Friday, July 30, 2010

Signing Up II

"Not what I signed up for…" I couldn't shake those words for days. Brooded about them almost non-stop. I thought I could bury them under work and other concerns, but they kept rising to the surface like a fresh corpse. For me, there is no such concept as, "Ignore it, and it will go away." I can set things aside until they lose their sting, and go back and deal with them later. But I can't just pretend they never existed and go merrily on my way.

The pronouncement that any endeavor, thirty years in, is not what one signed up for is, at best, grossly immature; at worst, blindly narcissistic. Either you went into the thing thinking you had no particular expectations, and now find that any vague picture of fulfillment and happiness you might have had in mind does not resemble what has actually come to pass… Or you had a specific agenda (that did not take into account any other person who might have been involved in the endeavor along with you…say, a life partner, for example…) which you suddenly realize has not been accomplished. And probably never will be. And time is running out.

So, what? Is the husband a hopeless Peter Pan? Or is he an unfeeling taskmaster ruled by schedules, goals, and quantifiable results? I don't think so. I think he's just feeling tired and old and a bit overmatched by his life. To say that we have a lot on our plates right now would be a laughable understatement.

We may have, in fact, "signed up for" a little more than we are actually capable of accomplishing, at this stage in our lives. At an age when most people are backing off the throttle and beginning to coast into retirement, we are working harder than we ever have. There is a physical and emotional cost to all this, which is harder on a couple of semi-centenarians than it would be on a pair of twenty-somethings. But there are two ways to look at it, really. Though it can be said that, after thirty-plus years together, we'd rather be relaxing in our side-by-side recliners than fending off challenges to the emotional well-being of our partnership; it might also be true that if our relationship did not have that thirty-year strong foundation, we may now be chucking everything, turning our backs on each other and on the challenge, and going off in search of something more fun and more immediately gratifying. Isn't that what children DO these days?

Part of the problem with the husband is that he is NOT the type of person to TAKE control of life. He is happy when he has the underpinnings of job, home and family, and then he kind of takes whatever life happens to build upon that foundation. Oh, he's a hard worker. Tireless and obsessive to the point of workaholism, in fact. But he's not particularly creative or idealistic when it comes to what the job is. His credo is that you do whatever your employer demands, and then some. And you never, NEVER ask for a favor, or preferential treatment, or even for some things you might have earned or deserve after a term of dedicated and faithful service. Which would make him anyone's dream employee. But which also makes him suck as an entrepreneur.

Because you have to realize when you work for yourself, you are not only your own employee, you are also your own boss. Which means you work hard, yes. But you are also the person responsible for rewarding that hard work. If you try to do one without the other, you burn out very quickly. Which, unfortunately, is the place where the husband finds himself at this moment. He still has his "day job," where he works very hard and has been consistently under-valued and under-compensated for sixteen years. But now, rather than coming home and going to the gym or puttering around the garage or whatever else he used to do to let off steam from work, he has the café to work at and worry about. To the point of obsession. And he can't put himself into the mindset that HE is the one who has to take control of some aspects of his life, to tweak it so that it doesn't turn him into a smoldering cinder. He just works and works and works, and then gets put out with me because our life is "not what he signed up for."

For my part, I believed him when he told me that he wanted to partner with me in owning the café. I believed we were setting ourselves up for the time when his job would go away. Which looked imminent four years ago, but these things have a way of dragging out way longer than seems possible. So he's still toiling away for the sinking ship AND trying to help me run the restaurant. Of course, this is an impossible situation for him. But it's just as impossible for ME to run the café without a partner. Especially now, when I don't think I could buy a decent employee with a winning lottery ticket.

We are stuck, he and I, in this protracted limbo…responsible for almost more than the two of us can physically handle. I don't think either of us would have signed up for this had we known it was going to play out this way. But it is what it is, and we have to not only work, but THINK our way through it. It's the thinking part, the planning part, the pro-active "I have to fix this so that it can work for me" part that the husband is not so good at. And, truth be told, he gets pissed off at me when I try to do that part for him. Or suggest that he do it. "This is the only part of my life that I have control over!" he whined to me the other night during the discussion that spawned the whole" signing up" remark.

Fine. Then control it, goddammit. If you won't let me help you fix it, then deal with it yourself. But don't whine to me about what you did and did not sign up for.

Fix. It.

Wow. That was amazingly unsupportive, wasn't it? But it felt SO good…!

Whatever. I'm pretty sure we'll ride out this storm, as we have so many over the years. But sometimes, feeling exhausted, partnerless and friendless all at the same time just…sucks. And this, this blog, is the only place I have to go with this stuff. So I won't even apologize for whining.


  1. Much better than what I was originally looking for and couldn't find:

  2. For some unknown reason, you haven't been showing up in my bloglines feed, so I had to do some catch up reading. First -- never apologize for whining. I personally didn't see any whining, just some venting. There's a critical difference there. When it comes to marriage, none of us know what we're signing up for. If we did, I think marriage would have died out ages ago. For whatever it offers, I'm praying for you.

  3. It's not whining's letting off steam. Steam that has to go somewhere.

    I wish you and I could sit and talk for a few hours. So much of what you are saying about your situation with your husband parallels what I'm going through now. The circumstances are completely different...but the sense of being stuck with limited options at this point in life, of trying to figure out a way to take control and direct OUR lives the way we wanted them to go, of feeling frustrated and is all so familiar. I'm glad you decided to let go and whine. I wish I had wisdom to share, but I don't. But I can offer you a {{{{{{BIG HUG}}}}}} and tell you I hear you.