I remember it like it was yesterday…
We were in pre-marital counseling. My soon-to-be beloved wife was by my side. An aged, wise counselor sat across from us. He leaned in and in a hushed tone shared these words of wisdom:
“There is going to come a time. She’s going to get under your skin. He’s going to get under your skin. You will love each other, but at the same time you will hate each other. It is at that moment when you will need to make a very grave decision. What will you do?
“And at that moment, you can do what the rest of the world does in such cases. Quit on each other.
“Or, you can do something that is so heinous, so devious, so underhanded as to get the last say in such a situation. YOU can become the perfect spouse.
“Set a time in your heart. Thirty days. Sixty days. A year. Five years. Lock it down. Write it down. BE THE PERFECT MATE for the time you’ve determined and then, without a word, WALK OUT! The one left behind will be devastated!”
There was no further explanation. The grenade was placed on the floor and then the session ended.
I was 19 at the time. My soon-to-be bride 18.
I had no idea what the old geezer was telling us.
I had not endured enough winters to understand the vitriol and hate that had built up in this old-timer’s head.
It was in that moment that I tried to imagine this thin, crusty old matchstick of a man with his wife. I had seen them around–holding hands, smiling at each other, sharing whispers carefully like lovers.
Certainly, he didn’t feel this way toward his wife. What was his point?
We’re 33 years into this grand adventure called marriage now and finally I totally understand what the old man was telling us.
There are times in marriage where you find yourself very much in love with the person you share a bed with, but at the same time can’t stand his existence. She will be your catalyst for horror novels that end violently. He will be the voodoo doll you wish to pierce repeatedly.
What do you do at this point? I can tell you from experience that you take the old guy’s advice: YOU become the perfect spouse.
You become least. You become servant. You do what needs to be done without praise, without notice, without sex. You anticipate her every whim.
You shut your damn mouth and do the job. And you count off the days. One. Two. Three….
And just like magic, things tend to get better.
She notices. He brushes the hair back from your face while you’re diligently giving the kitchen floor a much-needed scrub and SEES you again.
Chores begin getting done together. The lines are clearly defined in your relationship. A love life once again manifests. Children are raised successfully by well-adjusted spouses.
We’ve hit the empty nest period of life.
I’m cresting 53. She’s just put 50 in her rearview mirror.
We’ve raised three sons. A grandchild is on the scene.
I thought that this time of life was finally, finally, finally going to be about US (meaning me, of course). I reveled–thinking about those first few days and weeks and months of marriage. About experimentation. About reading Penthouse Forum together and then having raucous sex. About watching porn together and then having raucous sex. About simply waking up together and… having raucous sex.
It was that time again, right?
She was still in love but it wasn’t with me. She was still in love with her children. The boys moving out didn’t make a difference. They were still number one in her heart.
Add an incredibly beautiful granddaughter to the mix and I was toast.
The wife was saying things like, “It’s really OK if we do things separately and find joy in that. Then we can come together and enjoy each other’s company” and “I’m thinking about going to college or at least take some courses” and “Have you read her blog? She’s amazing!” and the final dagger: “You know, I think I could go without sex from now on”…
I was last. Still. Least. Invisible to my spouse.
What to do?
I’ve got to admit that the whole empty nest thing hit me hard, very hard, too.
There were extenuating circumstances in my situation. It was on the heels of chloroforming a business that I had formed 14 years prior that had at various times, been very successful but had been kept on life support for the last four years.
While watching the business die a slow and languishing death, I had ventured back into corporate because, frankly, we liked a roof over our heads and liked to eat meat.
During this process of working for the man again, pulling the plug on the business, giving up writing, losing a lover, three sons moving out, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, I started drinking. Heavily. Like the moment I got in from work till the time I passed out on the couch in the den.
I wasn’t very lovable.
To my wonderful wife’s credit, she didn’t kick me to the curb. At least yet.
To my wonderful children’s credit, they didn’t give up on me.
And then an epiphany. The words of that long-time-ago marriage counselor came back to mind: BE THE PERFECT MATE.
Granted, I wasn’t the very lovable one during this period, but in my own head there were perfectly good reasons why. I was the stray dog that no one paid any attention. I was the yard gnome. I was the one to endure.
And then I had another epiphany: I had counted on other people and other things for my joy.
My wife. My children. My business.
Screw that again.
That period of life ended right now. Immediately. Pull the plug.
Perhaps for the first time in life–since the time some no-named doctor pulled my screaming ass out of my mother’s womb–I was going to lock down and focus on what made me tick.
I was going to do the things that interested me. I was going to invest in me. I was going to reinvent me.
And in the process, I was going to BE THE PERFECT MATE.
For a year. Maybe longer–we would have to see.
And if it didn’t work out, I was really, totally and completely fine with that.
This is where we will record what happened…
Author’s note: This is shaping up to be the intro to our next book project, The Empty Nest Woo. We’ll keep it here, up online, until the book starts forming into a first draft.
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