The Beginning of Something Else

On June 1, 2007 I found out my husband and partner of almost two decades had been unfaithful to me since before our marriage, and had been having intercourse with prostitutes for 3 1/2 years. This is what happened next.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Being loved used to be enough

Went to see my therapist today. I've been feeling better, not so heavy and sad, but I know I still have work to do on my self esteem issues so I was looking forward to getting back to it.

We talked about my anxiety over the prospect of Husband's success, and my fear that he'll get all caught up in his success and meanwhile I'll disappear. And that when he has success, that will make him attractive to hot young women who will look at him adoringly and giggle and make him feel smart and cool and sexy. My crazy head says to me, "If someone can have something better, then why wouldn't they want that? And what do I have to offer that would trump a hot young body, a gorgeous face and pie-eyed admiration? Isn't that much more attractive to a man than a 46 year old, nice looking but chunky woman who is sometimes distant, sometimes sad, and highly suspicious of you?"

One of my close girlfriends who knows what has happened between Husband and me told me that her therapist suggested doing "esteemable acts" as a way to build self esteem. I've been putting off thinking about what these could be for me because I've been so busy with work. (I also put of going to the doctor because of work earlier this year and ended up in the hospital with dangerously low hemoglobin levels because I was slowly bleeding to death, so I guess I don't learn, do I? I'm fully recovered now, and none the wiser apparently.) But I don't want to go along in this same self-esteemless rut and wake up in 5 years to see I've made no progress.

I also talked with my therapist about my sadness over losing the relationship I thought I had with Husband. I don't have any big accomplishments in life. I haven't climbed the Seven Sisters, or become a successful artist, or written a book, or traveled the world, or discovered anything, or cured anything, or become an expert in my field. Nor do I have the material trappings of success: no VP title, no big salary, no fancy car or house, no fantastic wardrobe. Before these things didn't bother me, because I always came back to my relationship. That was what I had. That was what was really important in life, and there I was successful. All that other stuff was icing on the cake - great if it came along, fine if it didn't. I had a loving partnership that was solid and true.

And then I didn't. Instead I had a husband who'd had sex with dozens of other women while we were married, spent tens of thousands of dollars on those prostitutes, and lied to me about all of it, even making me feel wrong and bitchy and crazy when I ever asked about things that I thought were questionable - odd charges on the credit card, for example (which I later realized were for subscriptions to prostitute review and reservation sites.) And I had the pain of feeling like I'd become forgettable to the person I thought loved me most in the world.

So now sometimes I feel I don't have anything. Not the material spoils, not the outward gains, and most important, not the trusted partnership that I valued above all else. I do have my amazing son, but I have to be careful to remember that relationship is ultimately about letting go. He's not my life partner. If he's healthy and if we have a healthy relationship, he'll be separating, not hanging around as I get to be a little old lady the way I envisioned Husband would.

Thinking about it, I realized I ended up in this position because I think that for me, being loved was enough. As long as I knew I was loved, other personal goals and desires became secondary. What could be more important that spending time with the person you love most in the world? Not that I gave up my dreams and interests. I just didn't pursue success or any particular accomplishment, didn't try to climb ladders and get ahead. I had my own life that was busy and full and didn't revolve around Husband. But I didn't have a strong agenda for myself. I didn't need one. I felt deeply loved, and that was enough. I didn't long for anything else.

But now I see that I stopped building my own identity out in the world. I wasn't an appendage to husband at all. But I stopped growing and shaping myself outside of my happy little world of family and close friends.

The best metaphor I can think of is boats. We weren't two boats anchored side by side. We were two boats, but he was the one with the anchor (at least that's how it felt) and I was tied to him with no anchor of my own.

So it's time to begin with esteemable acts, so that I don't disappear from the world if Husband forgets about me. (Not that I really think he will anymore, but the fear of that is hard to get past.) Time to define who I want to be in the world, what I want to do, and take action on those things. That doesn't have to take anything away from my relationship with Husband. And it will help me develop a relationship to myself. I will create my own anchor.


recovering jezebel said...

I can really relate to this, in the sense that I too have considered myself a valuable or good or loveable or worthy person not because of career/worklife accomplishments (not that I have any in particular), but because I've been loved. Then the problem becomes, when my lover turns from me, I feel valueless and worthless. :o( NOT good. My task right now I feel is to love myself and derive my worth from that—not necessarily from grandiose inflated esteemable acts (because I could get sucked into that thinking easily), but even just for the little ones—I'm a loveable person because I pet my cat. I'm a valuable person because I quietly handed a tissue to someone crying during an Al-Anon meeting. I'm a happy useful person because I worked on my résumé today. Etc.

