Art by Charlie Lemay
Finding My Way Home --
Learning To Be Monogamous

Genexhibitionist by Maya Dexter

MY HUSBAND MOVED OUT the day before Labor Day, after lunchtime. The previous night's rain clouds were loosening their steely grip on the sky, giving way to a beautiful, clear, hotter-than-anticipated afternoon. I wished quietly for the clouds' return, a more appropriate meteorological setting for one of the more difficult days of my adult life -- the azure sky ridiculed the gray I felt inside. I was sweating in my jeans as we loaded my car with his half of our prolific CD collection, his clothes, his schoolbooks, and assorted newly purchased household items. Everything else was to remain with me until he completes his bachelor's degree, when we will finally submit to the arduous task of separating seven years' worth of gifts and purchases. Until then his home will be a cinder block bedroom in a tower of furnished apartment-style student housing units. Not my home. Not our home. His home. It seemed impossible that this day was really happening.

We left him at the curb with a hotel-style trolley loaded with his things. We didn't even go upstairs. He seemed to want that moment to himself, to carry himself across his own threshold. He had had much more time to integrate the reality of our separation than I had -- as a full time student heading for a prestigious Ph.D. program, he doesn't work and so had time between summer classes to cry and ponder and accept. Not me, I kept busy. Work, social engagements, a vacation to the Pacific Northwest, a trip home for a friend's wedding, my boss' suicide, and a seemingly endless procession of close friends and family grieving major losses counted among those things that prevented the reality of my future from really sinking in. My grieving was largely confined to the rare quiet evening at home and mostly to simply comprehending the unweaving of two lives that had seemed so inseparable. Reality did not really hit home until, well, it hit home.

I drove desolately away from the dorms, my daughter singing in the back seat as tears streamed silently down my face. The first moments of single motherhood. Oh, God, was this really my life?

I returned home to where his old Mustang was still parked out front, and many of his things still mingled with mine; his bathrobe still hung on the hook in the bedroom. The apartment looked more like he had died than moved out, except that there were also gaping holes left by those things he took with him; so full and so empty, all at the same time. Mercifully, my daughter went outside to play, giving me time to stare into the emptiness and sob for the broken dreams, the perceived failures, and the aching reality of being alone in my home. And that was the really inconceivable part for me: home, for the last seven years, had been him.

That first day was the worst, I fought gravity with every breath, forced myself to run errands and tried to spare my daughter this hell I felt. She seemed fine, content to see dad in just a couple days when I would be away at my first class of the semester. Though at bedtime we cried and called daddy just to tell him we missed him. He missed us too. In some ways a mutual decision is harder. There is no forceful turning of the back from the past, fiercely focusing on a wildly possible future, just a wistful staring across an abyss that turned out to be too big and too scary to cross.

I stayed to my side of the bed that night, though back in the days when we were together and he would travel I would relish taking up the whole bed. I wasn't ready to stop making room for him quite yet. Exhausted from the day's events, I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

The next morning I woke up and in my groggy morning state absentmindedly made a full pot of coffee. Habits. I unloaded the dishwasher while I mused about how unstable I might become if I drank the entire pot myself. I found cups in strange places in the cabinets and felt a small thrill surge through me as I declared, "in my home, cups go here." With a little renewed vigor I loaded a week's worth of neglected dishes and declared, "in my home, dirty dishes go straight into the dishwasher." I imagined myself zinging around the apartment in a caffeine-induced cleaning frenzy and resolved to just drink a cup or two lest I collapse on the couch at five from the inevitable stimulant crash, strung out and dusty and still gripping the Lemon Pledge, leaving my poor, sweet six-year-old dirty and hungry and scarred for life. Fortunately, Kevin called and asked me to bring him some coffee because he hadn't got himself a coffeepot quite yet. Problem solved; my Germanic aversion to waste rescued just in time from the harrowing precipice of cognitive dissonance.

The next few days meandered by in a stagnant stream of exhausted sadness. I dreaded my first day of class, which normally has me salivating with intellectual anticipation. It was more than a week before I could taste food again. My sexual response has yet to completely recover; though thankfully it is improving.

Grieving is a gradual and many-layered process, a slow two-step of clinging and letting go. There were so many dreams I had of the rest of my (our) life; failure was not part of the plan. Part of the dance is letting go of the concept of failure. What is "bad" about this? What is "good"? It is possible to pin either meaning to anything that has happened in my life. Does either get closer to identifying the event or the feeling? Not really -- it is a label that keeps me in the twin ruts of striving and fear like a car on an old dirt road. All the rigidity that comes from labeling is only an attempt to control and contain something so complex that it cannot be held. An oak tree does not fit into a clay pot. To contain something is to keep it small. To plant it in the infinite earth means to risk drought and flood and infestation. But to me, the freedom to grow is always worth the risk of failure.

