My marriage may be over. My wife has not been happy. I have not been happy either. And this week, she said she thought we were done, something I never thought I would hear either of us say.
I didn’t think we were quite at that point, but I didn’t argue, I didn’t fight, I didn’t yell, I didn’t say anything cruel that I would regret. Honestly, I’m not sure why I was so calm. Probably a combination of a lot of things. But I wasn’t willing to fight for us, which might say more about my true feelings than anything else I said or did.
Our lives are chaotic. We are both business owners which brings a special kind of stress, anxiety, and paranoia that people who have never been entrepreneurs simply can’t understand. We have employees and people who depend on us, we have customers that we need to please, we have overhead and expenses, and we have we have to make sales. All of those things factor into our bottom line and we’re not entirely in control of any of it. I’ve been living with the entrepreneurial reality for almost 11 years now, but for her it’s been less than two so she’s still learning how to deal with the ups and downs. The businesses that she runs have more overhead built into their DNA than mine which is a special challenge. In my business I don’t have that issue, but sales are usually directly tied to my level of effort and commitment — which is the part of my job that I find most draining as someone who tends to dislike things like small talk. Business ownership is not an easy gig. An additional stress for her is that the stores are a 50 minute drive without traffic. It’s not an unpleasant drive, but in the winter — especially with any sort of bad weather — traffic can be terrible. When we bought the business we thought that once we got things settled she’d only have to be there 3 or 4 days a week. Changes in staffing and business hours though have forced her to be there 10-6 up to five days a week. Having to do that distance all the time and sometimes in bad weather after dark is obviously something that perhaps we were naive in thinking we could avoid when we bought the business.
But then you take that baseline level of stress and add two young children — a 12 year old daughter who is in the uncomfortable period between being a kid and being a teenager and a nine year old son who is very explosive and prone on any given day to crying, arguing, and even full-on temper tantrums which sometimes happen at school or in public. Then you add things like chores and homework and kid activities like drama and basketball. Then you add pets. We have three rabbits, two dogs, one of which is 16 years old and has bouts of diarrhea and incontinence, and then a whole lot of birds. It’s a lot to pay attention to and it’s a lot to take care of.
Then add the general care of the house. The kids leave their stuff everywhere. The pets make messes. There are dishes and pots and pans and cooking. There is laundry. There is shopping. There’s the front yard which always looks like crap because I absolutely detest dealing with lawns and grass and all of that and because when I do try to take care of it, I do a really shitty job which means that even when it’s done I never get a drop of satisfaction from it. There’s the back yard, which we spent a ridiculous amount of money to finish per our HOA guidelines, which is now a huge mess of rocks and dirt and poorly manicured bushes. (not that it was ever beautiful but time, dogs, and a husband that hates working outside have taken a toll on things). We have a back patio that we don’t use except when I grill and is perpetually covered in dog shit since the old dog can’t make it down the stairs to the yard and the young dog just does what she does.
We pay someone to come and clean every Friday which helps a lot, but apply pets and kids and tired parents and usually by Tuesday it’s a craphole again.
I hate saying this, but I’ve been terribly bored. I’m not bored in the sense that there’s nothing to do, clearly there’s no shortage, but I am tired and disinterested in what our home life has become. From morning to night, the whole thing is choreographed.
I wake up, sometimes my daughter is up before me, I don’t get up at exactly the same time every day but I always try to be downstairs before she leaves for the bus at 6:45. I make coffee, have a smoke and start working. At about 7:05, my son comes downstairs. At 7:30, I remind him that he has half an hour to finish his chores and leave. I remind him again at 7:40 and 7:45. I notice that he hasn’t done one of the things that he was supposed to. I tell him to hustle. Sometimes at this point everything goes fine. Sometimes I have to ride him, with me yelling and screaming to finish getting ready and get out the door. Why do you wait until 7:58 to put your socks and shoes on? How about a jacket? Do you have your snack? Your homework? Your bus card? He goes through phases it seems where one scenario is more common than the other. If he’s in a phase where he’s disorganized and seemingly clueless in the morning, there will be at least one day every week where I’ll be riding him to get out of the house and that turns into a tantrum which makes it 10 times worse.
Sometime between 8 and 9 the wife will get up and come downstairs. She usually leaves just after 9, so sometimes she’ll come down for a cup of coffee and to chat a bit before she takes her shower and gets ready, sometimes she comes down and leaves a few minutes after. We’ll have a smoke before she goes though, smoking is one of the only times that we seem to talk anymore on a daily basis.
