Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Then and Now

January 16, 1997

I had been working on Paul for well over a month, and was beginning to have some success in getting him to notice me as an actual girl, complete with washboard abs. (Part of this process involved throwing an indoor beach party in mid-December, complete with a string bikini top and little denim shorts on my part. And lots of fruity drinks. Yes, there is a picture.) In the way of such things, by the time Paul got back to St. Louis after winter break, and I had arranged to pick him up from the airport, I was no longer so sure that I wanted him. I had developed a crush on another boy - a short Jewish boy from New Jersey who wanted to be a comedian or a sportscaster, basically Paul's opposite in every way.

But I picked Paul up from the airport and deposited him at his dorm anyway, as agreed. He invited me to dinner to thank me for the ride, but we both knew what this was to be - our first date. He was a sophomore, 19 years old, and I was a senior.

We planned to go out to dinner on Thursday, January 16th, then meet up with a large group of our friends who had previously planned a big bowling event. Afterwards, we'd go back to my dorm suite for Must See TV on tape. Since Paul did not have a car, I would drive. We'd just had one of St. Louis's famous ice storms, so instead of showering and primping, I spent my afternoon chipping a couple inches of ice off my car. I'm sure I wore a lovely aroma of eau de exhaust fumes all night.

I had asked my roommate for a recommedation, which is how we ended up at a cheap Chinese place when neither of us really loves Chinese food. And I was so nervous - having recently broken up with a long-term boyfriend, this was my first first date in almost 4 years - that I spent the early part of the evening drinking pot after pot of hot tea. And the rest of the evening running to the bathroom.

Dinner went well, and then came the bowling. Paul's best friend was a rather possessive girl who spent much of the time sitting on his lap while I stood nearby. And then a group of girls we both knew took me aside to warn me about cuddly, safe, geeky Paul.

"He's only interested in sex," they said. "Be careful with him."

Eventually, we headed back to my place for TV. My suitemates were asleep, so we had the living room to ourselves. As the night progressed, he did not scoot closer to me across the couch, reaching out for my hand or putting his arm around my shoulders. Instead, he scooched further away, eventually bolting for the door as soon as ER ended, shoes in hand.

He had to go to the bathroom pretty desperately, it turned out, and he was embarrassed. Plus, he'd been in a couple of bad, short-term relationships the previous semester (hence the warnings I'd received) and wanted to avoid going down that same path again. No worries!

His best friend (the possessive blond, remember?) was hosting a party on Saturday night. By the time my friends and I got there, Paul had already gone home to watch Braveheart. I convinced a couple of friends that they really wanted to see this movie, and we trooped over to his suite. Finally, eventually, they all left. And Paul and I didn't spend another night apart for nearly a year, the last time he ever went home for Christmas without me.

The story of how we got together is one we both enjoy retelling again and again, because it's so different from the roles we currently play in our relationship. It's long been the case that Paul's the more demonstrative one, the toucher, the cuddler, the romantic. And I'm more . . . self-sufficient? Independent? Something like that, possibly less flattering.

But these are roles, of course, and a bad habit to fall into. Because the feelings underneath are the same as they've always been, for both of us. We both knew, really early on, that we'd never date casually, that it would never be just about the sex, that this was something real.

January 16, 2007

So how did we get to where we are today? Threat of divorce, therapists, marriage in crisis. What on earth is this?

Over time and under pressure, we fell into some bad habits. Our marriage therapist talks about life being like the ocean. A child is playing right next to you in the ocean, and gradually begins being pulled to the side by the undertow without even noticing it, until she walks out of the water and finds herself so far down the beach that she's completely lost. I love that analogy.

Over time, Paul became very angry with me.

And we had been gradually tugged so far apart by various tides that he couldn't talk to me about it.

And he said and did some things to really hurt me.

And he was a lot more successful than he'd intended to be, since he'd become convinced that I no longer cared. I did still care - more even than I knew - but I was coping by walling myself off, being even colder than usual.

What's said cannot be unsaid. What's done cannot be undone.

The work that remains involves learning to recognize the patterns we've fallen into and acknowledge them. To look at the ways we've been hurting each other and be more thoughtful. To try to forgive. To try to move on. To remember that love and celebrate it, every single day.

Ten years today.


the very left reverend said...

Absolutely, heart wrenchingly bold.

Psycho Kitty said...

I hope you know how very impressed I am with you--with both of you--for doing what you're doing. It isn't easy to walk all the way back down that beach. I think you both must be really amazing people, and I think of you often.

Canada said...

What PK said is so true. And really, how many people put in the effort these days? If things are going badly, often there is no attempt at working things out. I admire your strength and your honesty. We all fall into bad habits in long-term relationships. It takes guts to try to fix things, and heal the wounds caused by hurtful words and actions. Not to mention the added pressures of expecting your second baby, and raising a sweet but strong-willed little girl. I'm hoping for a happy ending (not Happily ever after, that just isn't real)

And hey - when are you gonna have this baby already?!?!?!

Littlemankitty said...

It sounds like you've got one worth all doing all this work for, and that's a very good thing.

now where's the baby?> I want some baby pictures? maybe just picture of some random baby that isn't even yours?

PPB said...

Aw, once again, I accidentally posted under my cat's id. Because, of course, it's perfectly normal for a cat to have a blog.

Rob Monroe said...

Sarahlynn - How have I never heard this story!? Braveheart is such a nice "hang out" movie after all...

seasonalkat said...

So much of what you said about your current state of relationship with Paul is resonating with me, more than I probably want to admit. I am starting to come to terms with the idea that I am probably depressed, and still mourning the hysterectomy that had to be. I have been walling myself off. I have been turning off my emotions. I need to now walk back up the beach and find what I hadn't known was lost.

Thank you for being so honest and for helping me, even when that was never the intent.

Sarahlynn said...

Thank you, The Very Left Reverend. And, welcome!

PK, thank you, thank you. And thank you for the emails too. I never responded, but they are helpful.

Canada, soon, soon, I hope!

LMK/PPB, thank you for the laugh!

Rob, trust me, that was the abbreviated version! It gets even funnier.

SeasonalKat, I've been reading you and thinking about you. I hope you're able to talk to someone (our minister recommended someone who's really helping Paul; maybe yours could do the same?) and that things begin to improve for you. You're definitely in my heart and in my prayers.

Moreena said...

This is really something impressive, the way you're thinking these things through out loud, and trying also to give an honest and evenhanded account.

Thank you. (Also, we've started our very own Siedler nights around here, too. I always think of you when we get the board out.)

Orange said...

This isn't pertinent to the subject at hand, but I was struck by what a beautiful piece of writing this is.

Sarahlynn said...

Moreena, I am trying very very hard. This is some of the hardest work I've ever done. Studying for the GRE for a few days was, frankly, a break.

Orange, thank you!