I knew it was supposed to happen the day that I met him, and I wouldn’t take it back for the world. People say it wasn’t meant to be. I disagree. It was meant to be for the time that it was, and now it’s not, and that’s true of almost all great things in life.
His name was Matthew. I met him at the ripe old age of 18. He was tall and lanky, just like my brother and pretty much every guy I’d ever really liked up till that point. He was shy, but strong. He was quiet, but not insecure. Most of all, he was Christian and quite the polar opposite of me, two things I was told for my entire life were necessary in a partner. I absolutely had to marry a Christian because…well…just because, and I absolutely had to marry someone who was completely opposite from me in personality and temperament because 1) opposites attract and 2) I was a wild and boisterous girl who needed to be tempered. At least that’s what I was taught to believe.
Before we get into the details, let me make one thing clear. I loved my husband very deeply, and I still do. He was a true partner in life, and the intimacy we shared was unlike anything I witnessed in any marriage I can think of. He was everything most girls would want in a husband, and I truly believe he will make some girl the happiest girl on the planet. Leaving him was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but that girl was not me.
We dated for exactly one year, one month, one week, and one day before he proposed to me. He took me on a bike ride through the arboretum to lead me up to a stretch of bike path where he’d painted the sidewalk with giant bike lane letters saying “? me marry you will”, written in reverse order like bike letters are. He’d sprinkled rose petals everywhere, and when he got down on one knee, he took off his Under Armour bike shirt to reveal a black button down underneath. It was perfect. He was perfect. He loved me so much and would have done anything for me. We got married 6 months later, and I wouldn’t change a thing about my wedding day. I was barefoot outside, our ceremony was under 20 minutes long, and I drank good beer and danced my face off the rest of the night.
I had cold feet the week beforehand. I broke down balling to Matthew in his empty apartment as he was cleaning it out, getting ready to move his stuff into our new home together. I was able to get over the cold feet. I didn’t get over it because I was comforted by the fact that supposedly everyone has cold feet. I got over it because I was comforted by the fact that Matthew was everything I was supposed to have in a guy. This was NOT a hindsight is 20/20 situation. I clearly thought to myself in that very moment that even if I ended up being really unhappy and feeling trapped, it was alright because I knew I was doing the right thing and marrying the right person who would be “good for me”, keep me from becoming crazy, and make me into the Christian woman I was supposed to be. What that actually meant was that I was marrying someone who was going to keep me from being myself, realizing my full potential, and finding the path I was supposed to be on, and that part I didn’t realize at the time, nor did he, nor does he now.
It would be utterly and completely impossible for me to give you a complete picture of my marriage. I feel this overwhelming need to explain every detail so that you can understand. My mom always told me I had an overdeveloped sense of justice, and being misunderstood is self-admittedly my biggest frustration and fear. No time like the present to get over that. I have to accept that as I share my experience, people are going to receive and process it as it makes sense to them, and the opinions they form are none of my concern. Sometimes I think I’ve mastered that life lesson, but oh goodness, that’s far from the truth.
Matthew was not a typical Christian guy who did all the right Christian things and held to rules on principle. Except that sometimes he did. That was our biggest disagreement. He wanted to hold to certain rules, social conventions, and gender roles, but other ones he was totally fine with throwing out the window. He thought that since he’d been willing to throw a few out the window for me that I should be satisfied with that and conform to the rules on the rest of the issues. But that made him God in our relationship, deciding which things were ok to be flexible on and which moral and social constructs must stay in place because to break them would be crazy…and what would people think? There was a part of him that just needed to be told, “Honey, this isn’t the ‘50s anymore”, which coincidentally our marriage counselor said to him. Then there was another part of him that needed to be told he was not our marital God, deciding what was right and wrong based on nothing more than his own comfort level and guilt complex.
Matthew was pretty open minded to sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. I mean that. We both experimented with hard drugs together on several occasions, sharing a lot of important firsts. We got fucked up on cocaine one New Year’s Eve (and had a casual four-some with another couple, but that’s a story for another time), and we also did mushrooms together on a few occasions, sharing deeply spiritual and emotional experiences as a result. In those moments, he got it. He never hesitated to participate in that stuff, he never felt guilty about it, and he never took issue with me doing drugs, even outside of his presence. He enjoyed a good night of drinking and occasionally smoking weed. We enjoyed watching porn together, and he’d watched me make out with more than one girl.
Sounds like a pretty great setup for a freedom-seeking girl, right? Well, sort of. At the same time, he wanted me to conform to a lot of other religious and social standards. He wanted me to be a wife in the classic sense of the word: pack his lunch every day, not be too loud or outspoken when we were in social situations, not hang out with my male friends (or, if I was doing that, lie to his family and tell them I was hanging out with someone else because he was worried about what they’d think). He thought I swore too much and was a little too flirty generally. He told me once that, at the time we got married, he knew I wanted to go to law school but didn’t think I’d ever actually do it.
