I’m still in a bit of a funk, and I don’t really know why. J and I are getting along well, sex is great, and I know he loves me and I love him…. I am just having trouble knowing where to put all the feelings I have, or even to know what the feelings are. A little over two weeks ago we promised C that we would do something that would help me feel more in control, so we developed a plan to clean and feng shui the living room, Due to our lack of central heat and air, the living room has to be rearranged with the change of the seasons , so that everyone is in the right proximity to the wood stove or air conditioner, and that has not happened this year. The last time that I had re-arranged the living room, I had been trying to work in a love seat, and it had somehow caused a huge fight since J seemed to believe that I had moved the furniture to spite him, so I didn’t want to tackle it again by myself. In addition, the living room is currently filled with boxes of photos, slides, and knick knacks that belonged to J’s parents which we have walked around since his dad’s death in February.
We have planned to work on the house for the last several weekends, but it isn’t going to happen before our next counseling appointment. Something work related for J always comes up. He has had a drop dead deadline for three separate projects in the last 2 weeks, so he has devoted every spare moment to this work. I know that having a clean and organized house will make a real difference in how I feel, but I don’t seem to have the wherewithal to pull it off by myself.The current condition of the house took three of us and six pets and several years to get it in this shape, so it seems like I should have help trying to dig us out. J has pledged to help as a way to show that what I want will be a priority in the future, but so far helping hasn’t worked out. He offered to “balance” his deadlines and housecleaning, but it just didn’t seem practical or important. I thought that the house can wait, but I have realized that the waiting is actually making me crazy. I am going to have to take care of it myself, and maybe someone will pitch in when they can.
I actually helped on the longest report – the one that closed out his grant project by reading every email and putting it into a table with the appropriate response listed, which showed the demands that were put on him from 2007 on. Reviewing this material and his calendars really brought home how little he was around – and not just working on the project for the NPS. The days and days that he spent at Mission Dolores and all the emails and phone calls that he had to respond to really took so much time that it is a wonder that he even remembered that he had a wife…although I guess eventually he didn’t!! After the fiasco that was our last counseling session, we really talked about how long he had been unhappy, and why he was so unhappy. He kept saying that there was so much distance between us that made him believe that that we were not going to stay married. He has repeated this over and over since October, but I still feel the same sense of shock every time he says it, since I never felt that way.
After going around and around, one of the truths that came forward was that the resentment that he felt when I wouldn’t move out-of-state with him for graduate school had resurfaced and become worse during the final year of his NPS contract when he was receiving so much praise, and at the same time being discounted because he doesn’t have a PhD and has been involved in archaeology as a part of his work, but never its main focus. Of course, the resentment became focused on me, which appears to have translated into disrespect and anger and unhappiness. He says he knows he was still happy with me through or vacation to Washington in 2008, just overly busy. Sometime in fall ’08 or spring ’09 that changed, although he seemed fine at Christmas break in Lubbock and at Spring Break when we went to a conference in Oklahoma together. Working on the time line for the NPS report seemed to make Jeff realize how little time he was actually spending with me and how little attention he was paying when he was home. He says his whole brain was occupied with the NPS, archaeology, and resentment.
The realization affected me differently. I realized that Jeff really had genuinely kicked me to the curb, had truly stopped caring about me, and that the daily grumpiness, the lack of interest in spending time with me, and the disrespect toward me best exemplified by the way he treated me every time we went to Austin were truly a reflection of the way he was felt about me. He used “my not needing him” during my surgery, “my not listening” and “my rejection of sex” to justify how he was behaving, without ever asking himself what role his own behavior played in shaping mine. When E started college and moved into the dorm in the fall of ’07, I really believed that our relationship would change – uninterrupted time together, more love, affection, sex, and more things that were just us. It never happened, and I was unbelievably lonely that semester. I stayed incredibly busy, taking on more extracurricular activities, mentoring a student teacher, and coping with a new schedule, but I was not happy. I thought the demands of the job caused my feelings of dissatisfaction and loneliness, but now I wonder if I was just unhappy at home and blaming school for it instead of dealing with what I was feeling.