For the rest of the day, I’m working. I may or may not leave the house. If I am not leaving the house, the possibility exists that I may not shower or shave, although that’s a fairly rare occurrence. The ability to work in one’s pajamas is difficult to resist sometimes, I won’t lie. Work is busy though. We have a lot going on and even when I don’t have to leave the house, I’m always active almost the whole day on the phone and email. I usually take time to eat lunch but it’s rare that I have breakfast these days. Lunch is usually some kind of leftovers, or if I have errands or shopping to do, I might run out to Costco or something around lunch time or between calls and grab something while I’m out. Work is sometimes very stressful. Sometimes we have customers that need to be pushed along through the process. Sometimes we have deadlines that overlap. Sometimes we get hit with a lot of stuff at once despite our best efforts to manage workflow. It’s all part of the gig. It’s frustrating sometimes and it’s not always fun, but I have many more good days than bad days now vs. 13-15 months ago.
At about 3:10 my daughter gets home. If I’m not on the phone, she usually stops in to my office to chit chat for a few minutes before she starts chores and homework. My son gets home about 40 minutes later. He sits down to have a snack and I tell him to start on chores and homework when he’s done. At about 4:30 I come out to check on them. He’s usually drawing something or doing something else that isn’t homework. I tell him to get cracking. Every day his homework includes doing 30 minutes of reading and 10 minutes of math facts. He also gets one weekly math assignment and has to write a weekly book report. He does these things on Wednesday and Thursday generally. If it’s math or book report night, he’s more likely than not going to have a crying fit if not a full tantrum. For the last 3-4 months, on Monday nights my daighter would have basketball practice for their rec league and my son would have practice on Tuesday. He also goes to drama class on Monday afternoons. My wife usually takes him to that but I usually do basketball. Basketball puts me in a bad mood a lot of the time because my girl complains about going — even though she asked to do this — and once every 2-3 weeks my boy will have a breakdown during practice and it even happened once during a game.
At about 5:30, my son will ask me if he can do something fun like watch TV. I ask him if his chores are done. He says yes. Then I roll down my mental list of all the things he’s supposed to do and ask, “Did you do _________?” There will always be one or two “no”s on the list. I get frustrated.
Sometime between 6:30 and 7, I start dinner. Sometime between 6:45 and 7:15 my wife gets home. Six or seven times out of ten, she’s going to be yelling at the kids for something within her first ten minutes in the house, which frustrates me. We eat as a family at about 7:30. After dinner the kids do the dishes and even though they have set roles in the process, there’s a 50/50 shot that they’re going to fight over it somehow. By this time, on most nights, the wife and I are both drinking. If there is time, the kids watch a TV show and they go to bed at 8:30. My wife and I smoke. We come back in and watch a show, maybe a couple. By 9:30, and sometimes earlier I’m exhausted. I have periodic bouts of sleep issues, I have all my adult life. This winter it’s been especially bad. When I go to sleep, I don’t always stay asleep and even if I do sleep through the night I usually don’t feel rested. I have crazy dreams.
But while poor sleep and a busy day is a good excuse, the real reason that I’m done before 10 is because there’s honestly nothing to stay awake for. We go upstairs and we usually read until we fall asleep. Probably half the time, I turn off my light before she turns off hers. Sometimes she gives up first, sometimes we close it down together. And then it starts all over the next day.
It’s damn boring. I haven’t known how to change it or even that it was possible to change it. But last night, after the kids went to bed and my wife staying someplace else, I went downstairs and got on the treadmill for an hour. This was on the same day, a Sunday (generally the day of the week that I dread the most because there’s almost never anything planned and we often end up eating junk food and watching TV all day and yelling at the kids) that I took my son to the dog park despite the potential risk of drama and had a friend drop by before dinner for a quick drink and a chat. Going outside the house for a true family activity almost never happens. Me having a friend come by just about never happens. Me doing something after the kids go to be that doesn’t involve drinking, or sitting idly in front of a TV or in bed never happens. Me doing something active after the kids go to bed never ever happens.
So we’ve allowed life to become boring and we are both complicit, we are both guilty of not trying hard enough. Am I more guilty than her? I don’t know. But does it matter which one of us didn’t work harder to sabotage things (albeit unintentionally)?
I don’t have the answers right now. I honestly don’t even know what outcome I should be rooting for or working towards. A few months ago, we joked, maybe prophetically, that divorce sounds AMAZING. You get your own house, you get peace and quiet for half the week, you get the kids for the other half, it sounds awesome, right? There’s part of me that wonders if that isn’t better for us. At the same time, I really have no desire to be single or to deal with dating. It’s occurred to me that there may not be women lining up around the block to have shot with a turning-40 year old self-employed vasectomied single father of two kids with a very uncool suburban house and a back patio hopelessly infested with dog shit. I don’t know how my wife feels about all that, but if I had to guess the idea of seeing new people isn’t at the very top of her list. It may or may not be somewhere on her list. Not going to assume that.
On the other side, obviously reconciliation is sort of the storybook ending. I believe we do love each other (perhaps though, not in that way anymore), we love our kids, and we’re all each other has known for 17 years. But can we get back together and NOT fall back into old/bad habits? Can we get back together and make room for our relationship as well as the other things in our lives?
I have no idea. Right now, I’m thinking probably not.