The pattern was quickly set: life would be good for two months, and then she would blow up and throw a laundry list of complaints at me. There would be so many complaints over such an extended period of time that it was an automatic ticket to the doghouse where I’d languish for a couple of days. We’d patch things up (I’m sorry. Yeah, you better be.) and things would settle. I’d then think things were good and that we had finally got past the cycle and then it would blow up again and it was back to the doghouse.
It was when she started suggesting that we should go splitsies that the metaphor changed. Doghouses, you come back from those. Now it was like treading water in the ocean and you could actually drown. Every fight became a dunking from which I’d struggle to get back to the surface gasping for breath.
The threat to leave was the leverage she used to get me to do what she wanted. Often times what she wanted was reasonable (take out the trash!), but the tragedy was that the threat was the only way she could see to make things better—for herself. Sure, there was part of her that wanted it better for the marriage and by extension me, but it’s indicative that it didn’t occur to her that she might be part of the problem until she decided to leave.
Narcissism and hedonism are natural and easy in this day and age. You don’t need people (especially spouses) in the way you use to. Back in the day a man needed his wife for the sake of children (who would take care of him in his old age) and domestic support (cooking, cleaning, mending). A woman needed her man’s strength to haul in the harvest and to fight off invading barbarians. A man was king of his plot with all the duties that entailed and he needed a queen to rule the roost. Compared to the past, the present is a strange place.
But it’s not entirely strange. I suspect one of the reasons she stuck it out for as long as she did was because she needed to buy time until her cash flow opened up. She was a headhunter who got a continual and steady commission off of her contractors. It takes time, though, to establish a steady stream and that’s where I played a role: my income was her ticket to her digs on the upper east side until she could afford to make it on her own. I don’t think it was entirely a coincidence that her decision to leave coincided with being able to support herself.
Liberal democracy and free markets have lifted hundreds of millions out of grinding of poverty and the sustenance economy. It has also created a world in which men and women no longer need each other as they once did and thus it’s easier to take relationships for granted. So something is lost: necessity limits but it also liberates by creating a space of unquestioned rules of conduct—she won’t leave. Of course, the modernist will protest that such ancient forms of “liberty” is really only the right of men to oppress. They have a point both in theory and historically speaking. Then again, in a sustenance economy, it’s best to avoid war with the woman who cooks for you and who’s father and brothers lives in the same hamlet as you to say nothing of the force of village opinion (men and women alike). As I wrote a little ways back: “Maybe a good ole’ fashion dark ages would do relationships some good.” Regardless, women more often than not possessed important forms of leverage back in the day, and have even more so in the present.
But we live in the here and now. How do we avoid drowning in relationships?