Changing jobs provided some interest, less homework, and more opportunities for travel, so I wasn’t as frantically busy and seriously lonely as I had been while I was still teaching. After 6 months, however, I realized that it was not going to be enough to keep me occupied since J was always gone, and E was busy and planning to move into her own house in town. By the fall of 2008 I had decided to go back to school and work on a doctorate, and worked on the application process with what J said was his full support, although I wonder now if that was true. Our work lives overlapped, and we were still taking advantage of those opportunities, and we were still home during the week and shared dinners and activities including those with E, and it seemed like we were actually making progress. And then we went to Austin so for that wedding…and after that, I think I stopped trying. The hardest part of this entire process is looking back at every event in our life for the last several years and doubting every moment of happiness, every activity we shared. Nothing is safe from the tarnish that all theses doubts have caused.
Back in the present, J has finished all of his pending reports and sent them off for edits, so the backlog of things that have weighed him down gone. We’ll have to see what happens next – will there suddenly be a million work emergencies? Will something outside demand his immediate attention? Will one of us – or E – have a health crisis that prevents us from working on us and the house….I hope not. Sometimes it seems easier to just not ask for anything nor expect anything, and if I really want something, then I should just do it myself…except that is part of how we ended up in a mess…I don’t know.
We have done so much work and are trying so hard to be so much more open that I feel we have made great strides. Most of the time I am very happy, and as we start to chip away at the niggling things that have piled up, I know that I will be even better. Periodically, however, I am overcome with angst…How did this happen? We have looked at calendars and email requests and travel plans and have a fairly clear understanding of how Jeff came to engulfed in the swirl that was his life, constantly on the go with no downtime or time for analysis. I am still not sure, however, that either of us really understands how or why our relationship went so fair astray or really when it started to go wrong. We have looked at some defining moments – the Austin wedding, my surgery – but those were end moments, not beginning moments…
Why was Jeff so unhappy? What part did I play in his unhappiness?
I know that as he won more acclaim for his work, and at the same time the university administration disregarded his work because he lacked a terminal degree, he was more frustrated. His anger and frustration were channeled at me since he felt that I had not supported his wish to enroll in a PhD program immediately after his undergraduate degree. I also know that money somehow became a huge issue for him. In the thirty years that we have been together, we have never had enough money. Our needs or even wants are never huge, but they are always slightly beyond what we are making. We have reached the point several times when we were making enough to meet our needs and for extras like a new car or a vacation, but we had a setback when he went back to school. We have been, however, on solid footing since he went back to work full-time in the middle of his master’s degree.
I think that the pressure of the additional expenses of having a teenager really weighed on him – trying to figure out how to pay for a car, as well as her dorm, food, and travel expenses if she went away to college. The looming need for extra money worried both of us, and I think that Jeff just assumed that when he graduated, we would move somewhere he could earn a lot more using his skill set and his newly minted MS degree. The entire time he worked on his degree, he resented the higher salary not only of students who graduated and got jobs that paid much more than his, but also of the others employed by the university who had a far inferior skill set, but were receiving above market value salaries because their positions were grant funded. This resentment only intensified after he graduated, since his skill level, ability, and degree all now matched, but he still was receiving no additional money. On the other hand, he was already involved with the NPS since his thesis research involved a topic of value to them, and they needed the research that he had collected. For several years, it looked as if he would be able to spin his research into work for the NPS that would bring in more money, although all it ever brought was much more work.
During this entire time, he had been seriously toying with the idea of changing jobs, of moving to a new location and finding work that was really in his field and that paid what he was worth. Several things held him back. He said that he didn’t want me to have to change jobs (although I did it twice during the time he was thinking about this).He also insists that I couldn’t have moved because E needed someone here to take care of her, especially if she was sick. What he actually had in mind was moving without me so that he could make more money and have the sort of job that he wanted, and then coming home on the weekends. The only reason he didn’t follow upon this plan is because a new job in a new place would have demanded his whole focus, which meant that he would need to give up his involvement with the NPS and he wasn’t ready to do that.
I can’t even begin to explain how devastated I was by this information. He had never discussed any of this with me – not resentment about not going to grad school, not about moving, not about leaving me behind. None of his reasons for leaving me behind had any weight – they were excuses.