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The Ties That Bind and Choke

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“You are making it impossible for me to be close to your family. You are creating distance between us.”


We were talking about Jeff’s difficulty committing to our relationship. Or, more accurately, I was criticizing Jeff for his inability to just jump right in and marry me, which really was the whole point of getting engaged in the first place, and a necessary criteria for my moving into his condo, which (I might add), I had already done. He seesawed between strong, decisive, silly-fun man that I loved and weak, indecisive, depressed, distant wuss who disgusted me. The waffling was making me crazy. While I logically recognized that the problem wasn’t me—he would be just as terrified of marrying anyone—I felt rejected every time. My biggest fear was being abandoned, and there it was, scary abandonment lurking around every corner; a dis-engagement and breakup always looming on the horizon.


“I am not. You don’t trust my family.”


“How can I trust them when they are the big problem between us?”


“They are not the big problem between us.”


“You said they are. You can’t even say that your relationship with me is a higher priority than your relationship with your family. You said that’s hard.”


“Why can’t my relationship with you be equal to the one with my family?”


“Because it can’t! You read that article on commitment, with the checklist. You need to be able to lessen ties with immediate family members and put your relationship with your partner first. That means the relationship with me comes before the one with your mother. Before the one with your brother.”


“Why can’t I be committed to you and my mother?”


“Committed to your mother?! Who says that? The two aren’t even comparable!” I had to pause; I was so angry. It was a constant source of irritation to me, this perfect devotion to his perfect mother, whose overprotectiveness, that I had witnessed myself, made her far from perfect in my eyes, and even quite annoying. The man was forty years old! I felt that her smothering had stunted his growth as a man, held him back from achieving all he could have, made him afraid of acting and mistrustful of himself. In short, I blamed her for all our problems. But of course he was a man now, and it was his job to remedy whatever shortcomings his upbringing had brought on. Would he though? Would the guilt be too much? Would he do it in time to make our union work?


Just when I think I can’t take it any longer, that I have to move out or give the ring back or take some other drastic dramatic action to get my point across, he does something amazing. Last night he came home and told me that he’d been thinking that he needed to be more empathetic. That he needed to put himself in my shoes.


“I thought, here she is; she’s not talking to her family and having a really hard time of it; she can’t write or be productive; she feels unloved and unimportant, and then here the guy she’s living with, that she’s engaged to, doesn’t seem like he wants to marry her! That’s got to be horrible.” He turned to me and hugged me. “I do love you. I do want to marry you. We’ll look at places when we’re back east for Thanksgiving. We are going to do this. I’m not going anywhere.”


I have to believe that this is the real Jeff; the strong, determined one, the one who loves me and wants to take care of me. The one who has moments of insight, who is trying. Whatever unconscious commitment he has to his family, at least we’re figuring it out now.


“I love you like this. This is you—you’re happy. Don’t you want this always? Isn’t it time to stop pleasing our families and live for ourselves?”


I don’t know what will happen. I know working through our issues isn’t easy. I hope as he lets his true, brave self out, I can do the same.

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