Taking Refuge from Obligations
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree and Rising.
We’re supposed to meet the new General, so we’ve been told what time to be ready to shake his hand in the introductions. The meeting before him ran a little late, so we’re waiting in the hallway and my colleagues from down the hall are talking about their relationships.
One woman, in her mid-30’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 can’t do anything with him. She’s been with him for less than a year, and I’m tired of hearing it.
“If he makes you so miserable,” I say, taking a page from my own book, “then why are you with him? Divorce him and move on.”
She looks at me, astonished. “Are you kidding? Why would I divorce him? He’s loaded!”
“Well, if you do,” says another female colleague who’s close to retirement age, “just don’t wait until too late to look for another man. I’ve been married to my second husband for almost ten years and every day is sheer hell.” Then she shrugs. “It’s hard to find a husband when you’re over 40. You just have to take whatever you can get.”
Just when I don’t think it can’t get any worse, the guy holding up the wall chimes in. “So bury yourself in your work. Like I do. Put in 80 hours a week and volunteer for every business trip you can get. It’s good for your career, and besides, you can stay married to somebody for a long time if you have a refuge.”
Refuge. I’ve heard that term before. I heard it used in my ex’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 feel…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 . I’ve always liked the idea of refuge with or in a mate, but refuge from? It’s a war phrase. Refuge with or in is, to me, sanctuary. Isn’t it possible to enjoy sanctuary with someone and still be able to give each other time and space for other interests?
“Why,” I ask my colleague, “would you want to be married to someone you feel you have to take refuge from on a daily basis?”
He frowns at me as if I don’t get it—and I do but at the same time, I don’t. “I have a responsibility,” he says. “My marriage is an obligation.”
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 it’s friends, lovers, or business, if it feels more obligatory than gratifying, then it’s time for me to reconsider the partnership.