It was great that he gave me that freedom and that we got to experience so many things together. It was great that he let me have more freedom than most wives I knew even when I was outside his presence. What wasn’t great was that anytime I wanted to do something new or push the boundaries further, which to me felt like the natural course of things, he would put his foot down. It wasn’t that he put his foot down that bothered me. It was how he did it. He didn’t say, “No, babe, I don’t think I’d be comfortable with that because I’m not ready for it yet or because I’m worried about XYZ issues in our relationship.” Instead, he’d say things like “You’re crazy”, “If you proposed this idea to anyone else, no one would agree with you”, “Absolutely not – that’s just plain wrong because the Bible says XYZ”, and he even one time called me a slut (not as a joke). His generously granting me freedom was not only a gift I was to repay him with physical gestures of love, usually acts of service, but the freedom was also non-negotiable for the most part. We negotiated, but only within his comfort zone, and he had hard lines that he would never cross, primarily because he was terrified of what other people would think if they found out and secondarily because he had a moral or religious hangup with it. The first time I proposed the idea of an open relationship to him, he responded saying, “I truly feel like this is a Devil’s snare to poison your mind and our relationship.” Of course, it wasn’t the Devil’s snare when he would get blackout drunk or when we did cocaine or when he rekindled his lifelong love affair with porn after being porn-free for over 3 years, with which I took no issue.
But I understood the religious construct. I grew up with it too, and that shit runs deep. The feelings of guilt and anxiety and the strong belief that we have to hold to the letter of the law in order to be rewarded and blessed is not easy to shake off. Let’s put that aside. I believed that, with time, Matthew could shake off a lot of those old ways of thinking and come to a new understanding of who God was. As it turns out, I was at least partially right about this. We speak about it together to this day, and he is definitely still figuring it out, but he arrived at a point where he decided to “live as a non-believer” for a year or so and see what it was like. He kept telling me how much value it had and how differently he’d started to view the world and think about things. Even towards the end of our marriage, he couldn’t stand going to church anymore because it all just seemed so fake and rehearsed. That makes me so happy for him, and I hope he continues down that path.
At the time, however, we had a bigger problem on our hands, and if Matthew and I were still together today, this would likely still be a huge problem. During one of our discussions about the potential of an open relationship he told me, “You can fight and fight to try to change my mind, but in the end I need you to respect my decision. If you can’t, then leave. I want to be married to someone who is fully committed to finding everything they need in our relationship.” Yes, that’s a quote. We were discussing it via email so we wouldn’t get into heated fights about it and could get all our thoughts and feelings out clearly. Reading it again today makes me shudder. It wasn’t until two years after this conversation that we actually called it quits, but this was really the start of the deep internal struggle.
If there is one thing I know, it’s that you can never find everything you need in any one human relationship. The idea of searching for everything you need in a relationship comes from people who have no idea who they are or what they want. That was when it started really sinking in. He didn’t know who he was without me. He had defined his entire life around having me as a partner so that his entire happiness, drive, personality, goals, and, most notably, spirituality depended on me. The moment I gained this awareness, the burden became almost unbearable. I started to slowly see all these little things: Matthew depending on my entirely for his relationship with God, him depending on me for assurance that what we were doing in life was ok, him depending on me to push our relationship forward in intimacy and to avoid complacency, him depending on me to be his personality and his showpiece when we were out at social events, him depending on me to be the face of our marriage to his family, and him depending on me to be the sole provider of both friendship and romantic love in his life. He had no one else. He didn’t have any close friends, he wasn’t very close with his family, he didn’t understand self-love or personal development, he didn’t have a strong sense of spirituality or confidence in his relationship with God, and he wanted me to manufacture all of that for him. He thought he found a special snowflake and could find everything he needed in our relationship.
The burden was quite literally unbearable. I remember when we split up, I was talking to him about my spirituality and the road I was heading down. I was talking about feeling a “leading” in my life or seeing open doors and clearly knowing what I was being called to do. We got talking about meditation and prayer and love and connections with other people. He looked at me and said, “I know once you’re gone, I’ll never think about this stuff anymore. I’m going to miss that.” I told him he could choose differently on that front – choose to think about it, engage with it, and find people who wanted to explore it, but he said he just knew he wouldn’t. He was resigned to complacency in so many facets of his life and covered this up by throwing himself headfirst into his work and personal building projects. He dumped his mind and heart into engineering, carpentry, cycling, and design. He loved it, and he was talented, but it was his avoidance mechanism to keep his mind and hands busy so as not to encounter the deeper things in life. It scared him, and to this day he openly tells me that he struggles with thinking all the time about whether he’s believing or doing the right thing. I almost never battle with that and am completely at peace, and as hard as I tried, I could not be that peace for him. He has to find it on his own, and if he does find peace, THAT will make me the happiest girl in the world.