Yesterday evening we went for our usual walk after dinner. We often bump into one neighbor or another because half the houses on our street have dogs. Our neighborhood is really quite nice. Loads of tall trees, older houses where most families have lived for decades, diverse residents. It’s a gem. And it’s right next to a lake and the river that traverses the city. We like our neighborhood and our neighbors.
One neighbor in particular is almost always walking his two labs when we’re out, and last night was no different. He’s very friendly, has lived here for a long time, wife, one daughter about to go off to college. Last night we’re all chatting about baby and how she’s developing when he mentions how sad he is that his daughter is going to be gone. He then tells us he’s drunk and comes home every night to drink himself drunk because he doesn’t want to be there. He’s been married before and also mentioned having had an affair during his previous marriage, though we couldn’t determine if his current wife is the woman with whom he had the affair. Either way, they’ve been married going on twenty-five years and it sounds like he’s utterly miserable. He actually said he might not make it to the twenty-five year mark next spring. It was an awkwardly revelatory conversation.
It reminded me of when I went away to college and my Dad said something similar. He told me because I wasn’t there anymore he had no reason to go home. He wasn’t drinking himself into a stupor to salve the pain, but it was his way of letting me know he missed me. This neighbor asked us how it was going, our marriage, because his paradigm is that marriage falls apart at some point, whether it’s because of infidelity or just growing tired of a person. I can’t quite imagine my marriage falling apart because of either of these things, but it makes sense that it could, that any marriage could. What do you say to someone you no longer like? Or that you’re cheating on regularly? Or who’s cheating on you? How are you supposed to hold it together? I suppose up to this point their daughter has kept things going, but that safety net is about to vanish and it gets a lot easier to abandon your spouse when there’s no one around to make you feel any more guilty.
This whole conversation got me thinking about why marriages fall apart and how to stop that from happening. I’ve been a willing participant in friendships that have crumbled before my eyes, crumbling I witnessed play-by-play and did nothing to stop, so I can imagine being something of a bystander who simply does nothing to stop the decay from seeping in and rotting the whole relationship. But for me, to do nothing would be hard. I think I would have to hate my husband before I would let the works go to seed. I used to be very much opposed to divorce, but now that I’m married and I’ve seen perfectly “good” marriages end, I can see why and how that happens. I don’t want it to happen, nor do I think it will, but I know now it takes a lot of work to keep the pieces together long-term.
I remind myself frequently of all the fun we have together. We have so much in common and we think alike, so it feels like we’ve actually found that right person. And I can imagine growing old with him and still enjoying our time together. I can’t imagine life without him, really. I would be fine, he would be fine, but it would suck balls to not want to be together anymore. So after everything we’ve been through and how much more we’d like to do, I believe we won’t be the neighbors whose relationship is dying and all we can do is avoid each other and drink to make it all go away.