When you met your partner you were wearing your halo. That’s the little glow that allows us to overlook faults, blemishes, and even malfunctions. The good news is the halo is what attracted you both enough to get married. And maybe the glow lasted long enough for you to have kids. That’s awesome. That’s how it was for me and the mother of my two kids as well. But something changed over time. It’s a common story. Almost cliché, but perhaps more like a historical myth. It’s a myth because it’s such a universal truth that they wrote a bunch of stories about it.
This is the story of how my girlfriend and I went from lovers, to parents, to ex-partners.
When we met I was damaged from my previous disastrous marriage, and a business opportunity that was collapsing out from under me. But I was also displaying my superpowers: music, writing, and poetry. In fact, I re-introduced myself to my future wife with a poem. We’d known each other in high school, and the Easter morning we met I ran back up the hill to my house and scratched out a love poem. She had inspired everything. She had blown the fear and dust off my halo and allowed me to bring it back into the light.
And we were living together six months later and talking about kids. We were older, we needed to decide pretty soon or be childless. So we were a bit rushed, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like magic. AND it felt like we were being responsible adults. We measured each other against our ideals and goals. And somehow the halos kept showing up as valid, shiny, and inviting. We had hooked each other deeply, and within two years we had our first child, a smashing baby boy. All was right with the world.
Well, not exactly perfect, but the halos (and glow provided by them) were still in place.
And if I count back to the days of our courtship, and look at my actions and passions I see an artist, singing with a band, playing at local clubs a few nights a month, writing poetry and short stories, and refactoring my career due to the collapse of my employer from the UK. I was still shining, and I was in flux, working to figure out this business of money and creativity. It’s the typical artist’s life struggle.
She was also an artist. She was a painter. She was a writer and singer. And she was shining in all her mysterious ways. And I danced beside her as a cheerleader and sponsor. Before we had kids, we often parted on Saturday and Sunday after breakfast, to head to our studios. “I’ll call you when I’m winding down,” she’d say. And we went off in our respected and revered directions to create. And it was part of what made us tick. We had each other and we had the commitment to the craft. We were artists in love.
And then our son shattered all previous illusions and re-mapped our lives to a new beat. His beat. His house. His rules and wants and needs. And our dreams melded with his dreams. And we stuttered on in our creative pursuits, but we were changed. Our son had become our favorite song to sing. Or lives with him were so much more rich than our lives off in our separate studios, alone. We were never alone again.
My musical studio moved from the second bedroom to the third bedroom to give our son his space. And we were a happy unit. And my then-wife was still deeply involved in her art, and the art of mothering. She created paintings and poems in-between feedings and naps and late night insomnias. We were deeply invested in our little ship of fools.
On we rowed, with the newest adventure yet to begin, a second child was readying in the womb and we began to alter our paths for her arrival as well. And the love hurricane number two came in the November directly after 9-11. It was a time of universal unrest, confusion, depression, and economic free fall. Our happy little unit hit a mass of stormy waves. My consulting practice froze completely. And just at this time, our daughter, at her first sonogram demonstrated some signs of a rare medical condition. We began weekly trips to the neonatal surgeon in hopes of keeping her viable until she was big enough to be born.
On she came, amidst the struggle and depression in our lives, and the lives of all of our country. On she travelled, through dooms of love, and sonograms of crisis, and she was born even more healthy than an average baby. She was amazing. We were whole again. Still in the midst of a crisis, personal and economic, but whole as a family again. She had arrived. We sailed and rowed as best we could. All was not well, but all was moving forward out of the darkest storm clouds.
I remember writing a song for her, even before she was born. Transparent Heart. It was about her immanent arrival and our frequent trips to look in at her with hope and fear and sonograms. I was also writing love songs to my wife and son. And poems to try and capture some of the moments. And their mom was still artistically activated too. She was putting up poems and short stories. And that Christmas I bought her an amazing easel that could fit in our bedroom, since the kid’s rooms were now fully utilized. And I moved my music gear into the garage.
Artist’s in love, with kids and jobs and a house. What could be better?
