“Marry a man who will talk,” my mother told me. Only I had no idea what she meant by that. Apparently my dad didn’t talk but I’d heard him speak so I knew he could talk. Then again, my mother didn’t talk, either, not in a way that I understood until after I’d already married. And divorced.
She was a good one to talk. She didn’t talk about what bothered her, what she liked in clothes, how she felt about politics or religion or people. In other words, she didn’t “talk.” At least not to me.
Me? I grew up with the message that I talked too much, so by marrying-age I’d learned not to talk so much. Not a good harbinger, though I didn’t know that then.
After seven years of marriage my husband and I managed to be together only about half of that time due to his military assignments. Then my non-talkative husband got that proverbial itch and told me he wanted a divorce so he could marry his pregnant girlfriend. Even in 1972 contraception was easily available; women didn’t have to get pregnant unless they wanted to.
I doubt he’d have even talked that much if she hadn’t prodded him by saying she was pregnant and making him tell me so I’d divorce him. I got the impression the affair would have remained his secret and he’d stay married to me without talking about it. But the cat was out of the bag.
I mean, even in the letter he wrote asking for the divorce he seemed ambivalent. He said that “she needed him and I didn’t.” I hated the idea of being “needy” but maybe that’s what he thought wives were supposed to be. See? Lack of communication.
Of course, I was supposed to be so angry, I suppose, so hurt, maybe, that I’d give him an immediate divorce and they could get married. But the last line of the letter was, “I still love you but…” Only he wasn’t a “talker” so I didn’t know “but” what he wanted for sure, besides a divorce, and even that seemed tentative. So I didn’t give him one.
And, realistic or not, it felt like it left the door open for possible reconciliation. “I still love you…” Here was a chance for real communication. I told him I’d rather try to work this out. We could do it. Given his apparently…um, “flexible”… idea of marriage vows it at least seemed like an idea worth pursuing, either then or later. After all, he could marry her, give her baby a name, and still come back to me. When you’re reeling you grasp at everything, even flexible vows.
But when I didn’t immediately give him the desired divorce, “She thought she was pregnant, but she wasn’t.” Hmmm And then he went to Viet Nam.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so paddywhacked. It’s not as if it was the first time. When he was sent to Korea mere days after we were married, he once wrote and told me he’d been tempted by a “working girl” over there. The only reason nothing happened (Was I supposed to congratulate him on this?) was that he didn’t have enough money. Further down in the letter he asked me to send him some. Huh?
I replied with something that wasn’t scathing or anything, was actually pretty restrained, considering the situation, but then said that if it happened again I didn’t want to know about it. And I sent him some money. Maybe that’s where it all started, do you suppose? Duh!
Our communication skills were poor, if not just plain lacking. I generally tried to figure out what he wanted, what it took to make him happy, by guess and by golly. Apparently I wasn’t very good at that, though I tried hard, and he never talked to tell me differently. The only thing he ever said to me about what he expected or wanted concerned a spinach soufflé I once made. He said, “Let’s don’t have that green stuff again.”
I’ve since been given to understand that he had a very unhappy and painful marriage but you couldn’t prove that by me. Neither could I disprove it. How would I know? He didn’t talk. I was trying to make a good marriage, even if clumsily, and I assumed he was, too. Well, you know what they say about assume…
Which is why I was totally blindsided when I got the letter telling me he wanted a divorce. I didn’t see that coming at all. I thought I was being the good wife by staying home, working to pay bills, and “keeping the home fires burning.”
I don’t know why he thought I didn’t need him. Maybe he needed me in ways he didn’t like to acknowledge. Money?
He had gone away again, on assignment to Warrant Officer’s school because he’d been promoted. He was the last soldier to have to leave his unit when that happened. When others got promoted after that, they got to come back to their unit.
I understood that he’d go directly from Warrant Officer’s training to Viet Nam so I wasn’t able to go with him, anyway. Only instead of going to Viet Nam, he was sent to Fort Sheridan, IL for a year or so, a very significant year, it turned out.
Again, talking might have changed so many things, if only I’d known about that. I might have gone with him. Or not. We have no way of knowing, now, what, if anything, might have made a difference. I did the best I could, and I think he did, too. Maybe the best just wasn’t enough.
Would marrying a “talker” have prevented any of this? I think it would have eliminated at least some of it but maybe that’s only hindsight.