Recently I wrote about what mania looks like for me. I described both past and present episodes, the symptoms I displayed and how they felt for me. At one point I stated that the more recent episode felt like a mid-life crisis. The problem is I am no longer experiencing a manic episode yet I still feel stuck in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Maybe you can relate?
I know that I have what most people consider a perfect life. I have been married for 24 years. I love my husband and he loves me. We have had our ups and downs, but they only made us better. Everyone we know tells us we have a very special love, one that is so rare these days. Many friends have said that they wish for a love like ours. We have a nice house, the prettiest house on our street if you ask me. We have lived here for 14 years. We have a grown son, who we raised in this house. We have two cars, two dogs and a boat. We still live paycheck to paycheck, so we can’t afford the repairs and upgrades our house needs. We can’t take nice vacations, we can barely afford a vacation at all, but we have decent jobs and our bills are paid. That is more than a lot of people have, and I am very grateful.
So why am I so restless? My heart feels like it wants to burst out of my chest. Six months ago I almost left my marriage. We had been talking about fixing up the house and selling it, so I told him that when it sold, I thought we should go our separate ways. I wholeheartedly believed that he felt this coming, that we were on the same unspoken page. We had been growing apart little by little for a while. We both had our hearts set on different life paths and knew we would eventually come to a fork in the road. Boy, was I wrong. It caught him very off-guard and sent our relationship into a tailspin. He had no idea how unhappy I am with the life we are living.
He is content. He craves stability and routine. He could stay in this house forever, and take the same vacation every year. I crave change. I am exhilarated by starting a fresh life. I want to experience different cultures, not just vacations, but to truly immerse myself in new cultures. My heart and soul literally ache for adventure. He sees everything I desire as risky and foolish. I see everything he desires as life not lived, and the thought of continuing like this is suffocating. I am consumed with thoughts of independence.
What does that mean exactly? He is not controlling and does not try to prevent me or stop me from doing anything. I need independence from what? What do I want that I can’t have because I am married? Let me try to explain. I am still confused by it all myself, so please bear with me.
For as long as I can remember, we have been different in these ways. While he never told me I could not do something, he always expressed his concern in ways I felt I couldn’t reasonably argue with. All of my dreams involved risk, there were our financial responsibilities, my personal safety, it would keep us up too late, and the list goes on. As the years went by, so did most of my opportunities. Little ones like concerts and big ones like travel. On the other side of this, I am a risk taker at heart. When he wanted to take chances like starting his own business, buying a vehicle out of our price range, changing careers multiple times rebuilding a Harley Davidson and investing in his buy/sell/trade hobby, I was the encourager. At times I was even the investor. I had faith that he could make things work. If I had concerns, I would voice them, but always end on a positive note, telling him the decision was ultimately his and I would support him in it.
Eventually I learned to keep my dreams to myself. Now I dream about coming home to somewhere other than here. In my mind, it is a small home, maybe even an RV. I call it my gypsy wagon. It is full of color and sunshine. Bohemian chic. There are no little messes on the counters or piles of unopened mail on the table. The laundry is always in the laundry basket and never on the living-room floor. The toothpaste is always where I left it and the toilet paper roll is never empty. If there are dirty dishes, they are in the sink. When I am hungry, I eat fruit or steam veggies. The pantry is no longer full of junk food and I always have mimosa or sangria makings. I am able to stay late at work without someone wondering where I am. I am able to go out with friends, impromptu style, without disappointing or neglecting anyone. I can stay later than expected without worrying someone. I do not have to explain where I am going, who I am with or what we are doing.
I do not want these freedoms because I want to go places I shouldn’t go, or to be with people I shouldn’t be with, or do things that I shouldn’t do. I am a good girl after all. I just want to be me. I miss the freedoms that people willingly give up in a marriage. He doesn’t demand to know where I am going or who I am with. It is just what spouses do. It never bothered me when we were raising our son. I happily and lovingly accepted the role of wife and mother. But now I want to be me again, unapologetically. And I can’t do that without hurting his feelings, or making him feel unloved or unwanted. To him, these little things are everything. His life as a husband depends on them. The small changes in me are already hurting him. He says he is trying to get used to the new me. The me that doesn’t want to call him every morning and afternoon during my drive to and from work. The me that plans vacations that he does not get invited to. The me that wants to go out with friends after work, without him.
I can’t help but wonder how fair this all is to him. How would I feel if the shoe were on the other foot? I feel terrible that I am not the same love-sick kitten, waiting breathlessly for every free moment we have to spend together. I also feel blessed that we had that for as long as we did. After 24 years, we still love each other. We do have a special love and our life experiences together really solidified that love and we have grown so much together.
Last summer, he told me he would let me go if that is what I need to be happy. He also said he wants and deserves to be with someone who is with him because they want to be. That was the first time I thought of it like that. What he needs, what he wants, what he deserves. It was very eye opening. He is right. He does deserve that, and more. I love him dearly and suffer at the thought of hurting him. But am I just delaying the inevitable?
Why am I drowning? Why do I fantasize about freedom every day? If I stay long enough will these feelings go away? How long is long enough? I have been dreaming about freedom in some form and to different degrees for a few years already. Am I just completely selfish? Does he deserve better? I know the answer to that question is a resounding yes. So should I let him go so he can move on with his life?
We have talked about my dreams of living in an RV or moving to a new state every year or two. It is not what he wants and we agree that making him live that way is as unfair as me being forced to live a life I don’t want. I find myself very confused by the amount of disdain I have for this life I am currently living. I chose it. When did it become so oppressive to have roots? I used to love my life and my home, when did that change? Is it because I am empty nesting? If so, could this be a stage or phase of life that I will outgrow? Honestly, I think that is what scares me the most.
What if I go and it was a mistake? What if a year from now, or five years from now, I want this life back and I can’t have it? What if I find that being alone is just lonely? What if the hurt I cause my husband, my best friend is irreparable? There is a song titled Rinse, by Vanessa Carlton. It’s not one of her best, but there is a line in it that HAUNTS me. It says:
And if she runs away she fears she won’t be followed,
what could be worse than leaving something behind?
And as the depth of oceans slowly become shallow,
its loneliness she finds.
This just terrifies me. Is it possible to crave freedom so badly and still fear solitude? To love alone and fear lonely?
So here I am, today, like every day, without the answers. How do you choose when either way is going to hurt, both yourself and someone you love?