As you probably know if you’ve seen my writing on Huffington Post, Facebook, Twitter or this blog, Susan Pease Gadoua and I are collaborating on a book about reimaging marriage, which we’re calling, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Cynics, Commitaphobes and Connubial DIYer. So, of course, I have been researching marriage and thinking about it a lot.
Not just my own marriages and my friends’, as well as the ones detailed in Pamela Paul’s Marriage Confidential and Iris Krasanow’s The Secret Lives of Wives, but the marriage that set the marital stage for me — my parents’ marriage.
It was not a perfect marriage. In fact, it was a marriage I knew when I was growing up I never wanted to replicate. And yet it lasted 61 years while the most I could muster was 14 years in marriage No. 2; the first ended after 3-1/2 years. How did they do it? How did two people who probably shouldn’t have been married last six decades? Then it hit me — as weird as my parents’ marriage often struck me when I was younger, I had been missing a key element: For many years my parents were LATS, live alone together. And that’s all because of my mom.
I have no idea what discussion my parents had before my mother decided, at age 50-something, to leave my dad, our Yorkie, Teddy, and our cozy home in Queens to buy a condo in the Miami area, where my sister was already living. But that’s what she did — she moved down there and promptly got herself a job at Elizabeth Arden and a new life independent of my dad.
Granted, my father’s mom was still alive and he wasn’t ready to retire yet, so he didn’t have the option of picking up and moving with her. Not that she wanted him there! And not that he wanted to move to Florida; he loved New York and hated change in general. Still, he visited her for a long weekend every month (I tease him that if he’d only got a patent for the meshed-screened carry-on pooch bag he designed and built to bring Teddy with him, we’d be multimillionaires) until his mom passed away, he retired and he joined her (kicking and screaming all the way). But they lived apart for a good 10 years or so.
I never felt like I had a “normal” family, but this pretty much confirmed it. I certainly didn’t know any other parents who were married but lived apart, let alone thousands of miles apart, but then who doesn’t think their parents are odd? Plus, I wasn’t too concerned with them at the time; like most 20-somethings, I was pretty absorbed in my own life.
Now that I look back at their marriage, however, I see that this was the way they made it work. It was a rocky marriage when I was growing up, and it was rocky when my dad moved to Florida. But it was peaceful, loving and happy when they lived apart all those years, and peaceful and loving again in the last year of my mom’s life, when my dad was in a nursing home and they would never again live together.
After my divorce, I sat down with my mom to ask her about her life, whether she was happy as a wife and a mother, what dreams she gave up; I thought it was important to talk woman to woman, wife to wife, mother to mother, and not just daughter to mother; I knew I would have a better understand of the baggage I brought to my relationships. I asked her why she moved to Florida. Her answer was simple and honest and complicated at the same time: “I had enough.”
(My relationship with my mother is among the topics I’ll be talking about at the Women’s Power Strategy Conference at San Domenico School on March 24, designed to educate and inspire women of all ages. Please join an amazing list of speakers and me, but here’s a peek into what I’ll say: All adult sons and daughters should ask the same questions of their own parents. You’ll get a better understanding of them and yourself. Don’t wait too long!)
I didn’t want my parents’ marriage, but in retrospect I think my own marriage would have greatly benefited if I had done what my mother had done — allowed myself to have “space.” Perhaps not thousands of miles away in my own condo in Florida, but the freedom to take care of my own needs while also taking care of my children’s and my husband’s needs. I don’t think enough women give themselves permission to do that.
- Have you been a marital renegade?
- How do you create space in your marriage?
- Do you feel guilty about it?
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