Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009, The Second Talk, and Living in Denial

As has been our tradition for the past several years (following our discovery of a recipe that we picked up at a bbq joint), Penny prepared a marinade for the turkey on the night before, and then I got up the morning of Thanksgiving and set up the smoker for the bird. That was this morning. Or, I suppose, yesterday morning. I’m typing this in the wee hours of Friday morning, not having yet turned in after a long, long Thanksgiving day.

For the first time in a while, some realities have been at the forefront of my mind all day. Like, that if we don’t bring in some steady income soon, we are going to not just lose the house… but be foreclosed and evicted. (We’ve missed one payment so far. I think you get three before foreclosure.) “Lose the house” sounds like a bummer, but these things can happen. “Be foreclosed and evicted” is more… dire. And what was on my mind.

Also on my mind was that Penny and I both need to obtain a steady income if we are to have any chance at maintaining a good support structure for our kids while we begin building our new lives as separate, co-parenting people.

There’s a lot of history as to how we got into the financial pickle we are in right now, but it mostly has to do with our business — which has never done particularly well — falling on particularly hard times, while my “pay the mortgage” job as a free-lance database guy has hit a major dry spell. I have a very strong work ethic, but me working two jobs for the past four-plus years has been wearing me down considerably, and when I haven’t been working, I’ve been covering the kids while Penny spends time of her own on the business we share.

Now, add to that the fact that I still work just as hard now as I did a year ago, but that now the money is coming in at about a third of the pace it used to (and far below what we need to pay mortgage and consumer debt), and the whole prospect is daunting.

A week after our first Talk About Divorce, Penny greeted me in the morning with an announcement that she had been crunching some numbers regarding the cost of various options depending upon whether we lived here or there or elsewhere. Each of the scenarios she mentioned assumed one shared household. Given that we had already talked details about separate living arrangements, I found this odd, but the kids were up and so I suggested we talk about it in the evening, after the kids were in bed.

That night (remember, this is exactly one week after our first Talk), I asked her why she was calculating numbers based upon us continuing to live together. Her response was something to the effect of, “Well, yes, of course things would have to change if we’re going to stay together.”

Those may not have been her exact words, but I think they’re close. The meaning I got from her words and intonation was the notion that divorce was her idea — not mine — and that I was going to have to change if we were to avoid divorce.

I didn’t bother to correct her. Instead, I asked her to elaborate.

There are too many details to go into right now (and, despite my usual perky insomnia, I find myself dragging tonight/this morning), but the gist of it is this: she said it’s a “matter of respect.”

“That cuts both ways,” I said, thinking that what she meant was she was concerned about me not showing her respect (although I wasn’t sure how that could be). But, no. It was… that she didn’t respect me.

Oh? Oh. Oh! Wait a minute!

I mean, I felt she hadn’t been showing me respect, but it didn’t occur to me that it was because… she didn’t respect me. (Are you slapping your forehead at how dense I am? Or is that me slapping my forehead?)

She explained that she thought I was turning out to be just like her father, who (in Penny’s view) took care of himself rather than taking care of the family, etc., when the finances got tight.

She explained that she and I view money differently (which is true) and that she was willing to go with it (while I was bringing in all the money), but that now she’s completely stressed out and can’t live like this any longer.

And although she didn’t say it during this particular Talk, something she had said recently was certainly hanging in the air during this conversation: that we were working so hard, dammit, and we shouldn’t have to work this hard and still make no progress. “It shouldn’t be this hard!”

She also talked about how I never seemed to be happy in any given job, and this was also a problem for her. (There is quite a bit of truth to this, but I’m not sure how that weighs in on the bigger issues.)

It was interesting that she brought up her father, because I have been painfully aware of how much contempt her mother shows for her father. I have — for years — told Penny that I don’t want our marriage to become like her parents’ (a sentiment she always seemed to resent, as if I was impugning her parent’s fine role modeling… which, of course, I was, albeit as delicately as I could muster.)

Her parents situation went like this: they had a family farm. It went bust. The mother didn’t want to leave the town they were living in. The father couldn’t find work there. So he took work that was a few hours drive away, lived there in an apartment during the weeks, and spent weekends at home. Meanwhile, the mother took a secretarial job in their farming community at the local high school and continued to raise their children.

I have also been informed by one of Penny’s brothers — and he believes Penny does not know this — that the father had an affair, and the mother found out. Given the way the mother acts around the father — cordial on the surface, but with eye rolls and other non-verbal signs of contempt — I think that the alleged affair is plausible. Either way, their marriage is poison.