Somewhere along the way, in the midst of all of this struggle, we began to show our stress in unkind ways. We had some difficulties with money and we fought each other rather than the problem. We had chores and payments and kid care that wore on our artistic time. And we began to fray at the seams a bit.
I’m not sure how it shifted for good, but there was a moment, after a particularly stressful period, where my art (music, writing, time in the studio) had somehow become resented by my partner. It wasn’t that she didn’t have access to the same materials and time that I did. It was more about our DNA, and the hopefulness or hopelessness that came up during times of great stress. See, somewhere along the way, she began to see my creative ambitions as a threat. I can only imagine that her fear was that I would have some kind of success and I would abandon my career and my sweet family life to attempt rockstar status. That was never my plan. I never spoke of it. But she somehow started making my music (playing live, rehearsing, even recording in our garage) an enemy of the state. How my music became a threat to her safety I don’t know. But I hear, from other artists that this is a common issue.
What I didn’t understand, however, was how her art began to fall away from her life. Again, this is an individual journey, and if an artist is not fully committed, the “art” can become more of a hobby and not a life path. I cannot stop creating. I cannot silence the music that I hear in my head. And I make sacrifices to be able to keep working on my craft. But these sacrifices were not at the expense of the family. At least I didn’t see it that way. I took my music into the garage and into the night after the kids (and often the wife) were asleep. I worked my songs into the wee hours of the night, even when I had a day job to return to at 8:30 am. And I was the morning champion for the family as well. I was up and making breakfast before anyone else in the house was conscious. It was a chore I gained energy and joy from.
And in my artistic craft I tried to capture some of these moments as well. I was satisfied as an artist, that my ultimate life’s work was not going to be interrupted by my art, but supplemented by my loving family, in life ideas and passions. I would eventually get my appreciations. But it might be when I was in my 80’s. That was not a problem. I labored on, with love and intention.
But somewhere along the way, my art became a source of stress between us. My music was a distraction in her eyes. Maybe I would work more and make more money if I didn’t stay up all night writing songs. I can’t believe that’s what she really believed, but some how she had construed the thing she feel in love with, when we met, into an activity that threatened her livelihood.
As artists in love, both partners have to keep up their end of the bargain. I wasn’t skipping out on my chores, or my kid duties, or my financial obligations. And I was encouraging her to continue to find the time to paint. “But I’m so tired,” she said, often. Again, this might be a sign that I wasn’t doing enough. But it wasn’t. I was doing everything to the best of my ability. I worked hard. I cleaned the dishes, mowed the lawn, put the kids to bath, bed, and beyond. And still she was tired. Perhaps there was some other cause of this ennui.
As our halos began to tarnish and remain more hidden than shared, she stopped hearing my love songs. She missed the love poems I left around for her. Rather than finding the juice and thrill in my passionate expression of love for her, she would’ve preferred another kitchen pass so she could get to sleep early.
No one can take charge of your energy, your sleep, your emotional balance. That is 100% up to you. You might get help from a partner, or counseling to learn better ways to build your life force back up. But no one can give it to you. And no one can take it away from you either.
So in our life struggle, our path from lovers to parents to ex-partners we lost sight of the things that we fell in love with. The halos were still there. But we had averted our eyes, or complained to the point where it was safer to keep the gifts and epiphanies to ourselves rather than share them with the one person we should be able to share them with. When my best love song was no longer a welcome sound to my lover, my time was limited. There was no way back. No poem, song, or successful financial enterprise was going to bring her back. She was gone. Gone inside somewhere, where she needed (needs) to work more of her life struggle out. Perhaps her artist will re-emerge at some point. Who knows, I’m not part of her circle of friends, perhaps she’s painting and writing up a storm.
When your lover’s ecstasies and artistic celebrations are no longer musical to your ears, it’s time to move on. That’s what she did. And that’s where we are…
The Off Parent
back to The Hard Stuff
- I Was a Happily Married Man, and Now I’m Not: Tiny Hints of Doom
- My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory
- Waiting for the Other Person to Change
- Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight
image: lovers, thomas berg, creative commons usage