Tom and I were married 15 years ago today. We became friends around June of 1997 and began dating in Sept that same year. What’s amazing is that just a year earlier, he was living in Michigan and I was living in Virginia. l moved to Middle Georgia in Sept 1996 and he moved to Middle Georgia in November 1996.
His wife, of 7 years, had ended their marriage about 2 years earlier and he needed a change of scenery. Well, it was more that the cost of maintaining a home on 1 income in Detroit was hard. It was also that he has a lot of love to give and wanted someone to give it to. So, when his father, who lives in Forsyth, GA, had heart surgery, Tom came down and stayed with him for part of his recovery. While he was here he met and started dating the daughter of one of his dad’s friends. That prompted him to quit his job in Detroit, fold up shop and move in with his dad. The cost of living was cheaper and he had someone to love.
I was in Virginia and miserable. I was working full time, going to school full time, dating a man with the most interesting life of anyone I’d ever met and living with my dad. As if the stress of full time school and full time work wasn’t enough, the relationship I had with my father had become tumultuous and I’d found out the only thing about the guy I was dating that was true was his name. These things put such mental stress on me I felt like the girl without a home, or without safe haven. Plus, learning what I had about my boyfriend stressed the relationship with my father even more.
I became obsessed with learning the truth about my ex -so much so- that the time I wasn’t at school or work was spent in the local library and various courthouses in the area looking for information on him. (Generally, what I found only made things worse) Functioning on 3-4 hours sleep, brain stress from studying, the mental stress of it all… It eventually became clear that the mental stress my father placed on me and the obsession of knowing the truth about the ex would consume me until I no longer existed. So, I moved in with my mother in Warner Robins, Georgia.
My relationship with my mother has always been… difficult, and I knew living with her wasn’t ideal, but my life was standing still. I was turning in circles. It was either move to Momma’s or a mental institution. I’d become a prisoner to my own mind. My father was the warden. My obsession with knowing the truth about my ex was a guard. The choices I had were either ending up in the infirmary or escape.
I knew that moving to my mom’s wasn’t ideal, but the county jail or probation was better than the maximum security federal prison. I knew it would be hard, but I knew it was a step I had to take to keep from being completely consumed by my own personal hell, and I was right. I was right about it being difficult at times and I was right about it being my escape. It was my first step on the road to complete happiness. Earthly happiness…
For whatever reason, the relationship with the girl Tom initially moved to be with didn’t work out. Tom was single, as was I. He started working for a temp agency who placed him at the company where I worked. We met and the rest, as they say, was history.
Two things took place while we were dating that laid the groundwork for the kind of relationship we would have. A lot of things took place, of course, but these two made the relationship what it became. What it is.
Because Tom had a marriage that didn’t work out, I had lots of questions about it. Not really because it was him or his particular relationship, but because I often see people in bad situations or less than ideal circumstances and (if they’re willing to talk about it) ask what went wrong, what they’d do differently. I do the same when I see a person in great circumstances.
I learned a long time ago that I could benefit from those who had gone before me. I wasn’t one who went to my peers for advice. 99% of those my age knew no more than I about life or relationships. I’d observe those around me and learn from their mistakes as well as their triumphs. So I’d ask Tom questions and he willingly answered them. There seemed to be a common underlying cause for most of their problems – no communication. He and I would be talking and I’d clam up. I remember him saying, on more than 1 occasion, “I can’t fix it if you don’t tell me…” It got to the point where I shared every thought I had. I still do. Sometimes I wonder if he regrets that.
That statement is the foundation of our entire relationship. The simple fact that we tell each other everything is at least 90% of why this marriage is what it is. It’s the reason our marriage isn’t “work”. It’s the reason our relationship is as easy as breathing. There was something else he said that changed my life and laid the groundwork for the kind of marriage we’d have.
See, some of the adults in my childhood were travel agents and good at it too. They’d have your bags packed for your next trip and loaded in the car before you even knew what was happening. These “trips” were commonly called ‘guilt trips’ and most of the time, they worked. Kids learn what they live and, in turn, live what they learn. So, having learned from master manipulators, I was skilled in the art of guilt trips.
