Taking Refuge from Obligations
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree and Rising.
Weâ€™re supposed to meet the new General, so weâ€™ve been told what time to be ready to shake his hand in the introductions. The meeting before him ran a little late, so weâ€™re waiting in the hallway and my colleagues from down the hall are talking about their relationships.
One woman, in her mid-30â€™s and married for the third or fourth time, is bitching yet again about her husband and what an idiot he is and how she canâ€™t do anything with him. Sheâ€™s been with him for less than a year, and Iâ€™m tired of hearing it.
â€œIf he makes you so miserable,â€ I say, taking a page from my own book, â€œthen why are you with him? Divorce him and move on.â€
She looks at me, astonished. â€œAre you kidding? Why would I divorce him? Heâ€™s loaded!â€
â€œWell, if you do,â€ says another female colleague whoâ€™s close to retirement age, â€œjust donâ€™t wait until too late to look for another man. Iâ€™ve been married to my second husband for almost ten years and every day is sheer hell.â€ Then she shrugs. â€œItâ€™s hard to find a husband when youâ€™re over 40. You just have to take whatever you can get.â€
Just when I donâ€™t think it canâ€™t get any worse, the guy holding up the wall chimes in. â€œSo bury yourself in your work. Like I do. Put in 80 hours a week and volunteer for every business trip you can get. Itâ€™s good for your career, and besides, you can stay married to somebody for a long time if you have a refuge.â€
Refuge. Iâ€™ve heard that term before. I heard it used in my exâ€™s family, meaning a place you use mentally and often physically to stay away from your mate. A job. Overtime. Business trips. Friends. Athletics. Even drugs, alcohol, other addictions. I think most of the people I know use work as their way to avoid their families, especially if the work is enjoyable or makes them feel good about themselves and everything at home makes them feelâ€¦not so good.
I hate the implication that you need a place of refuge from your mate. Yes, time away. Yes, space. Yes, time to yourself. All that. But refuge ? No, not just refuge . Iâ€™ve always liked the idea of refuge with or in a mate, but refuge from? Itâ€™s a war phrase. Refuge with or in is, to me, sanctuary. Isnâ€™t it possible to enjoy sanctuary with someone and still be able to give each other time and space for other interests?
â€œWhy,â€ I ask my colleague, â€œwould you want to be married to someone you feel you have to take refuge from on a daily basis?â€
He frowns at me as if I donâ€™t get itâ€”and I do but at the same time, I donâ€™t. â€œI have a responsibility,â€ he says. â€œMy marriage is an obligation.â€
And so from this conversation, I leave with a new guideline for my life: I want all my relationships to feel not like obligations but like gratifying experiences. Whether itâ€™s friends, lovers, or business, if it feels more obligatory than gratifying, then itâ€™s time for me to reconsider the partnership.