Life alone is not the ideal I had built it up to be -- my home is not spotless, my guitar is still dusty, this essay is still late. But there is an ease about it, a sense that my choices are my own and not an endless dirge of grudging compromises. I have finally taken my life on as my own, and I concede to no one, unless I really want to. If there is a mess, it's mine. As much as I avoided being alone for much of my youth, I revel in it now and cannot imagine relinquishing it any time soon. It is no longer loneliness; it is freedom. And so I have come to embrace monogamy in the truest sense of the word -- I have committed to remain faithful to myself.

Why is this such a difficult concept to grasp? Why do so many of those I speak to about this seem to believe that I will snap out of it, that I will eventually submit to being controlled and / or possessed and like it? And worse, actually believe that I am somehow sadly missing out on one of the most significant aspects of love by not submitting to another person.

I've decided that's actually quite okay. Because it seems like, gee, it kinda makes sense that for each person that exists on this planet there is a relating style that is unique to them. To berate someone for forcing me into their mold isn't any more tolerant, is it? It seems more like an attempt to force them into my own mold in return. Because two wrongs make a right, donchaknow? Besides, who the hell am I to say that my way is the highway to happiness? That's a lot of hubris for someone who's going 20 miles an hour on the entrance ramp.

But for the first time I am able to say, "this is who I am, and to spend time with me you must be able to accept that person, even if you don't always agree with her." I don't need the validation any more, so it's okay to let go -- they think what they think about me and there's nothing I have to do to earn approval. Due to this fact alone, my stomach has released its knots and I feel so much more at ease with life and myself. The inward machete that hacked away in judgment and condemnation is gone and the wild and fertile weeds of acceptance begin to reach tentatively toward the sky. The outcome no longer matters -- it is the process that makes it fun.

There is an interesting side affect to this new freedom to have or not have lovers, as I so choose. Where once I was so anxious to connect, and it was so easy to fall in (and out of) love, now I find that pull is much less strong than it once was. It is confusing for me in a way, because I have for so long identified myself through my relationships and now I find that taking a back seat, and a sort of independent amused curiosity has taken its place at the helm. But at the same time the old programs have yet to loosen their hold entirely. It is a struggle to learn to balance being open and out there with others' desire to pull me in. How do I stay clear of the trap of outward validation? (Hmm, can we tell how Maya's oriented?) I have yet to figure out how to handle the guilt I feel at not reassuring someone who has made themselves vulnerable by expressing interest in me, and how to convey that it is not that I am judging them unworthy of attachment -- but I just don't do that anymore, even though it can be tempting. Sort of like how Oreo's are really, really bad for you so you don't keep them in the house even though they're yummy. It certainly does narrow the playing field when I require a lover who is willing to accept my just living in the moment and not dragging it into the future for fear that I will be less without the feeling I am enjoying. I am someone I like coming home to, and that is enough. But I am making a lot of great friends out of those connections that can't meet the lover requirement. And slowly it is sinking into my thick skull; bit by accidental bit I am beginning to more deeply understand this novel idea that people think what they think and there's nothing I can do about it but stay true to myself.

And hey, maybe I just have enough for once. My "ex" (for lack of a better term -- but ex what? He is still such a big part of my present as friend, lover and co-parent) and my lover feed such different parts of me that sometimes I feel almost too full, and then I have to remember that I need to be alone sometimes too. That was the point, after all. It seems to be so easy to begin to take things for granted. It all starts out so new and different and you wallow in the novelty and excitement and then before you know it you've forgotten the point. I guess that's where it's important to be surrounded by a supportive community.

I think the most ironic thing of all is that none that I've met seem to understand me as well as Kevin. I suppose you can't live with someone for seven years without knowing them really well. He is the first to tell me if I am stepping off my own path, to remind me that I need this time on my own to learn to be whole unto myself, to be alone without being lonely and have fun with it, and what's more, if I need freedom then by golly that's what I should have. I cannot even begin to convey to you what a profoundly warming feeling it is to have someone love you well enough to let you go. I am grateful to him every day -- he has been such a wonderful friend and partner on this journey into the future and he has taught me so much about love. And it is exactly that sort of mutually encouraging commitment to each of our unfolding, mindfully moving through those places where greed or envy or possessiveness creep in to undermine the whole quality of the sharing, that is the value I want to bring to my relationships from now on.

And so time moves forward, the grief subsides, coming in little showers instead of torrents. I find that no matter how I feel, life is good and I am whole and remain committed to myself -- truly monogamous. No longer contained, I feel my roots spreading and sinking in wide across the fertile ground of my life. Whatever this life may bring me next, I am beginning to feel both free enough and grounded enough to weather just about anything.++


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