“My husband is an engineer who hasn’t worked in forever, and I’m fed up,” said Lisa, 47, who runs an employee-assistance program for a big corporation. “I earn a good salary, but after taxes and health insurance are deducted there’s not a lot left. We’ve fallen behind on our bills and to pay them we’ve had to borrow against our retirement savings — what’s left of them, that is. Like everyone else we’ve been hit hard by the recession. It’s time Ted got serious about finding a job — any job. I’m so mad at him I can’t see straight, and the last thing I want is to have sex with him. I can’t even remember our last civil conversation much less the last time we saw a movie together.
“We got married 11 years ago. It was Ted’s first marriage and my second. He worked in telecommunications and three years ago his company reorganized and transferred his job to Connecticut. We didn’t want to move or have a commuter marriage, so Ted took a year’s salary as severance. We agreed he should take six months off to regroup. Six months turned into a year, at which point he decided he’d only work for an environmentally friendly company. Well, in this economy no one can be that choosy! When I suggest consulting or teaching at a local college or even working part-time at a sales job — anything to get us out of this crisis — he says it’s too much effort for too little money. Instead he volunteers for nonprofit groups that advocate for renewable energy. Yes, it’s important work, but it doesn’t pay the bills.
“I’ve been working hard for a long time and I’m tired. I spent most of my childhood trying to cheer my mom up during my dad’s frequent bouts of depression. He was a frustrated artist who had to settle for a teaching career, and when my two much-older sisters went off to college Mom leaned on me for support. I remember feeling sad a lot of the time.
“I finally found happiness at 23, when I fell in love with Jim, my first husband. He taught English at the school where I was a guidance counselor. When his ex-wife remarried and moved away soon after our wedding, we got custody of their three kids, Jill, 10, Robin, 5, and John, 4, whom I love as my own. I got pregnant right away with Kim, who’s now 22. We had trouble making ends meet, so I took a higher-paying corporate job. A few days after our sixth wedding anniversary Jim was killed in a car accident. I was devastated and couldn’t bear the thought of losing not only him but also three of my children. So Jim’s ex and I worked out a custody arrangement that kept her three with me during the week but let them spend weekends with her.
“As a young widow I dated a little but mostly socialized with one of my coworkers, Maureen. Her brother, Ted, would visit on breaks from graduate school. He was smart and funny but I couldn’t imagine a 30-year-old engineering student being interested in a 31-year-old widow with four kids. Four years later, when Ted finished his PhD and found a job in our area, he asked me out. We fell in love fast, spending hours talking about politics, movies, and work.
“Ted has been a wonderful stepfather to my children — never begrudging them anything, even when I’ve overindulged them. And I have: Over the past few years we’ve paid for Jill and Robin’s weddings, put Kim through college, and bought John a car. Two years ago our real-estate taxes went up, so we had to tap our retirement. Ted even asked his 83-year-old father for help. How embarrassing is that?
“Ted insists he loves me but doesn’t seem to care that I’m carrying all the financial burdens. I’m sick of it, and I’m sick of hounding him to do what’s right. ‘I’ll get a job, but I’ll do it my way,’ he says. Well, his way isn’t working.”