The man I was married to

The man I was married to was a good man.  He was kind, so handsome, talented, and full of a charisma that drew in everyone who met him.  Descriptions of him list like a thesaurus of “good”; admirable, attractive, commendable, estimable, laudable, rare.  He was good to me.

But not good for me.

It’s difficult to draw that distinction properly, in a way that captures all the subtle nuances of an eight-year marriage without minimizing or ‘monsterising’ either one of us.   And I want to be careful, as despite it all, his feelings and pride still matter to me.  I know how much he would hate to be a public topic, but this is my story and I’ve decided it’s important for me to tell even if it makes him uncomfortable.  There could be other people hurting in the same way and may need to see that life can be better even after the broken hearts.

I am a sunny optimist by nature; a bright-eyed, blue skies, glass-almost-full kind of person; and generally it’s been easy for me to dismiss negatives in my life.  Overall I’m thankful for this, but there are some drawbacks with this aptitude.  The man I was married to thought that I was disingenuous and somehow putting on a show with my smiles instead of being honest about how I really felt.  I think early on he may have admired the way I saw the best in any situation, but the years eroded that to a sharp resentment.  He viewed me as falsely sugary and insipid, and every time he snapped at me when I said something silly it stung.  So I would try to be less somehow – I learned he hated it when I would add some comment about the ‘bright side’ of whatever he was talking about as it made him feel like I wasn’t on his side.  In all our years together I was never, ever, able to cheer him up out of a bad mood.  We just had to wait until he’d had enough alone time to work through whatever he was feeling.   Then the next hour /or day/ or week/ or whenever he was ready, he’d give me a kiss and be all smiles and the tension I’d tiptoed around with would melt away.   I believed everything was ok after each time and he believed he was doing what he had to by acting like it was ok.  We were both wrong.

The man I was married to seemed like the most social person in any room.  His big laugh would echo and his stories would draw in a crowd.  I loved being by his side when we were out.  For me, being in a group is energizing and I would want to be with friends or meet new people every possible chance, so at first his magnetism worked in my favour.  But it was exhausting for him.  He wasn’t gregarious in a crowd because he loved it; he acted that way as a coping skill to handle his anxiety.  He felt if he were the one always in control of the conversation, then there was less chance for him to be embarrassed or for an awkward situation to catch him off guard.  But I was the wild card for him and my interpretations and way of interacting with others never made sense to him, so I would be quietly shushed.  I know now that he wasn’t trying to be cruel to me, it was more a symptom of his own internal struggle, but despite his intentions this was incredibly damaging to me.  Each time he would shoot me that look to stop talking, each fight in the car home after an outing where he felt I had done some unforgivable social blunder, every time he spoke over me so I couldn’t have my own voice in the crowd, I took to heart.  I would stay quieter and second-guess every comment I would make and be too nervous to add to the conversation.   So you can see how this could be a vicious cycle.  I think that in our later years together this man who was supposed to know me better than anyone genuinely believed that I wasn’t interested in conversation.  He told me I was a snob and that I embarrassed him by being so unfriendly to everyone.

The man I was married to did his best to treat me well.  He always opened every door for me, started my car in the winter, and would often hold my hand or touch my back while we were out together.  I was so encouraged by the tiny little gestures he would do for me and believed they were to show me I was loved.  Maybe they were.  Maybe they were actions born from an intense fear of what people thought of him, so in case anyone was watching he better treat ‘his wife’ in a manner they would approve of.  And that’s the crux of it as I’ve learned after the marriage fell apart.  It was so important to him to “Be A Good Husband” as a personal checklist that it didn’t even matter to him he no longer knew me or loved me.  I was a placeholder rather than a person.  We married young and very fast, before we really had a chance to get to know each other, and for years we then thought that we just needed to make the best of it because it was too late.  I remember saying to friends years ago about how if we had only been dating still in that first year we would have broken up for sure.  Said in a flippant and smiley ‘good thing we’re married so we’re still together and working it out’ kind of way.  Ugh.

Steve and Alison Larsen Wedding
2007

The man I was married to used to tell me that he didn’t want to hear my insecurities.  He would say that he was attracted to me so I shouldn’t tell him when I hated my hair or felt like I didn’t fit into my clothes because then those comments might get in his head and possibly change the way he saw me.  And these were said in our good days, so I believed him and would do my best to hide my self-doubt from my husband.  It takes years to catch and change those patterns but I really worked hard at it.   Over the years he gradually he stopped complimenting me.  I couldn’t post photos that I looked good in because he didn’t like that I might not seem modest.  And then he said to me:  “You are so vain you make me sick.”  He may have regretted the comment because I was so hurt by it, but I know those were words he meant and not just said in anger.   It’s too bad he was so wrong.  Or, along the same lines:  He would tell me at various times how it bugged him that I was not content; why couldn’t I just be happy with life as it was and not always want to be somewhere else?  Or then he’d say he didn’t like my lack of ambition and why couldn’t I just try harder to find something to excel at?   There were a few times in our eight years (3 to be exact) that I was offered an incredible ‘dream job’ and he would start off happy for me and supportive, but then abruptly pull his support and say that my choice would end our marriage if I accepted the job.  I asked him after the fact about those times, and he admitted that he never believed I would actually be hired so he wanted to try to seem supportive, until he couldn’t.

