MEMOIR: CHAPTER 15: Love and Marriage

Love and Marriage, Horse and Carriage

The flight to Denver was an evening flight, and the plane was nearly empty. I gratefully sank into a seat, piled my stuff on the empty seat next to me, and settled in for the two-hour journey. I found a small bag of jelly beans in my purse and tore it open, got out my yellow legal pad and a ballpoint pen, and kicked off my shoes. I was on my way to speak at a conference in Denver the next morning. I had a few notes to make about my speech before I’d be ready.

It was dark outside the plane, with the reassuring hum of the engines beneath the quiet. I finished my notes, tore off the page and slid it into my briefcase, and started a new page: PLANNING — GRAD SCHOOL.

For all my anger and bravado in making my decision, now I was up against the reality of my situation: I had been awarded an excellent fellowship—but it would only be enough to pay tuition and maybe apartment  rent, not enough to live on with a family. I would be working hard in a demanding doctoral program, and wouldn’t be able to hold down a full-time job as well, had one even been available. I had some limited savings and an aging Mustang convertible. That was it. Furniture, or course, but nothing much else. I would need consulting contracts, high-paying ones. Which meant I would have to hustle to keep the work and the income flowing in at a reasonably steady pace.

I tucked my feet under me and popped a licorice jelly bean in my mouth. Started listing the contacts, places and universities where I felt sure I could find consulting contracts.

But underneath, the low hum of anxiety pulsed in synch with the steady drone of the engines. I felt very alone, and unprepared. Scared. Was I even smart enough to do the work required for a PhD? I had read the requirements—lots of advanced statistics and research methodology courses. Statistics might be my downfall. And my three children, adolescents 13, 12 and 10, would need a lot of time and attention adjusting to a new city and new schools.

“Is this seat taken?” It was a somewhat familiar voice, deep and reassuring. I looked up. Ralph. I knew him from a few times he had done consulting work at the Lab. He was part of the good old boy network, fellow alumnus with Duane, Warren, and Rex of the University of Iowa where he was now a full professor in the School of Education. In fact, he had recommended I apply for the particular fellowship I had been awarded.

My initial reaction was disappointment. I had been enjoying my quiet privacy, my undisturbed thinking time. I’d have to put my shoes on and move all my stuff. Then I’d have to talk to this man. I sighed, unfolded my legs, and started pulling things off the empty seat.

And once again, my insecurities and doubts about my own capabilities drove me, as had happened before, to make a few collateral decisions that weren’t in any of our best interests.

Ralph settled in to the other seat and pointed out that obviously, we were going to the same conference, where he was also on the program. I put away my jelly beans.

For the rest of the flight, he told encouraging stories about life as a grad student. And a few other stories, which turned out not to be true. That he was getting a divorce. And others of less consequence, but part of a pattern I only gradually learned to recognize.

~ ~ ~

I always married for love. It wasn’t until I considered marrying a third time that I realized that was the name I had given for the emotion I felt, which was actually more linked to practicality and unconscious motives for self-preservation than love. I had a secret agenda—well-hidden, especially from myself. But I was always disappointed when my expectations for finding safety in another person were not met.

A Course in Miracles defines a special relationship as…every relationship. Until we change our perception of those we love or hate, and recognize every relationship as an opportunity to learn, we will project our own inadequacies onto the other person. Like everyone else, I expected my love relationships to fulfill me, to make me happy and bring me peace, to “save” me. But that required me to enter into a marriage madly in love, blinded by my own naïve expectations, and looking for my own wholeness and self-sufficiency in another person.

But the blinders began to erode, and finally to fall away. What I saw in the clear light was the actual, real person I had married, and at the same time, the actual, real person I had become.

Until I felt whole and complete within myself, I couldn’t have a successful relationship, nor could I see what I had done. I blamed my partners for not being who I had thought they were. But wait! They had never claimed to be anything more than themselves. I had projected onto them all the qualities I needed in myself.

And, naturally enough, they had their own unconscious agenda to find their safety in me. Both of us unaware, imagining it was all about being madly in love.

~ ~ ~

When I married Don at 18, madly in love, my only criterion was that he would be a good father. He was kind, witty, and gentle. What more is needed for fatherhood? I wasn’t old enough, experienced enough, or wise enough to realize that having a father, which he didn’t, or at least having a stable mother, would have prepared him for fatherhood. As it was, he was uninvolved with the children and with me, remote, and self-centered—and kind, witty, and gentle. There are worse fathers. But he had not met my single criterion. So, after ten years, I left with the children.

