A long time ago, before I had children, my husband took a second wife. We were living in Washington, D.C., not the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I had nothing of real value to lose if I packed up and left. The other woman— an old girlfriend who, last I’d heard, had been languishing in some Connecticut mental hospital— had blamed him for her troubles when she’d called him for help.
“Listen to me,” he’d told me, calmly, firmly. “You know that as a Shiite, I have certain options available to me. That as a Muslim man, I’m afforded certain rights.”
He looked directly in my eyes. “See, God has given me a way to satisfy my responsibility. God has given me a way out. That’s why I’ve decided to take this woman I’ve hurt as my second wife.”
I was insane with fear. Not just because my parents had been right to disapprove of this union, or that, karmically, this is what my machinations had bought me, but because I’d suddenly tapped into a rage I wasn’t sure I could control. I didn’t know how far I’d inadvertently go in response to this betrayal. Too far, and I’d drive him off. I’d worked way too hard to allow for that.
Seven days later, I drove him to the train station. Off to Connecticut he went to help this woman pack. Only to haul her things to an apartment he’d found for her three streets over from our own. I was toothlessly furious with him and disgusted with myself.
How, I wondered, could any reasonable human being get talked into doing something as self-destructive as this? How could anybody be this weak? Leave herself open to shameless humiliation?
I told no one what was going on, not even my closest girlfriends. Especially my closest girlfriends. Because I was ashamed, afraid that they might recognize the ugly truth for what it was— that I had zero self-respect, that I was sitting still for this instead of leaving —and run away in horror.
I laughed at the suggestion that anything untoward had happened. No one dared confront the obvious change in my personality, the sudden weight loss, or the perpetual disconnect that had my brain in a fog. I couldn’t let him leave me. I couldn’t admit defeat. Nothing but I-told-you-so’s waited for me back home. Sure, I could’ve stayed on in D.C., got my own apartment, built a successful career, developed some satisfying hobbies, but that would’ve required faith in my self.
Without this man, I had no idea who I was.
A numbness took over. I booked a vacation from reality.
I figured I’d wait it out. No woman in her right mind—yet, wasn’t this woman certifiable?— would put up with this raw deal. Sooner or later, she’d give it all up and hit the pike.
I figured as long as I pretended everything was normal. As long as I was quiet and agreeable. As long as I cooked his favorite meals the nights he spent with me. This little bump in the road would all smooth out.
I banked on something out there to clean up my mess.
Six months later, the two broke up.
I figured if I couldn’t forget, I could surely forgive.
But, try as I might, the spectre never left. Throughout our ten-year marriage, I held my breath. Because it was only a matter of time, ’til he pulled that stunt again. We both knew that if I had tolerated abuse before, I’d tolerate it again. If we teach others how to treat us, I was in serious trouble here.
It’s true what they say. You can win the battle, but still lose the war.
After the divorce, I was afraid of men. I figured that if I’d let one run roughshod over my boundaries, I’d likely do it again. I was prickly, and sarcastic. Because with no natural protection, who knows what kind of predator would wander in.
After a while, I dated the safely unavailable–a guy who lived in Italy, a man who had a wife, the miraculously cured narcissist, and a guy I didn’t even like. Instinctively, I knew I was the problem, not they.
How can you trust others, if you can’t trust yourself.
The other day, I reconnected with a young woman I know. Shell-shocked, she told the story of how her husband, the love of her life, her only real friend, had gone and raped her twelve-year-old daughter. Had been doing so for the last six months.What was she to do? And it was the following week that we talked again. They were going to try some mediation so they could keep the family together.
Backpedaling. Afraid to do it on her own, unloved and alone. So much easier to stick one’s head back in the sand. Believe me, I know.
Just think of the cost.
And now, of course, the question: How cheaply are you selling yourself? What are you not talking about? How on earth are you going to pull yourself out?
“We often look for someone we can trust more than we trust ourselves. Perhaps this is because we know how often we betray ourselves.” Oriah Mountain Dreamer