Last night, I headed out to dinner with the boys. It had been a long time since I hung out with my usual crew–given the ban on group gatherings and all that. I’d been puttering around at home and futilely trying not go out of my mind. But a familiar scene and setting looks vastly different when you haven’t seen it for a while.
Everywhere I looked, there were groups of middle-aged men gathered in groups without their wives. Their eyes linger a minute too long on every woman that walks past. It’s what we’re supposedly meant to do after work to socialise and network. A classic attention-seeker gets frisky with the waitress. There’s always one in each group. When boys are just being boys, they indulge in behaviour that they know their spouses (and perhaps even their mothers) wouldn’t approve of. But even as I looked around, I knew this wasn’t a place I would ever bring my other half. So what in the world was I doing there?
“You’ve changed since you met her,” a friend of mine quips. “You’re not as fun as you used to be.”
If I was younger and less mature, I would have seen it as a dig on my masculinity; but since I’m ‘old enough’, I simply couldn’t care less. I’d outgrown my ‘friends’ like an old pair of socks. Some of these socks even had holes in them; but for some largely inexplainable and bizarre reason, I still hadn’t thrown them out. My other half, for the most part, never asks me where I go or what I do. She does sometimes, but I usually don’t say much and she accepts my silence on the matter.
Last night, I must have come home reeking of alcohol. It’s the scent of the late night that leads to the morning dawn. I was greeted by a scene that had grown all too familiar to me. She was still working. She does that a lot and all the time. She didn’t care that I’d just walked through the door. And then I saw something in her eyes that startled me.
She looked at me as though I were a complete stranger.
“Where’d you go?” she asked.
“I was with the boys,” I said.
“What did you get up to?”
I’m usually the one who is out and about while she stays at home. We shared a life together, but we barely spent time together anymore. Despite all the physical changes I’d seen her body go through in the time we’d been together; in her eyes, I still saw the woman I fell in love with a couple of years ago. But in her eyes, I saw nothing but indifference. I was, at best, a roommate.
When I reached forward to kiss her, she stayed still; but mostly out of obligation. There was none of that desire that once characterised our partnership. What happened to that passionate, bubbly and spirited woman I used to be insanely mad about? I thought of all the women my eyes lingered on tonight. Most men would buy that ticket out of their misery and if they’re discreet, their wives would probably never figure it out. And even if they did, I’m not sure anything would really change in their partnership. Most women I know expect men to cheat.
I wanted to blame my wife. Tell her she’d changed. Say it was all her fault. Recently, I’d even taken to criticising her appearance and what she wears when we head out for dinner. She’d gained weight. She barely wore makeup anymore. When we did go somewhere, it was like she was far away and daydreaming of another life–one that made her wildest dreams come true. I knew I wasn’t factored into that dream anymore. I know I used to be. I have no idea what happened to us.
And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something that completely startled me. It was a tiny shred of a condom wrapper.
I’ve read the newspaper articles. I’ve heard that women stray largely for emotional reasons. Despite our problems, I’ve never felt the need to be with anyone else. So why did she?
I didn’t confront her about it. I chose not to. But deep down, I was in a rage. At her, at the guy, maybe even at God. But mostly, I was angry at myself. When we first started dating, I was flippant about any kind of commitment that she’d asked for. I even gave her the green light to polyamory. She resisted and said it wasn’t a good idea and that it could easily jeopardise everything we’ve built. I might have called her a prude or something of the sort. I can’t remember what I said, but it wasn’t anything nice. I used to do that a lot. Say the first thing that came to my head.
So why was I in such a rage?
The truth is, I never thought her capable of actually making that choice. I had left that door open in our relationship under the assumption that given her conservative disposition towards relationships, she would never ever do that to me. I had allowed myself to be lured into a false sense of indestructibility.
She was a nurturer. Someone who enjoyed the little things in life and never demanded much. Unlike all the other women I’d dated, she wasn’t wowed by expensive presents or decadent dinners. When I did plan those things, she’d say that I was enough. I thought it was a sweet thing to say, but I never believed her.
I’d like to say that she was the one who’d let herself go, but that wouldn’t be the truth. It was me. I’d allowed myself to feel secure, without ever considering her needs; but only knowing that I had done what society expected of me as a partner and she had no right to be unhappy in anyway.
The next day, I decided to stay home and not head out. Even though the both of us had been jailed in an apartment during the lockdown, we never actually spent anytime together. She was busy with work; as was I. I’d even recently been promoted at work. I was doing well. I was actually doing better than ever in my career.
She, on the other hand, had been struggling. She’d lost her job two years ago and had been struggling with odd jobs here and there ever since. I told her what most men do in that situation. That I would provide for her and she needn’t worry about money. I’d said it to comfort her and provide her with a sense of security, but instead she simply went to the room and cried.
Why wouldn’t she let me look after her?
I tried to console her, but she wouldn’t let me close.
“I’ve done well,” I said. “Let me look after you.”
I put a hand on her shoulder in an attempt to comfort her, but she ran away from me and into the bathroom.
What had I done wrong this time? My success was her success; and to me, my success didn’t mean much unless I had her to share it with. I didn’t achieve everything I did for myself. If anything, our relationship is what propelled me forward to succeed. Without her, I might have been swept up in a tide of eternal bachelorhood. She was my anchor, my home and my best friend.
I knocked on the door, but didn’t dare to open it.
“Sweetheart,” I said, as gently as I could. “Will you please talk to me?”
