted to get married. And so did I. For the first time in my life, I met a man who made me feel loved enough that I felt it was safe to marry him. And so we were engaged.

Mack moved in with me exactly two months after we met in the flesh. He moved in on his birthday. It felt like a gift for us both. We grilled steaks. I gave him some clothes. Instead of wrapping them, I hung them in the closet. And I hung his key from a candle on the cake.

We kept the engagement secret for nearly a month. But as Christmas approached, I asked him to go to my hometown with me to meet my family, and break the happy news. And so on Christmas Eve, we drove through a terrible rainstorm, arriving just before dinner. My aging parents were there, my brothers, all three of my nieces, the husbands of my two married nieces, and my nephew. I poured champagne for us all and raised my glass to toast the fact that, “Hell hath indeed frozen over. Mack and I are engaged.” Later that night, Mack and I made love in my high school bedroom.

Living with Mack made me happy. Sleeping with him was my new favorite thing. I don’t mean just the lovemaking, which was phenomenal. But the actual sleeping. Our bodies just fit. We cooked together. We read out loud in bed: his writing, some short stories, and The Color Purple. We went hiking. And to the art museum. We had coffee in the morning, and drinks at night. We made love. Twice a day most days. I was happy. A little overwhelmed with the changes, but okay.

And then January 3 came, and it was time to go back to work. My company had undergone a merger into a much bigger company, which was effective January 1. So I was to embark on my second merger one month after the first. My current company was small. Less than thirty employees. The company that bought us is multinational, with offices all over the country, and several overseas.

I was overwhelmed with the changes. And suddenly, Mack  was getting on my nerves. He was always there. He slept too late when I had to get up and go to work. He slurped coffee. He typed too loudly when he sat at the laptop writing his novel. He didn’t play his guitar any more. Come to think of it, he hadn’t been playing any gigs since he moved in. He made funny noises with his mouth in his sleep. He tapped the coffee cup with the spoon, exactly twice, every time he fixed a fresh cup. He left water puddles on the kitchen counter. He didn’t put toilet paper on the roll when it was empty. All the things that I had found endearing just weeks ago, I found reprehensible. And I made sure to tell him about every single transgression.

Things became tense. He walked on eggshells, doing everything in his power to not upset me. To make me happy. To make things work. But I was relentless. I decided our earnings gap was a problem. I decided something had to be done. And it had to be done immediately. And so I stormed in from the grocery store six weeks after he moved in and said: “This is not working.” My intent was to have a conversation. Release some of the overwhelming pressure I was feeling. I don’t know how to live with a man. I’ve never done it. And here I was, merging in my personal life, merging in my professional life, and I was losing it. I had transformed into a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth two-headed monster. 

Mack had had enough. He wasn’t interested in talking with me to release the pressure. All he saw was a woman who found him unbearable to live with. And so he packed his things, and he left.

Over the course of six weeks, Mack learned that I can be difficult to live with, prone to moody silences, and hypercritical (his word: ridiculing). I learned that Mack leaves when things become difficult.

That was ten days ago. And every day since, I have missed him. I miss him in bed. I miss him sitting at the table, writing and typing loudly and slurping coffee. I miss seeing his truck when I get home at night. I miss sitting at the table with him having dinner, one cat on the table, lying there, watching us eat; the other pacing the floor, meowing for scraps like a dog. (Mack always gave in and fed her scraps.) I miss him getting up with me in the morning and having coffee. I miss getting ready for work, hearing him type, and talking to the kitties. I miss him kissing me goodbye on my way out, and standing in the doorway, waving goodbye as I drive away. I miss him making sure I brought something to work for lunch. I miss him cooking dinner instead of eating the same leftovers every day all week long. (Lunch today was an apple and some almond butter straight from the jar. Dinner: cheese, stale crackers, and wine.) I miss being with him every day. I miss hearing his voice every day. I miss feeling his arms around me every day. Even when I was feeling surly and hating all the stupid little things, I always wanted to feel his arms around me and I always wanted to feel him lying next to me in bed. Every damn day.

I think Mack must miss me too, because last night he agreed to try again. He agreed to see if we might be good for each other, after all. I asked him if I should wear the ring on my right hand, and he said, no. But he won’t move back in with me. We’re going to date. And assess our compatibility. Assess whether I admire him, despite the differences in our income and lifestyles. Assess whether we truly love each other, or whether it’s just about the best sex either of us has ever had in our lives. (I don’t think you can have sex like that without love.) Assess whether this love, a love which we thought was a once-in-a-lifetime love, our last chance for love, is salvageable.

So the question is, can Mack and I go backward? Can we date after living together for six weeks? Is there such a thing as a second chance? I do know this: We both care enough to try. Even though I’m still learning, I’m pretty sure that’s what commitment is all about.


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