Can’t We Just Let Each Other Be Free?
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Burn.
My colleague sits in my office, hugging my “The Witch Is In” pillow and picking at her long nails. Her eyes are red, but she’s no longer crying or trembling.
The scene isn’t that uncommon. Amid advice about which clause to use in a $50M contract or the best strategy to buy a new missile, I offer at least as much life coaching to my co-workers. I don’t seek it out. It just happens that way. They discreetly confess some awful problem at home and I gently ask a probing question and off we go. Usually we both feel optimistic by the time they head back to their cubicles.
Not so today.
The woman in my office has just told her husband she’s leaving him. She’s tried many times before, she tells me to my surprise, but this time he’s made it easy. She would have felt guilty and stayed one more day, one more week, one more year, but he took a couple of potshots at her and she found it’s much easier to leave someone who openly mistreats you.
All this is a surprise to me. I’d thought—everyone had—that they had a strong marriage, especially after 20 years. At times, I’d been jealous of the way she came and went without having to explain herself to her spouse. I never knew the hell she went through at home every time she was late from work or the accusations she faced from an irrationally jealous husband. They kept the true nature of their relationship hidden. All along, he controlled her every move. Quiet manipulation, but control all the same. She couldn’t take two steps without asking his permission.
Sometimes I wonder if any of the “strong marriages” I see are really good ones. Does “strong” imply the external bonds that force them to be together or is it the result of deep emotional bonding? Is “strong” another word for stifling personal freedom and dreams? Or can’t it mean that they’re secure enough to do what they want, live lives of abundance, and just enjoy each other?
I’m hard-pressed to find any marriage I’d want to emulate, including the ones that seem healthy or socially enviable. Once I look beneath the veneer, I see manipulations I don’t like, don’t want to ever know again. I think most partners are so terribly insecure in their relationships that they unnecessarily put chains on the people they love to keep them near, to keep them under control, to make sure the love lasts, to give security when there is no such thing as security.
The husband who insists his wife be home “where she belongs” after dark instead of offering a shoulder to a girlfriend whose marriage is breaking up.
The wife who accompanies her husband on a business trip she finds tedious and in a climate she can’t help but gripe about, all because he might be tempted by a waitress in a miniskirt.
The woman who destroys her husband’s private stash of badly-written erotic poetry and suggests he instead write church literature, which is more to her tastes.
The man who insists his wife watch the TV shows of his choice for five hours a night so she can be close by and then questions her relentlessly about the 20-minute phone call from her mother.
The wife who can’t complete a college course online without her husband hovering behind her, reading over her shoulder to make sure she’s not talking to someone else.
Why can’t they give each other the freedom to pursue the things they enjoy, dive into their own art, their own friendships, and their own careers, and then come together to share and not to suffocate?
Why do couples put chains on each other? Their insecurities breed restrictions and restrictions breed resentment and in the end, they lose anyway.
Is there an answer? I don’t know. I’m trying to be optimistic, though, and I think that if there is a way to give each other freedom and to feel secure in a relationship, it has to be because each one of the couple concentrates on treating the other well.
That’s it. That simple. Just treating each other well and making it a priority to do so.
Because if the past is the best indicator of the future, then the pattern of being good to each other—whether the long-winding stream of love thins out or opens wide—will offer a mantle of security more than any wedding band or til-death-do-us-part promise.