Elmer's English 304 Magazine
Revel in Delight
Elmer G. Wiens
I feel that at my age I have the experience and maturity to offer advice to people thinking of getting married: live with your partner for two years before you marry (and decide to have children). I would offer similar advice to anyone who has separated from a spouse with the caveat: wait one year before you live with a partner. While these guidelines will not guarantee a successful marriage, they will improve the prospects. In making my suggestions, I am aware that many people will question my qualifications and will not heed my advice. However, I offer my advice as someone who, after the age of eight, grew up in a single-parent family, sensitizing me to the effects of a marriage breakdown on children, effects that persist into adulthood. Furthermore, my caveat should be taken seriously as my first marriage ended after seven years. I offer the following narrative, as honestly as possible, as an opportunity for you to learn from my experiences. In a phrase, the lesson is that "sometimes procrastination and indecision are good strategies."
When I was twenty-one, I felt I was invulnerable; I also felt I was adaptable and could adjust to any mistakes I might make, which I believed would be just a few. That summer, I had dated Lynn for one year. Lynn and I both lived away from home. We were sexually active. Getting married was a logical step in a natural sequence of events. At the time, few couples just lived together, and marrying after one year of dating was common. It was either we live together, or we get married. Now this seems like a false dilemma; then it did not. Indeed, the first option was essentially unacceptable. Moreover, growing up in a dysfunctional family numbed me to alternatives. Instead of standing in my way, my family's background precipitated my marriage to Lynn. By getting married, I replaced my parents' family with my own.
But, soon the differences between Lynn and me became apparent. My continual sexual "demands" and Lynn's smoking and temper became points of conflict. These and other differences grew -- becoming irreconcilable. I was tired of doing most of the cooking and other domestic chores. Coming from a very religious background, I, at that time, disapproved of Lynn's "secret" use of drugs, and what I considered to be excessive use of alcohol. Again the psychological effects of my parents' dysfunctional family came into play. Lynn and I stayed together too long. Had we just lived together, I would have ended the relationship after one year. I felt that I was remaining in a relationship because I didn't want to repeat my parents' mistakes. In contrast, Lynn claimed that my "lack of parental models," prevented me from "assessing our arrangement realistically."
The split in our marriage occurred while I was finishing my Ph.D. in economics at UBC. My thesis proposal was approved; I just had to write it, and then I was done. Suddenly, I had options -- alternatives. There seemed to be a lot of attractive, young, female graduate students hanging around the 9th floor of Buchanan Tower, or draped across sofas in the lounge. At coffee in SUB, I marvelled at the young, lithe, female undergraduate bodies suggesting "inspect this possibility." Thus, I began seven years of being a bachelor. As Goethe wrote, many years later, about his sabbatical in Italy:
I saw the world and love was in my sight,
And the world and I, we revelled in delight.
Yes, I accepted some options, and Lynn and I separated.
After I finished my thesis, I landed a job as a visiting Assistant Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. On arriving in Ottawa, I crashed at a friend's house for a few days, meeting Maria, who also lived there. Eventually, she and I began dating. Eventually, she stayed in my Sandy Hill apartment on weekends. When I returned to Vancouver at Christmas, I called Lynn's parents to wish them a Happy New Year and to determine her whereabouts. To my surprise she was in Europe, travelling for a year with her "friend." When I had talked to Lynn four months before, she was moving to Delta to be closer to her job teaching English in Tsawwassen. My plan to dissolve our marriage on mutually acceptable and amicable terms, as quickly as possible, was thwarted. Ironically, Maria was at home in Forteleza, Brazil, breaking up with her fiancé with the intent of moving in with me, permanently, when she returned to Ottawa. This fortuitous juxtaposition of events prevented me from making a serious mistake -- marrying Maria.
When she heard my divorce was delayed, Maria postponed returning to Ottawa. The weeks turned into months, and I had a number of short-lived affairs -- the options beckoning me again. When Maria returned a week after Mardi Gras, our feelings for each other had changed. While our lust had intensified, our love was not deep enough to overcome our continual fighting about "what we had done during our months of separation." I realized Maria was just a hot-blooded, Latin version of Lynn. Our torrid domestic life was only relieved by parties at the Brazilian Embassy where Maria worked, a welcome interlude. Had I been single, we would have married anyway, a serious mistake. Because I was unable to make a commitment to Maria, we broke up after just three months.
During the next five years my life took on a pattern inconceivable if Lynn and I had divorced one year after we separated. I was always meeting someone who was twenty-four, seeing her for a while, and then meeting someone else who was twenty-four. This happened over and over again. Celine, my 24-year-old French-Canadian girl friend in Ottawa, was the most understanding. She told me that I had problems making decisions. Other women told me I had a borderline personality. I, however, thought I was growing in maturity as an individual.
Because my academic career was flagging, I took a job with the Government in Victoria. A few months after I bought a house in Metchosin, I acquired two boarders, Allan and Patricia, and an occasional lodger Heather, Allan's girlfriend. Also, I was seeing Linda, a widow with two young children, in Vancouver. I slept with Linda on the weekends and with Patricia, twenty-four, during the week. Whenever Linda came to Victoria for the weekend, Pat did something with her friends. But on Swift Sure weekend, when I returned home after picking up Linda at the ferry terminal, Pat was still there. I introduced them and made dinner for the three of us. I thought we were handling the situation like mature adults. Over wine after dinner, we decided to take in the fireworks that evening. Now these events seem bizarre; then they seemed normal.
When I went to my bedroom to change, Linda followed me -- to jump my bones, or so I thought. Instead, she picked a fight about Pat. Images of Lynn and Maria flashed before my eyes. Suddenly, she raged out of the bedroom, slamming the door. I went after her, slapped her on the butt and, sounding like John Wayne said, "Don't you slam my door, little lady." A few moments later, I returned to the bedroom to finish changing. The front door slammed and, looking out the window, I saw Pat and Linda getting into Pat's car. They were leaving for the Swift Sure celebrations without me.
I took the phone off the hook, and the next morning I went fishing. When I returned home that evening, Pat was there, and she'd prepared a roast for dinner. Again, I successfully avoided making a decision.
That happened eighteen years ago. Pat and I still live together happily, not marrying now an acceptable option. My domestic chores are minimal, and Pat prepares a roast almost every Sunday. Procrastination and indecision can be acceptable strategies for someone with a borderline personality who comes from a dysfunctional family.