The kids are at their grandma’s house, which means my husband and I have the day to ourselves. Last night after we dropped them off, we hit up our favorite Mexican restaurant and quickly became lost in 45 minutes of intimate conversation. You know the kind. It operates on a higher frequency than regular ol’ marriage dialogue because it actually makes you feel something—it’s conversation that looks very different from what you’ve become accustomed to in the days that fill up your lives.
You feel seen.
There is discussion about things other than potty training and broken bicycles, and you even experience a little heart flutter when you catch him giving you that look after you make a coy comment. You know the one. It’s the look he used to give you before connection trumped responsibilities, back when it was just the two of you in a room full of people. Back when you were his everything.
But suddenly, forceful reality steps in to break up your intimacy and bring you right back to responsibility. It blows its whistle a little too loudly, just so it can make its presence known and remind you who’s boss. Time’s up, it yells. And suddenly you’re back to real life, mourning the loss of the remaining conversation—the words that might have been spoken had they been given the chance. You respond to the demands of reality by standing up and shrugging it off, annoyed at its bluntness. You don’t want your husband to see the disappointed look on your face. You don’t want him to know what you would give for just ten more minutes with him, here. You saunter to the trashcan to dump your food remnants and return the tray to its rightful place. As you amble towards the car, you quietly curse the resentment you feel flooding into your body. The whole way home you wonder why your marriage can’t always feel the way it did while sitting there in that booth, two hearts focused on nothing but each other, laughing at everything and allowing the world to disappear around you. You tell yourself that tomorrow you will take advantage of being alone, together. And you solemnly swear that somehow you will find a way to conjure up many more intimate moments like the one you just experienced. You tell yourself if you could just make them happen more often and just as effortlessly, you would at last know what it’s like to feel fulfilled.
Yet here we are the very next day, just the two of us in our home, and that seamless connection has already been vaporized and replaced with a void. Because it never lasts. His phone lures him back into his inner world of sports and pointless games, and my habit of overthinking lures me back into my brutal mind, the place that holds desperate wishes for a better marriage, or at least something more. I look at my husband looking down at his phone, and I wonder why I don’t have enough power to change my circumstances. The picture of a better marriage has no problem forming in my head, but somehow it gets muddled in translation, leaving me immobilized the second I feel the words start to dance on the tip of my tongue. I am terrified of speaking my thoughts aloud because I am afraid of my own imagination. So the words never escape me. Vulnerability pushes back. And then I scoff at the irony: Lindsay, you want a more intimate and meaningful marriage but you can’t even find the words or the courage within you to tell your husband that? Yeah, good luck.
Since the moment passes and the thoughts never have the chance to unleash their power by becoming words and creating change, they suddenly dissipate back into the fragile recesses of my mind where they will forever live in fantasy fragments. And I am back here in this familiar place where insecurity dwells and resentment festers.
Sometimes, even worse than the overthinking, is the feeling of emptiness. My mind can be like a dark cave when I fight so hard to discover the answers within me and the only thing that greets me is blackness and my own paralyzing fear to wade through it. And so to combat the discomfort, I move my body. I do laundry. I scroll Pinterest and read articles about marriage. I write to-do lists and straighten my hair. I do anything to mask the longing in my heart, covering my unsettled feelings with a band-aid of productivity and distraction. I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid the wrestling match in my heart.
Because that would mean I would have to do the work, and I don’t know how to do the work. Emptiness is so much worse than resentment because at least I can identify the latter and try to work with it. Emptiness feels scary and expansive. It beckons for me to create something. But how does one create meaning from darkness? Burying my feelings and staying busy is doable; confronting the fact that I’m the problem is not. I find myself at a dead-end every time I approach the blank canvas, and so I walk away and tell myself I’m crazy, each time feeling defeated and hopeless. I guess then, by doing nothing, I am actually making the very conscious choice to stay stuck and small.