This is a great post, one I'll be rereading in days to come, I can tell...! Thank you so much.

Bernadine said...

I'm so sorry. I really get this-- though I think I disappeared way more than you did.

I quit a job I loved and moved to two different coasts for my husband, because his career trumped mine, for some unspeakable reason. When I found out he was a sex addict, I was out of the career I'm clawing my way back to, and we'd just moved to California, where I didn't have any friends to turn to. So I really get this post-- how without your husband, it can feel like you aren't as worthy.

I get it. And I think your friends idea sounds like a great one. I've had to fight my way back to that idea too-- the idea that I'm fabulous, even on my own.

escotthamilton said...

I love the image of "creating my own anchor." It serves as a reminder of our personal responsibility/accountability in relationships.


Codee Blue said...

I agree with the need to be whole through esteemable acts; it is necessary for us to be fully ourselves in order to giving ourselves fully.

But the primary motivation for me to be fully myself was the idea that Someone (spelled with a capital "Husband") would LOVE me fully. As an actualized human being, I had the quaint notion that he would find me somehow... i dunno... loveable? That idea has gone down in massive flames, a Hindenburg of the Heart.

O, the humanity.

LOVE is the esteemable act I want to attain. LOVE is the achievement I desire. I want it, I want it more than a plaque in the Rock n Roll hall of fame or a Noble Prize or even a trip to the Day Spa. I want Love, and no amount of political activism or charity work or art or poetry can take it's place. I've done all the political/charity/art/poetry thing, and I can honestly tell you that all those esteemable acts are NOTHING compared to the ecstacy I felt when I thought my Husband loved me.

As you can imagine, this has only increased the suckage for me, because I know nothing takes the place of being loved... nothing.

I just wish, just once, some wise therapist would simply say "You're right - it's great to be loved, it's the awesomest achievement, you're right to want it, and you deserve it. It's the greatest - go for it!" Then I want the therapist to give me a big thumbs up and smiley face and maybe even a parade for choosing "Love" as the thing I want most in life.

O and I want the therapist to also tell me that I'm not stupid for wanting love from HIM. Perhaps too much to ask?

woman.anonymous7 said...

Codee Blue - I think being loved is one of the greatest experiences in the world. But I wouldn't put it on my esteemable acts list because whether or not Husband or anyone else loves me is something I don't have any control over.

I think my esteemable acts are things that I can do, actions that I can take without depending on someone else, and actions that result in me feeling satisfied and fulfilled.

I would also say that not all "good" acts would go on my list. In other words, volunteering at a shelter or writing a novel might not be the things that fulfill me or contribute to my self esteem, even if they are act of goodness, kindness, compassion or self-expression.

I'm looking for esteemable acts that leave me with a sense of personal accomplishment, with the feeling that I'm doing what I was put on earth to do, with the feeling that if I died today, I'd have been doing something with my life that was meaningful and fulfilling in the moment. Not every moment will be like that, but overall, that's what I'm looking for in my esteemable acts.

One thing I'm doing is working on a book proposal. I'm also looking at my career and how I can take steps to make it more fulfilling (which may mean changing careers.) I'm trying to spend more time with friends - to build relationships with other people. To spend time with my son. I'm thinking about who I want to be in the world and the actions that will take me in that direction. That's how I'm thinking about esteemable acts.

I think wanting love is normal, that almost everybody wants love. One thing I've learned though, is that a lot of times when I get something it looks different than I though it would. Not necessarily worse or better, just different. Maybe love will be like that for you. When you get the love you deserve (love that lifts you up and makes you feel appreciated for who you are) maybe it will look different than you thought it would.

You aren't stupid for wanting love from "him" but it's something you have no control over. That's the part that's hard to get one's mind around I think. We've been raised as children that if we do certain things (behave, do well in school, make our parents proud, etc) we'll be loved. But it doesn't really work that way. I've found that out the hard way, but it's a lesson I'm grateful for. Because now I can put my energy toward learning to supply that love for myself.

woman.anonymous7 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Codee Blue said...

I think your comment to me was an esteemable act, woman.anonymous7 :) Now I have to apply it...

amy said...

"And I had the pain of feeling like I'd become forgettable to the person I thought loved me most in the world."

God bless you... I've known this sort of pain, not exactly as you have, but a deep hurt that has never been fully healed.

I wish for you peace - contentment -and joy on the other side of heartache ... and that you may discover an anchor in Christ.

woman.anonymous7 said...

Thanks for your supportive words, Amy. I've come to realize that for me, allowing for a Higher Power in my life has made a big difference. The perspective that I'm already loved and accepted as I am in this moment is one of the outcomes that I'm grateful for.