[As a side note, I’ll mention that I actually like the mother more than I like the father, despite the disrespect she always shows the father. Penny says she thinks her father is the smarter of the two — by far — and he may well be, but I have never once heard him actually complete a sentence. It’s the most bizarre thing. He’ll start a sentence, pause as if you can see where he’s going, and start the next sentence. And half the time, I have no idea where he’s going when he does that.]

When Penny refers to her father as selfish, she’s referring to the idea that he’d buy a lunch instead of packing a lunch. Doing things like that which are, well, easier but more expensive.

There’s much more about the subject of her parents, and about how Penny and I handle finances differently, but you get the idea.

Even as I type this, I see the words and shout in my mind: “Doomed! This is doomed! Get out! It’s over! Doooomed!” That’s certainly what was running through my mind on the evening of the Second Talk.

So, there it is then, right? Divorce is inevitable, because I’m not getting what I need to stay in the marriage (sex, affection, love, intimacy, and apparently, respect), and Penny isn’t getting what she needs, either. Case closed. No need for further discussion.

And yet, in every conversation since then, each reference she has made to future events presuppose us staying together. Comments about how we should handle child #1’s extra-curricular activities next year. How we should handle Thanksgiving next year. All as if we were staying married.

A couple of nights ago, we ended up going to bed at the same time. That almost never happens (because I typically won’t let it. I can’t fall asleep lying next to the rejection machine.) Typically, Penny slides waaay over on her side of the bed. It’s a king size. So, no hope or fear of us touching, be it accidentally or on purpose. Yet, a couple of nights ago, she sidled up next to me. She didn’t actually do anything. (I have occasionally wondered if her idea of initiating sex was to lie there and decide that if I offered, she won’t say “No” this time.) Nor did I make any advances. I was too confused. And angry. And just not willing.

Which all brings us to today. Thanksgiving, 2009. I smoke the bird. We clean up around the house and referee the kids while they play and fight amongst themselves. Penny makes the side dishes. We have a fantastic meal. The kids are well behaved, and the bird is perfect. Afterward, I do all the dishes while she stashes the leftovers. We bundle up the kids to go to the neighbors across the street for a small get-together.

And while we chat and mind the kids and sample the pot-luck dishes (even though we’ve already stuffed ourselves to the proverbial gills), two thoughts occur to me:

1) Penny is in denial at least as much as I am, if not more so, about our future together, and

2) Maybe living in denial is what’s making it possible for us to continue to working together as well as we are. And, for the most part, we are still working well together.

As long as I’m okay being celibate, I guess this situation could go on indefinitely. (Sooner or later, we are going to resolve the financial situation, because we must.)

But I’m not okay with being celibate, and so I’m mentally setting a deadline. Not a deadline to bring our sex life back from the dead. Rather, a deadline for us to separate.

More on that later. Right now, it’s time for me to go to bed.



  1. Hmmmm. I am not suggesting you do this, but I wonder, have you ever thought of simply taking a lover and staying with Penny? It could be a lot less expensive and easier on everyone, until the kids are grown and/or your financial situation changes.

    Okay, what am I saying, you’re a man, of course you’ve thought of this!
    So, I guess what I’m really wondering is …. what has your thought process been, when you’ve considered this?

  2. It is like that in my household right now. He doesn’t talk in the future tense but just acts as if everything is normal. That this isn’t the last Thanksgiving and Holiday season together. That it will all be different next year. Yes, I want this but it still makes my heart sad that this is it. We have created memories and traditions and now it will change. But if we stayed in a marriage it would simply look as yours does….Roommates…

  3. This was so painful to read because I lived it for so long…except for the celibacy part. There was just no intimacy to our intimacy. It was like…scratching an itch. Years upon years of kiss-less sex. Seriously.

    All I know is that I’m happier alone than I ever was married. I still believe in marriage and sharing my life with someone, but I will be smarter next time. My happiness depends on it.

    Thinking of you and wishing you the best.

  4. Leah, that’s definitely a topic I’ll post about soon (the “taking a lover” option and why I haven’t gone down that road). You’re also inspiring me to write another post about gender roles and stereotypes.

    Shannon, it sounds as if you’ll be able to part amicably, which is also (so far, at least) the path Penny and I seem to be on. And, really, what’s a little denial between friends?

    Nicki, I think part of why our marriage has been literally sexless for the last two years, and close to sexless all along, has been my being averse to sex-without-intimacy. I don’t just want sex… I want my partner to want me, too.

