Almost every day for the past 23 years, I've awakened in the dark. The deep dark, and I don't like it. Because my husband is an irritable sleeper, he can't sleep with any light coming through the shades. The exclusion of light isn't a preference but a necessity. To share a bed with my husband, I've had to give up something I love, and I want it back. I've decided that for at least part of the time, I'm going to sleep somewhere else.
You think giving up the connubial bed after 23 years isn't big and scary? Okay then, there's more: I'm taking a small apartment. It's just a room, really, but it's for me alone. At a time when I thought I would be hunkering down with my husband, I find I now want to open up our relationship to include...what? Deeper intimacy between us, and at the same time, more freedom. A stronger commitment to each other, and at the same time, a larger arena in which to practice it. A richer connection, and at the same time, a private space for myself. What kind of freedom, larger arena, richer connection? I'm not sure. But I want more intimacy, trust, recognition, even—postmenopausally—sex. Will changing the structure, testing the boundaries of my marriage get me what I want? I am so not sure.
Nothing about our marriage has been what I thought it was going in. When I met him, I thought my husband was a smart, up-front, upstanding entrepreneur. He was, but it turned out he was also—oops—soon to become addicted to barbiturates. Whereas I thought we would be raising a family together, he was often absent, busy with work while I cared for our child. Our marriage has been challenging, and I've been feeling my way all along—like many people, I'll bet—without a template.
Our son, who will be 21 by the time you read this, is our joy and our finest accomplishment. But since we launched him and there is no longer the daily pace, steady as a heartbeat, of home life with a child, I've been struck by an arrhythmia of questions: What is now keeping my husband and me together, and what is the quality of that attachment and commitment? Is the framework strong enough to support an exploration of us as individuals and as a twosome? And back to waking in the dark in that connubial bed: Must compromise, if it's no longer necessary or practical to preserve the family unit, be part of the equation in a marriage? Not sure, not sure, not sure, not sure.
What are the other compromises I'm questioning? I'm shy about telling you, because I'm afraid it sounds as if I'm looking a gift horse—my decent, basically good enough marriage—in the mouth. Maybe I am. But here goes: I want a physical space where I can see myself reflected without the influence (both aesthetically pleasing and overpowering) of my husband. I also want to create a distance between my husband and me specifically for the purpose of coming together with the intention of...being together. In the course of our long marriage, we have both quit seeing each other, have become, like the furniture in our apartment, part of the seemingly immutable landscape of our married life. I don't want to rearrange that furniture, or reupholster it. Nor do I want to replace it with different, newer, or fancier stuff. I just want to remember why I chose it in the first place.
"I'm taking an apartment...not leaving my marriage, but adding more room to it."