One day, relatively early in the relationship, I’d been packing Tom’s bags for a guilt trip and he said to me “If you want something from me, if there’s something you want me to do, just ask me. You don’t have to guilt me. Just tell me. Ask me.” That was the day I turned in my travel agent card and – to my recollection – I’ve not used guilt since. Not only in regard to Tom, but at all. And if I was to get technical and analytical, it would fall under “communication” too.
It was those things that formed what we have now, but there was something else. Something I did while we dated that I used to determine if a marriage with him would work. Although, I didn’t really know at the time, to what extent. When Tom and I started dating, we were at the age where we weren’t just killin’ time with someone. We were spouse shopping. At least I was.
I would recall certain incidents and situations from those relationships I’d observed and present them as hypotheticals and ask Tom how he’d handle them. I knew, in my mind, what answer I wanted to hear or, in some cases, what answer I didn’t want to hear. In many of the examples I’d witnessed, I knew what didn’t work more than what did. If Tom gave an answer that wasn’t what I wanted to hear, I asked other related questions in order for him to expound. There were times that afterward, I changed my thought on the subject. Some, I changed his, but there weren’t ever any we disagreed on. Had there been, I wouldn’t have stayed.
Everyone has expectations for relationships. Even if they don’t realize it, they do, and they should never be compromised. If you otherwise enter a marriage, you’re settling. No one should ever want to be married so badly that they settle. When you settle, you’re choosing unhappiness. Don’t let some arbitrary age, set by the world, dictate when YOU should marry. It took years of mental abuse and two years I was led on by my ex -that I can never get back- to make me realize that I have worth. I realized that no one else may ever recognize that fact, and while it was a hard pill to swallow, remaining single for my entire life was better than becoming someone else’s mental (or physical) punching bag in order for them to feel they had worth.
For anyone interested, some examples of the hypothetical are listed below. The questions only. No answers are given because it’s not about you finding someone that agrees with me. Only you know what the answer should be and you should never marry until you find the person that has ALL the answers.
You were fearfully and wonderfully made and should find the person who knows that to spend your life with. For me, I wanted to be the center of someone’s universe. I wanted to find someone who put me 1st in all earthly things. I wanted to be the first thought they had in the morning and the last thought they had at night. I wanted someone who would support me in all things. Who’d defend me when I needed defending and be my champion. Someone to lean on. Someone to confide in. Someone who’d let me vent and someone who’d help me when I fall. Someone on my side – even when he thinks I’m wrong – and would tell me so. Someone who’d tell me When I’m wrong, but to do so in love and without insult. I found all those things and more when Tom found me.
Thank you, Tom, for 15 wonderful years. You’re my best friend, my confidant, my comic relief, my support and supporter. You’re my champion, my lover and my biggest fan. I don’t know what you saw in me, but whatever it was, I’m grateful to God for it, second only to my Salvation. When you came along I was drowning. Christ saved me on the cross a couple thousand years ago. Up until I accepted it, you were the life raft that kept me from drowning and the lighthouse that lit the way. I love you.
We have a 16 year old daughter who wants to go on birth control. Do you let her?
We have a 16 year old Son who wants Condoms. Do you buy them?
Your mother and I have an argument. She’s right and I’m wrong, Who do you side with? Your parents want you to come over and help with something. I want you to spend time with me. What do you do?
Our son comes and tells us he’s gay. How do you handle it?
How do you handle it if it’s our daughter?
Our child gets pregnant, or gets someone pregnant. How do you handle it?
How would you react if our child dates/marries outside our race?
If I were to die during childbirth, would you resent the child?
You disagree with how I’ve reprimanded our child. Do you tell me? If so, when?
Our teen and I have a disagreement and they hit me. How do you respond?
Your sister and I don’t get along. Do you still have her over?
Who do you put first? Me or your job? Me or the kids? The job or the Kids?