I know that last paragraph seems negative, but I look at it as a symptom of his own struggles.  He wanted so badly to genuinely be good to me and to everyone else but there was more going on in his head than he was able to handle.  And this has all been from my side of the story – I know he has his side.  I didn’t understand him, and likely brought out the worst in him.  I hope that the man I was married to has found the help he needed, in whatever form that may be, and that now he may stop torturing himself with an unnecessary and unobtainable goal of being perfection to everyone else.  I hope he has good people around him who bring out the best in him.

I allowed a hurting man to erase my own self confidence, but I’m lucky that I have people around me now who are helping me to believe that I’m worth talking to.  With each tiny affirmation from family, friends, and even fellow travellers I’ve met, I feel my own personality returning and the confidence to own who I am, flaws and all.   I thank God for healing broken hearts.   I learned a lot from the man I was married to and am starting to be able to see the good I can keep from the memories of him, hopefully it’s made me a more empathetic person.  There’s a new boyfriend now, one who is good FOR me as well as good to me.

If you recognize yourself in any part of this story, please seek out help.  Don’t wait.  Talk to a therapist or find counselling.  If medication is needed for anxiety or any other mental health struggle please know there is no shame in accepting a prescription.  If you are hurting, or being hurt, there are people who can help.  Mental and emotional health are an important part of the equation along with physical…. don’t forget that.

– Ali

 

 

 

We need to talk…

Morocco, I don’t know how to say this nicely, so I’ll just blurt it out.   We’ve had a lot of fun over the past couple weeks –  I really like you and you’ll always hold a special place in my heart – but I think we need to end our time together.

I’ve been sensing an increasing restlessness in myself again, and I recognize this feeling by now.  Even though I was regularly on the move and in new cities I found I was less enamoured with it all and more quickly worn out by the minor irritations.  (Here’s where I’d say “It’s not you, it’s me” !)    It became more of a challenge to meet the barrage of requests and demands and invitations with a genuine smile; and the fun of dressing differently dissipated.  But really, I need to say again how great this experience overall has been.  Yes, I had someone make a comment to me about every 15 seconds any time I walked down the street, but in general these comments were benign and would end the instant I said “non, merci”.  In that sense the shop keepers and wanna-be guides were more polite than in other countries I’ve been.  (“You’re really great, Morocco, but we’re just too different”) 


———————————-

One thing I will always love about travel is witnessing a bit of local customs. Not only the traditions protected from ages ago and now dressed up for tourism, but also the unique interpretations on global trends. I noticed right away that Moroccan Millenials are very fashion savvy.  An example, Birkenstock sandals are a worldwide trend, even on my feet now. But the interpretation of this trend is so different here, with guys wearing the shiny patent leather sandals in styles that are ONLY sold in women’s sections at home. (If you want an idea of what I mean, look here: Birkenstock Morocco FB page.)

On the traditional side, I spent an afternoon luxuriating in a Hammam, a Moroccan public bathhouse.  These have been around for eons and it’s an incredible way to rejuvenate.  I was going to say ‘relax’ but in my experience that’s not very true.  Here’s why:  It began with an attendant guiding me back to a dressing room and showing me the hook where I could leave my clothes; she gave me two towels and said she’d be back in a moment.  I put on my bikini and then followed her a to a warm steamroom, all eucalyptus and orange blossom and dim light.  Right away she took away the towels and told me to remove my top, and as I stammered and stalled she explained it was normal… So off it went. When in Rome, right??   After a spray of water, she covered me head to toe in black goop that smelled amazing and had me lie down on the marble bench in the steamroom for 10 minutes.  When she returned it was another shower to remove the soap, followed by the removal of all.my.skin. Thankfully after a few minutes I got used to the scrub and stopped imagining I stumbled into a horror movie, and instead imagined the glowing new skin this should reveal.  Seriously.  The goal in Hammam is to scrub until the skin peels off in long strips!  My reward for enduring the filleting was another head to toe coating of scented Argan oil with a mini back massage, and then I was ready to rejoin the world with my new gleaming skin.

I brought my JLo glow to Tangier, my last city in Morocco and only an hour by boat from Spain.  It’s a great city, but I didn’t see most of the highlights as I had already mentally checked out.  Instead I spent a great day chatting over coffee with a fellow traveller, wandered through another Medina for a bit, and I indulged in one last cup of Moroccan mint tea that I will miss dearly.  And with that final smooch my breakup with Morocco is complete.  Au Revoir Morocco, and Hola Spain!