Sunday, September 10, 2006

Should I stay or should I go?

The majority of my working life is spent working with couples, straight and queer, who are struggling to navigate the complexity of sharing a life with another person. Being part of a couple in my private life makes for interesting challenges professionally. When I'm working with couples who have a similar dynamic to the one between myself and my partner, I have to work extra-hard to see things from the perspective of that client. And, when I go home at night, I often can see things a little more clearly in my own relationship. But the toughest couples for me to work with are the ones in which one partner is undecided about whether to remain in the relationship or to leave. This is where I am in my own relationship. I can't tell whether I should stay or go.

I'm terribly unhappy in my relationship. My partner, Mr. Lesbian, has been very depressed for most of the 8 years we have been together. While she is somebody who normally struggles with high anxiety and is drawn to pessimism like a moth to the flame, she got knocked sideways in 1999 when her partner (henceforth known as The Evil One) of nearly 5 years prevented her from seeing their son - a son they had adopted together from outside the United States. Unfortunately, they had never done a second parent adoption - The Evil One had taken part in a marriage of convenience to allow a gay male friend of hers to bring his boyfriend into the country and she said that it would flag the IRS if they did a second-parent adoption too soon. Mr. Lesbian capitulated, one of several moves that would cost her her beloved son. A protracted legal battle ensued, which cost in excess of $200, 000 and brought both of us into bankruptcy, despite cashing in 401k's and savings accounts to pay for the lawyer's fees. Mr. Lesbian did not get de facto parent standing, and has not seen her son since 2000. And with that, abruptly, the world ground to a halt and our relationship went into a tail spin.

Her behavior has changed so drastically I barely see my wonderful partner from those early days. There are explosions out of the blue. She is continually crabby and withdrawn. She is angry and punitive, with an anxiety so pervasive it feels palpable, like a third person in the relationship with us. Her impatience and irritability, alongside critical judgmentalism are painfully hard to live with. And the painful and almost complete cessation of affectional, sensual, physical, sexual contact, even down to and including hugging, has been almost unbearable.

It wasn't like that in the beginning. She chased me fervently. I found this captivating. She was decisive, wouldn't take no for an answer, and wooed me in a gentlemanly way that I'd never before experienced. She bought me flowers, sent me cards, bought me thoughtful little gifts that made me laugh. She was flirtatious and relentless. I felt beautiful, desired, sexy and womanly. Unlike all the other relationships I had been in, I found her so entertaining, funny, intelligent, sexy and smart that I couldn't get enough of being with her. I spent all my free time with her. We had sex frequently and passionately. There were nights when we didn't get enough sleep, and I would drag myself around exhausted but very happy. The simplest things would be fun. Driving around in her beat-up old car. Sitting having coffee in Harvard Square. Walking around bookshops (she doesn't like to read), flirting constantly. At my house, we would slow dance to soulful music, sit talking for hours about our lives, getting to know each other. We couldn't wait to see each other. I would feel jangly with anticipation of her visits to my house. I would watch her leave from behind the curtains, entranced by her boyish walk, the way her hair would flash around in the wind, her coat flapping from side to side as she semi-swaggered towards her car.

Since 1999, her depression and grief has been deep and protracted. Sorrow is etched on her face with deep lines and grooves. She rarely smiles and is barely capable of performing normal tasks of daily living. Not a person at ease with strong feelings, her response to such grief has been to lock herself away, untouchable and unreachable. The loving, playful camaraderie and delightful, sexy eroticism which suffused our early relationship was gone. In its place was cold, dispassionate callousness and angry blaming vindictiveness. We only had 6 months under our belt when The Evil One stopped Mr Lesbian from seeing her son. And it was just 18 months later that she saw him for the last time. There have been several appeals, all to no avail.

For the first four and a half years I dealt with this change by trying to be reassuring, loving, extra patient and understanding. I supported her through the loss of her son, using up all my vacation time in court, at a time when I was working 50-55 hours per week as director of a big social service agency, was doing a 20 hour a week internship and full-time graduate school. I held her when she cried (which she hates to do.) I patiently waited while she ranted and raved and vented, using me as her whipping boy. I listened for hours to her talk about the case, about the lawyers, her complaints and impatience, her fears and anger. I talked to the guardian ad litem. I took the stand at the hearing and was publicly humiliated in front of our friends and family members. I got up extra early to cook and bake for the legal team on mornings when nobody had time for breakfast, and my home-made muffins and thermos flasks of home-made soups and coffee were the only things keeping us going. I moved to her apartment when I would rather have stayed in my apartment in my own town. I called her unsupportive, homophobic mother regularly to keep her off Mr. Lesbian's back. I visited her mother regularly to keep her sweet. I helped write court documents and opened letters that scared her, (Therapist bills, legal letters and other bills).I put my money into the pot when hers ran out. I cooked dinner every night, despite school work and exhaustion, and I kept the house clean, did the laundry and ironing and, above all else, I put up with days and days of being ignored, snapped at.

I did this for one reason. I hoped that one day my "prince" would come back to me. I have spent hours in therapy trying to decide what to do. My best friend has listened to me agonize for hours over what my next steps should be - and still I stay.

There's a ghost in my house. He is a small, brown skinned boy with glossy black hair and huge black eyes. He sits at the end of the bed and looks mournfully at her while she sleeps. He lies in between us at night, cold and sad. Perched in between us on the couch, on the edge of his seat, his presence is constant and overwhelming. We both know he is there. She will not talk about him, even if I ask. She may have locked him away, but he lives with us still.


Blogger outsidemymind said...

The loss of a child as you would know can destroy some of the best relationships. I do not know you but I am sorry for your loss and pain because of her loss you are now living with the walking dead. One of the hardest things for anyone to do is watch the person they love fall apart and slowly die. There is nothing one can do to save their hearts or souls from the dept of pain they feel. This is usually when those who only experience this loss from a distance try and keep trying but to no avail make no difference.
Hang on to your self, think out your heart and mind. Keep talking and I am sure your best friend will listen.
My best to you and your love.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you have to post more to keep the pedestrians attention. if that is what you want, keep talking. getting unfetal like is hard, but so worth it.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Sapphique said...

Outsidemymind, thank you for such kind and generous comments. As a psychotherapist working mostly with couples, I know full well that sometimes love just isn't enough, no matter how much we might wish it so. Sometimes you can talk, but people just don't want to listen. But I appreciate the spirit in which your comments were offered and, yes, I will keep talking until it becomes clear that there are no more words to say.

Anonymous, I'm not sure if I understand your comments. Would you mind explaining more? In particular, to what are you referring when you talk about "getting unfetal?" Many thanks.

7:54 PM  
Blogger outsidemymind said...

oWell,go ahead and vent ears and eyes are working...
hang in there...

5:57 PM  

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