I wanted to barge in, but whenever she retreats in this way; I know from experience that any displays of aggression on my part only makes things worse. I waited outside the door for a couple of minutes and knocked again.
“Sweetheart,” I said. “May I come in?”
There was no response. So I took a deep breath and opened the door. She was washing her face over the sink, trying to hide the tears we both know she’d just cried.
“Come,” I said, reaching out my hand to her.
She didn’t take my hand but walked past me and to the bedroom. She sat on the bed and signalled for me to sit down next to her.
“When we first met,” she said slowly, her voice quivering, trying to find its courage. “You wanted to build a life with me. What we have, is the life that you built, and I’m just a part of it. You don’t find me as attractive as you used to. You criticise me all the time. I work really hard and my career is going nowhere. If you’re doing well, then I wish you well. You are not obligated to stay with me anymore. I can’t kick you out of the house as this is your place. I also won’t try to take it from you. But if there’s someone else in your life or something else you’d rather be doing–I want you to know I understand; and that I’ll be hurt, but I’ll accept it and get on with my life. Being a husband was never something you wanted and I’m sorry I put you through this.”
Her words came as a shock to me. I thought she would be proud of who I was and all that I’d achieved; but instead there was a very real sense that I’d left her out. I was a complete mess when we first met and she’d been my strength through that difficult time. But as she was going through what she was going through, I’d neglected her completely. She was a complete outsider in the world I’d built for us.
“I don’t want to split up,” I said. “Give me a few days. I just need sometime to think. Please don’t give up on us yet, okay?”
I spent the next few days doing some serious soul searching. Nothing in my behaviour had helped her to grow. If anything, my constant helicoptering only had the opposite effect–of making her feel stifled. I had never shared myself with her. She had only met my friends or attended work events with me on a handful of occasions and even then, she seemed to feel very out-of-place. She was a private person with very few close friends, where else I was an extrovert who regularly went to networking events. I enjoyed being the life of the party.
I never bought her presents for Valentine’s Day; not even in the early days of our courtship. I’d even made fun of her for choosing a ridiculously expensive wedding ring, even though I could afford it. I used to grow tired and impatient every time she took too long to decide what she wanted to eat whenever we went to a restaurant. If she ever offered to pay, I would chastise her.
I’ve made many mistakes, but I’m not a complete imbecile. I remembered the tiny shred of the condom wrapper that I’d found in our bedroom. I knew exactly who the other guy was.
Later that evening, I drove to his place and rang the doorbell. I wasn’t angry at him–nor at her. I had no right to be. I had given her the green light to go ahead and she’d simply made good on my offer.
“Hey,” he said as he reached forward and hugged me. The two of us were not strangers. In fact, we’d grown up together.
“I need to talk to you,” I said.
“Sure, buddy, come on in,” he said as we headed to his couch.
“How long have you two been…”
I couldn’t finish the sentence. I didn’t want to.
“It was only that one time,” he says.
“Was it her idea or…”
“It was my idea.”
“I like her.”
I raised my eyebrow. It wasn’t the response I was expecting. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I like her very much. I always have. She’s a great girl.”
“Does she feel the same way about you?”
“I don’t think so…”
“So, why do you think she…”
“You want an honest answer?”
I nod. I needed to fix this mess.
“You need to decide if whether what you two have is a withered rose or a jewel. I think… she’s grown very frightened of you.”
“What? Frightened? Of me? I would never…”
“Sometimes it’s not the things we do, but all the things we don’t.”
I nodded, but said nothing for a few moments. I let it sink; the gravity of what he’d said. When I was ready to leave, I held out my hand for him to shake.
He took my hand in his and then we parted ways.
The next day, I woke up next to her. She was still sleeping when I awoke so I went to the kitchen and prepared breakfast. I’d stopped cooking completely after we’d gotten married and had left her to it. Trust me, it wasn’t a conscious thing. I was just repeating everything I saw growing up without realising it. I was living in the 21st century with a relationship model from the 19th.
When she finally awoke, she was surprised to see the spread on the table.
“What’s the special occasion?” she asked, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Each day with you is a special occasion.”
She looked at the bread and started buttering it. All this time, I’d blamed her for my neglect. I should have tried to understand sooner. I just hoped it wasn’t too late.
“Would you like to go on a date with me?” I asked.
She raised an eyebrow, looking highly amused. “What’s the occasion?”
“Our first date,” I said.
She laughed. “We’re a bit past that point, don’t you think?”
“No,” I said. “If memory serves me right, I never properly asked you out. If memory serves me right, I also pounced on you one night like a panther without warning.”
She nods, remembering the moment. There was a sadness in her eyes. A palpable sense of disappointment.
“Why do you love me?” I asked. “Why have you loved me unfailingly all these years?”
“I wish I knew… There’s no logic.”
It was my turn to laugh. Perhaps when it comes to matters of the heart, there really isn’t. We fall for who we fall for. And most of the time, we fall for the people who push our buttons and make us confront our deepest fears. And I finally saw that I had made her realise hers. While I was living my dream life, hers was a living nightmare.
“Let’s start over,” I said. “Please.”
She looked in my eyes and there it was–that familiar sparkle. I’d always regarded her as a strong and confident woman, and I’d somehow failed to notice that there was a slight shyness in that heart of hers.
“I’d like that very much,” she says finally.
“Please don’t leave me,” I pleaded. I really didn’t want her to.
“I never wanted to.”
“I need to head to work now, but I’ll come and pick you up at 6pm.”
“Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise.”
The author of this post has kindly requested to remain anonymous.