JULY 4, 2002
I’m sitting on our deck in the Hamptons an hour after everyone has left, realizing that my marriage needs to end. There have been too many red flags and it’s been too hard for too long. I’m drained. I’m sad. I’m lonely. My husband is just on the other side of the screen door, sleeping on the sofa we bought together at Ikea right after we bought the house. On his chest, our eleven-month-old daughter drools in her half-sleep.
RED FLAG #1, APRIL 1995
One of my girlfriends leaves a message on my machine Saturday evening at six. "A bunch of us are meeting at that new bar around the corner at 9:30. It’s gonna be a great group. See you then." I’ve already planned a night of order-in Chinese food and Middlemarch, but at 9:45 I overcome my innate inertia and force myself out.
My future ex-husband is sitting at a long, candlelit table, chatting with a few other guys. Over the din of the hip bar, I say, "You look familiar. Really." Then I realize that actually, he just looks like someone who works in my sister’s office. I’m about to tell him this but he says, "You’re right. We have met." We talk about everything that isn’t too personal: politics, sports, our favorite music from the '80s. He seems to be an expert on every topic, which I find sexy.
The next morning, I’m on the treadmill sweatily fantasizing about my future ex-husband, when the girl who introduced us the previous night gets on the treadmill next to mine.
"I really like your friend," I gush.
She makes a shocked face and says, "You two? Eew. You're completely wrong for each other. Please. Trust me. You two are the most-wrong-for-each-other people I can think of."
I laugh, and ask why we're so mismatched. "Trust me," she says gravely. "He’s not for you." Then she shrugs. "It’s your life, babe, but I don’t think you'll be happy."
RED FLAG #2, JULY 1995
One of my friends has a rule: if you don’t kiss by the third date, there’s no real chemistry. My future ex-husband and I don’t kiss until the third month.
RED FLAG #3, AUGUST 1995
We're walking down the street on our way to dinner and I ask my boyfriend a question, which he ignores. I say, "Can you hear me?" and he says, "Huh?" After dinner we go to the movies. While waiting for it to start I ask him if he thinks Jennifer Lopez is attractive. He ignores me.
I ask, "Are you going deaf, or are just ignoring me?"
"I don’t like to answer dumb questions," he says. Then he adds, "There's nothing wrong with silence. Sometimes I think you say things just to hear the sound of your own voice. I’m sure you don’t really care what I think of Jennifer Lopez. It's all right for two people to be together without talking."
"Actually, it’s boring," I want to say. Actually, silence frightens me. Actually, his silence, in particular, frightens me because it makes me feel isolated and depressed. When he goes silent, I stop feeling him; it's as if he becomes a sudden stranger.
RED FLAG #4, MAY 1996—PARIS
We have a lovely day and a lovely evening that concludes at a lovely restaurant, which my boyfriend pays for, and then we get back to our lovely hotel room and get in bed. With the lights out, I whisper, "Did you forget something?" He says, "What do you mean?" Against my better judgment, I say, "A card? A present? I don't know. Something. It's my birthday." After a pause he says, "I'm your present."
RED FLAG #5, JULY 1996
We’re in the car discussing our goals for the relationship. "I just want to get to a place with someone where I can coast," he says. I say, "What do you mean, 'coast'?" He says, "You know, not go from crisis to crisis. Just kind of exist together."
I say, "But you always have to evolve. You have to struggle through tough moments and hold tight during the good ones. Sometimes you can coast, but you can't get to a place and then coast."
He says, "You've misunderstood me. Of course, I think you need to evolve. I just mean not everything has to be such a struggle."
I say, "I agree," but for the rest of our relationship I will remember that word, "coast." And every time he avoids an argument or refuses to discuss something with me, I will think, Why didn’t I coast out while I could?
RED FLAG #6, AUGUST 1996
We're on a hiking trip in the Alps. We wake up early because we've planned a big trek, but it's raining out and cold so I get back in bed, relieved. In my heart of hearts I'm not a true mountaineer. I'm a Jewish girl from Manhattan who went on a few hiking trips at camp. I'm trying hard to please my man; still, there are limits, and hiking in the rain is one of them.
"It's clearing up," my boyfriend says, standing eagerly by the window. He points to a piece of sky in the distance that resembles every other piece of sky on the horizon: gray and menacing.
We head onto the trail, and for the first hour there's just a light drizzle that nevertheless turns my skin to gooseflesh. Then the rain picks up, and I notice that the trail has become vague. I notice that there actually is no trail. I suggest to my boyfriend, who takes great pride in his navigation skills, that we may be lost.
"We’re not lost," he says, pointing down a rocky ravine. "There’s the trail, right down there. Let's just traverse this hillside."
I watch the way he digs in with the front of his boot, his body almost flat against the steep mountain. He's smiling with the joy of the challenge, the star of his own reality TV show: Adventure in the Alps. When we get back to the hotel room, I throw myself on the bed and turn my traumatized body away from him.
"Wasn’t that awesome?" he says, spooning me. "You did great! I’m so proud of you."
I close my eyes but don’t fall asleep. Why am I doing this? I ask myself. Why am I here? Is it to prove to myself that I can keep up with an earthy, unspoiled guy? Is it to prove to myself that I can push my body to its limits? Or is it because I'm desperately trying to land a ring on my finger before my thirtieth birthday? Either way, I'm clearly somewhere I don’t belong, doing something I shouldn't be doing, with someone I shouldn't be with. Keep Reading...
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