I talked with my counselor Sharon about the latest revelations about users and usees and a mysterious emotional engine that drives the whole thing. It seems a common dilemma in western culture, or at least white American culture. It's a featured plot in many a sit-com: the lengths adults will go to avoid saying 'no' to each other. It's spawned a whole genre of books and workshops on self-assertion. So I know this isn't just me.
I'm wondering if it's that moment of tension that follows a 'no', or anticipating that moment of tension that generates the phobia about setting boundaries. I've been trying to examine that moment. What are the elements that make it so difficult to endure that people will do most anything to avoid. Oftentimes people do things they don't want to do rather than face that silence after 'no'.
'No' is an assertion that I am not an instrument of someone else's will, or a means to their ends. It's a declaration of differentiation.
I started this blog to document the journey through my decision whether to stay in a marriage or to leave it. This is because I've realized that a relationship is not a relationship unless there are two separate people engaged and able to negotiate their differences effectively. If one (or both) of the parties see the world as an extension of themselves, there is no relationship. There is merely anger when one's 'extension' mutinies. There is also enduring resentment. This results in an atmosphere between the two which is not what a loving marriage provides. It follows that children raised in the field generated by mutual parental respect, affection and friendship have an advantage children raised in a context of mutual dislike don't.
I've come to realize that a person who sees the world in terms of him/herself is not apt to change. Change requires insight, which requires a degree of individuation from the environment. One has to be a fish that can examine water.
If the act of saying no is a rupture, opening a separation between what others think they can expect and the reality, perhaps the discomfort springs from that moment of breach. I experience it as a gap of some kind, which seems imperative to fill with something: a reason, an apology, a promise to grant the other's request later. If I don't have a reason, or I'm too honest to offer an apology if none is warranted--and I'm too honest to offer to fulfill the request later--then the gap stands naked. It's very awkward. And I feel tremendous pressure to fill it. Sharon characterized the impulse as wanting to build a bridge, between my Self that has pulled away, and the Other who is now left standing exposed. Or perhaps it is my own exposure I'm anxious about, the breach in a simulacrum of oneness.
I told her about a current decision we need to make. One that I feel an inexplicable 'Yes' in response to.
Our house has no garage. We've lived here three years without one. With the deflationary trend, materials and labor are cheaper. Mortgage rates dropped. It's possible that we could refinance our home and remove some equity to build a garage without increasing our monthly overhead by much. I am in agreement that this makes sense, and would be a good thing to do.
Yet, this flies in the face of my determination to leave the marriage. For me to leave means another place to live. My intention is to keep this house as joint owners where the boys live full time and the adults rotate according to a half-time custody arrangement. We could share the second home. It doesn't have to be large, since it's not intended to be a home for the kids. It would make sense to buy a place, so hundreds of dollars a month aren't pouring into a rental black hole. At least we'd be increasing our assets. Sadly, it means that a chunk of earnings that could be devoted to improving our present property would be diverted. That would be one of the costs of divorce.
We are reasonably comfortable financially. We don't have much debt, but it is expensive living on the ridge we live on. There is no way that Gary's income could cover an increased payment for a garage, and a mortgage on another place.
So, my feeling of 'Yes' to a garage is kind of incompatible with the need for another place to live when I leave. Another incongruity is the strong 'No'-sense about returning to my field of work. There are some concrete reasons: Scott's situation is stabilizing but not entirely secure yet; my boys need my availability come sickness or holiday. Additionally I hesitate to return to a physically demanding job that I'm not sure my 9-years-older body (since I "retired") is equal to. It's more than this, though. I continue to have a consuming need to be alone to reflect and try to increase my understanding. This is when I'm happiest. If only there was some way I could do that for a living, or something that brings comparable...joy. Quiet joy.
A possibility that might reconcile several of the incompatibilities is to include a living space in the garage we build. This would solve the income problem (unless Gary loses his job), and the child-care problem. We'd be able to concentrate assets on improving this property, rather than dividing them. It means that much of our living situation would not be appreciably different than it is now: basically Gary leaves before the boys get up, and he returns well after dinner and not long before bed. The main difference would be that we not sleep in the same house. Perhaps this would minimize disruption for the boys. I would continue to do what the at-home parent usually does, child care and home making. I'd be rather more like an employee, except for my status as co-owner. It's not as if I'd be a housekeeper. I would have the alone time on school days that I cherish and that's a compelling thought.
The question is, is it enough separation? Does the arrangement so resemble the marriage we have that the benefits of separation are undercut? I want to stop the pretense. I want to quit modeling a zombie marriage--living dead--for my kids. I want to end the dose of poison the boys breathe in from this atmosphere day in and day out. I want to end the confusing double message they're receiving: marriage is supposed to be about love, yet in reality the feeling is of mutual dislike.
Sharon suggested there was a metaphor between this decision and the current insights I've getting about 'No.' 'No' says, "I am not you, and I choose to not cooperate with you in getting whatever it is you want." 'No' puts distance between; it separates. My decision to leave marriage with Gary is 'No'. Which is particularly apt since he has persisted in seeing me as a (rather faulty) extension of himself.
So where does the idea about building a garage/studio that we can rotate in and out of come from? These are the questions I'm going to be mulling over. Does it represent an anxiety about that void that's opened with separation ('No')--and the imperative to fill it with a bridge of some kind?
Or, is it a credible, viable, and reasonable solution?
As I write this I realize that it boils down to an issue of money. If I had an independent source of income I would have already left, we would already have a second living place, and it wouldn't be right next door. Custody arrangements would be more formalized since I wouldn't be available at a moment's notice on days they were with Gary. Childcare on his watch would be his problem. Is it better to widen the void between, rather than bridge it? ...The issue of an independent income is in my hands. I'm really getting this as I write. If I was willing to return to the professional world I would have it. Maybe this is a subject for another blog post: What's behind the strong 'No' when I picture myself back in the work force? It's certainly fodder for some journal work, the next time I can be alone.