The fleeting moments of intimacy that light up my marriage are not the stuff of imagination. They do exist, but they don’t stick around. It is these rare moments that offer me sweet glimpses of what used to be and what could be. These moments seem to remind me that there is more. I think I sense this because I know that what our minds can believe, our hearts can achieve. But it seems like love has cruel intentions when it allows you to lose yourself in bliss just to be let down moments later, jolted back into mediocre patterns that you learn to half-heartedly accept. If this feeling had senses, it would taste like runny, lukewarm soup that you force yourself to swallow because you’re too hungry to take the time to assemble the grilled chicken salad you had been daydreaming about hours earlier. You know that the hearty salad would taste a lot better and fill you up in ways that the soup couldn’t possibly, but you still reach for the soup because you’re impatient and it’s easier. This same feeling would look like the remains of a fading sunset, of once vibrant colors that have now become blurred together like a soft watercolor portrait. You will be disappointed at having missed the spectacular vividness of it all, of the chance to observe each stunning color pulsate through the sky, but you will tell yourself at least you witnessed this much. It’s pretty enough.
It will feel like settling.
So today, my husband and I live parallel lives like a pair of roommates focused on their own needs, only noticing each other when our paths happen to intersect. I do laundry, he looks at his phone. He works out in the garage, I read my book. I call my sister, he pulls weeds. He makes a sandwich, I pour myself a diet coke and retreat to our bedroom so I can write in peace with the fan off because I’m freezing out in the front room. He prefers the fan on. He can have it.
I feel empty, and then guilty for feeling empty. I am ashamed at my sulkiness. I am plagued by my inner voice which relentlessly scolds my heart for letting things become this way. I am startled by my revelation that we don’t know how to be together without kids. The one day we have had alone in months should have been a joyous day. Shouldn’t we have cuddled up on the couch and watched a romance movie while he rubbed the back of my neck and I happily munched on popcorn? Shouldn’t we have found ourselves laughing at all the same moments, him offering me a blanket when he realized I was cold, me grabbing his hand as a small gesture of appreciation? Living in this element of sweet give and take—of being completely in tune with each other’s needs— should feel effortless and approachable after all this time. Instead, it feels scary and foreign. Hearts in sync, minds always challenging each other and growing in love is shaken off as impossibility. Maybe at one point this was true and real, but not anymore.
Our connection was revved up the night before. We had felt it, so we know it’s not gone. Do I need to accept these feelings as they come, and simply be grateful that they come at all? I wonder if my mind creating an unrealistic fairytale that my heart has latched onto is a weird way of protecting itself from falling into complacency. There is nothing more terrifying to me than the thought of becoming complacent in my marriage.
I was born with a growth mindset, always thinking about the future and what could be.
He was born with a content mindset, always living in the moment and accepting the day as it comes. Thinking about now.
These mindsets are not complementary. Consequently, we sail through life together with few hiccups, him in a state of merely existing, me in a state of constantly reaching higher. This is the familiar rhythm of our days. We each do our thing, and every so often I feel my heart come alive at his touch, a look, a conversation, if only for a few seconds. The feeling passes, and we return to our duties.
We are great at being parents but not good at being spouses.
We win big at efficiency and lose sorely at passion.
Our hearts beat for our children, but not for each other.
And all the while I think, but he’s happy and I’m not. So I’m the problem, not him.
There’s a little voice inside me—one that speaks with a perfect blend of imagination and reason—that sometimes brings me back to earth. It communicates to me with kindness and love in the rare moments that I hand it the mic. It tells me, there is more, but right now it’s just a seed. In the way you nurture yourself, you must nurture your marriage. Before children, you brought forth a beautiful garden. It took four years to cultivate. And now all of that is gone—not because it can no longer exist—but because your life looks different now. You have moved to a new dwelling, and therefore you must plant a new garden, a different type. Don’t be afraid to start from scratch. Give it love. Nurture it with all of your heart and soul.
Just don’t give up before you plant the seeds.
There IS more and it’s already in us. I believe this in my soul. Anything that can exist in our imaginations can exist in our realities. But we can’t shy away from the work. And we can’t allow fear and complacency to shut down the vibrancy that lives in our minds and hearts—the vivid colors of a happier and more true reality that is painted on our souls. Fear only pushes us further into ourselves instead of out into the world and into our potential. Into real, intimate love. And that love is there, waiting for us. We were made for so much more.
Our hearts already know how to do the work. Lets be brave and follow their lead.