Last week, a friend of mine told me her husband left her and their new baby. No warning. No precursor. No raging fights or discussions of working things out. He told her he was “unhappy,” then he left.
This news smashed a gaping hole in the picture of marriage I had formed in my head. I know no relationship is perfect, but still—when I meet a married couple that recently had a baby, the furthest thought in my mind is that one day, he or she will up and leave. It’s shocking to know that someone can even do that, can bring themselves to be that irresponsible, that selfish. I thought they were happy and stable. I thought they would live the rest of their lives together with their beautiful child. Obviously my friend did, too.
If this can happen to her, it can happen to anyone. Although I’ve always heard about the scary divorce rate and the terrible odds of actually surviving as a couple, until now I’ve never applied them to myself. I’m lucky enough to have parents who are not only together after almost 30 years of marriage, but who also have one of the happiest, healthiest relationships I’ve ever seen. I know it’s naive, but I kind of thought complete and utter abandonment only happened in the movies and tabloids.
So how do you safeguard against someone else’s instinct to suddenly flee? The fact is, you can’t, and that terrifies me. Obviously I never want to rely on someone else just to have him up and leave one day. I guess the best I can do is try to maintain a degree of self-sufficiency, even when I’m with someone else. Unfortunately, for me that’s close to impossible.
Take Alex for example. While we were together, I never felt like I “lost” myself in our relationship. But when we broke up, I had to get used to being alone again. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that it’s just me now. Still, I sort of thought marriage meant you could stop worrying about that and feel free to lose yourself in the relationship because, hey, you’re married. No one’s going anywhere, right?
But self-sufficiency is a double-edged sword. Either you rely entirely on yourself and refuse to trust someone else for the fear that might get hurt, or you lower your guard and risk the possibility of, well, getting hurt. Which is the lesser of two evils? I’ve always been a big believer in the happily-ever-after scenario. “True love” means letting yourself go and trusting the other person to love you forever and for who you are. But my friend did that and got a brutal wake-up call. Is it more important to preserve yourself at all costs, or to open yourself up to love?
For me, I’m hoping this post-relationship time will teach me how to rely on myself again. Maybe I can find a balance between self-sufficiency and a trusting heart, so when the next relationship comes along I can open myself up but know that I’ll be ok if it falls through. Just like my friend is picking herself up and moving forward, I’d make it in the long run.