Don’s plaintive cry, at the end, still rings in my mind: “But I haven’t changed! I’m still the same person I always was! You’ve changed!” He was right. My unusual opportunities and ambitions had made me an impossible partner for him.

He now wanted to go to marriage counseling, but it was way too late. Those opportunities had been offered and refused many times over the past few years. He was still the same kind, gentle, humorous man I had married, but I had moved on. My heart broke for him, because he had done nothing “wrong.” He was a man of his times, and his upbringing, and his male privilege, and hadn’t realized the changes happening in me might require some adjustments on his part. Today, he is still the same reliable man he’s always been. He married a woman named Judy, and remained as a teacher in Independence until his retirement. Now, as he ages, he has opened up some of the secrets from his childhood, for his children to know, and that’s a good thing.

~ ~ ~

 A few days before I held a big garage sale, packed a U-Haul full of the things we needed to keep, and hooked it to my aging Mustang’s trailer hitch—I married Ralph at City Hall. As it turned out, our whirlwind romance did speed up his divorce, but my own agenda, completely hidden from myself, gave me blinders.

I was once again, madly in love. The key word here being “mad.”

Only years later was I able to see the truth of my own complicity: as a professor, he could make my grad school experience easier and more understandable; could help me with the stats required for a dissertation; and help support us all, while I pursued my studies. He could be a surrogate father to my children, perhaps even providing a role model for fatherhood for my son.

The truth was, I hadn’t needed his help to get admitted—I was awarded my fellowship on the basis of my application and my GRE scores, which, I learned later from a faculty member on the selection committee, were the highest they had ever seen in applications for that fellowship. Nor did Ralph need to help me with the experience of grad school. I did well, sometimes in spite of him. He taught Statistics, but missed the key problem with the statistic I used for my dissertation research, which came up during my oral defense. The mistake  was tiny, and didn’t invalidate my results, but it did embarrass me and my advisor, and made me wonder why the famous Stat prof I had married had, in several readings, missed that key mistake.

And, as it turned out, my consulting contracts brought in more during those three years than his salary as a professor. Now I wonder—as faculty, he needed to publish regularly to maintain his status. But he wasn’t a particularly good writer, nor did he have much to write about. Did he marry me so that I could write papers and add his name as a co-author? Or possibly because of the lucrative contracts I helped him get in my field of educational computing? None of that occurred to me at the time. I still didn’t have the self-confidence to realize the truth of what Gloria Steinem said at the time: “We are becoming the men we wanted to marry.”

I had not felt secure enough within myself to “make it on my own” in grad school without the backup of a husband.

As it turned out, Ralph was incapable of the qualities I had projected onto him. He couldn’t support and protect me, because he expected me to support him. He was apparently incapable of monogamy. Lying, therefore, was secondary to the adventures he needed to cover up. My children were wary from the beginning, catching on before I did that he was a liar about big things and small, the Wizard behind the screen, bluster without substance.

But none of these things were his “fault,” nor was it Don’s “fault” that he could not be an involved father. They were themselves, as they had always been. It was I who had not been myself in the relationship, always hoping and expecting they would fill in the gaps in my own perceived self and make me complete. Perhaps they wanted the same thing from me. Of course, it didn’t work for any of us.

By the time the possibility of marrying Jack came up, in 1981, I was secure within myself, professionally and personally. I was back at the Portland Lab, and made a substantial salary with good benefits. My kids were grown and on their own, and I was contented living alone. I owned my own small house and a new Saab, both of them picked out by me, had a single ticket for the symphony series, and was comfortable backpacking alone. I had several close women friends, and dated occasionally, but not as “husband-shopping.” Every morning before going to work, I meditated. After work I cooked only what I wanted to eat, and often put on a nightgown and ate my simple dinner alone in my luxurious, queen-size bed, then read until falling asleep. I had no needs and no worries. Jack offered nothing I needed. I no longer trusted “falling in love.” Instead, a friendship based on respect, equality, and mutual interests and values developed and deepened over time.

Finally, I simply wanted to be with him. This time, I backed up my perceptions of his qualities with evidence. Of course, fidelity was high on my list. I had seen how he had been faithful to his wife through 27 years of marriage and her illness and death. I saw the kind of father he was with his own children—a good listener, caring, involved. I watched and waited, and examined my own motivations. When, finally, I could see no motive other than to love and share a life with this good and creative and hard-working man, we married. It’s been over thirty years, and I have never been disappointed. In Jack, I saw something I valued more highly than any other quality he might have had or not had: the constant giving of unconditional love. I had never had that kind of love, nor had I ever given it. At first, I didn’t totally trust it. But it was real, and continuing, and I finally realized I could give the same, to him and to everyone else.

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