    As I replied to your earlier comment, it’s reassuring that one might be happier after getting out of a bad relationship. I’ve been unhappy for so long. At least, now that I’ve decided upon a course of action, the sadness is starting to lift. Like you, I look forward to sharing my life with someone. And, like you, I’m going to be smarter about it next time. I’ve already wasted well over ten years living like this. Life is too short to spend that kind of time being unhappy.

    Thank you all for your thoughts and well wishes. It really does help.

  5. Intimacy. Oh so elusive.

    Why did her father stay married to her mother?

  6. Ms Behaviour:

    “Why did her father stay married to her mother?”

    I have a few theories. One is… they are Catholic, at least Catholic enough to have too much shame associated with the concept of divorce.

    Another is, he has little self-respect. While this is only a theory, I do get that vibe, and I suspect that as long as he has little self-respect, he won’t be getting much respect from his wife (or daughter… or sons).

    Another possible reason? Maybe he has integrity and feels he must stick by his word, “’til death do us part.” Alas, I don’t really think that’s it, in his case. (But, that just may be my lack of respect for him talking.)

    Lastly… habit.

    And there but for the grace of [the higher entity or non-entity of your choice] go I….

  7. She compares you to a father she doesn’t respect? And you think that there is any chance she still wants you?

    Sorry, my friend. She’s only being practical with the proposal that you continue living together. That doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t be divorced anyway.

    This was the case with one of my first girlfriends. Her mother divorced her father, but they stayed together so that he could afford to support them both. All he got was room and board out of the deal – that and daily interaction with his daughter. She didn’t respect him – or any other male. I wasn’t with her very long as a result.

    A good friend of mine ran into her many years after we broke up, and almost married her. She’d been divorced several times (I’m so shocked!), and he was on a track to be the next one. Luckily for him, another old girlfriend stole him away and they got married instead.

    Do yourself and your kids a favor and get real about their mother. There is nothing between you but your kids, so start thinking about what is best for them. Not having Dad mooning over Mom wold be a great start!

  8. this reminds me of another situation with The Ex and how different we were when it came to finances. I am very in control of my money where as his parents filed for bankruptcy and even though he was flat broke, he would spend money on lunch everyday and i always packed my lunch. it bothered me to no end.

    however, in reading this, i’m wondering…have you ever tried to initiate the sex? i mean…it takes two to tango, did she just reject you over and over and thats how it became dry spells? and how did you go sooooo long without saying something?

    i get that this is from your point of view, and it seems you recognize some of your faults, but i will always be the advocate for marriage bc i want to believe so much in happy endings. so forgive my frequent attempts to find SOME WAY to keep you two together…

    • Hi, Erika.

      Thanks for visiting and for posting your thoughts.

      I’m not loose with my money; I’ve always managed it quite well (even though Penny might disagree), and Penny manages our household finances no better than I did (although, again, she always has reasons for why she occasionally commits an error, whereas if I ever make a mistake, it’s because I’m bad at it.) YMMV.

      My credit rating has always been higher. I came into the marriage with substantially stronger financial resources of my own making. The lunch thing is a symptom of a larger issue: she perceives my spending on lunch as being wasteful, although the reality is she spends more on lunches than I do. (I’ve checked.) She goes out to lunch more often than I do. Even taking the kids into account. Her perception is colored by views on how finances *should* be managed, but she is, like most people, quicker to see flaws in how other people manage things than she is to see the same flaws in herself.

      Sorry. I’m in a snarky mood today. I’ll think of a more delicate way of phrasing this and making an entry out of it later.

      In the meantime, to answer your question: yes, I often tried to initiate sex. For years. Not years-on-end, but rather, I was the only one who would initiate. And with each rejection, I initiated less and less. I tried again recently for the first time since our third was born, about a month ago, and the response was: she’s not interested. There’s no point in trying again because, well, I don’t want someone who doesn’t want me. It has taken this long for me to finally… get over her, I think is the best way to put it.

      How did I go so long without saying something? Oh, I’d bring it up in different ways. And she always deflected. Knowingly and deliberately. So I’d try to bring it up in other ways, after some time had passed, and she’d deflect again. Excuses wore thinner and thinner. She would say outright that she didn’t want to talk about it. I’d say that this is important. She would just shut down. I think the real question is: why didn’t I give up sooner. And I’m not sure I know.

      I’m open to any suggestions regarding how or why to save the marriage. Please, keep asking questions. That’s why I’m hashing this all out in a public blog. I want your thoughts on this! I’m throwing it out to the brain trust. But I’m coming to believe I’ve tried all that can be tried. As you say, it takes two to tango, and Penny has made it clear that she just plain ol’ doesn’t want to dance with me. At all.

      Which leads to the other question… why didn’t *she* opt out sooner?

  9. Sigh. I’m going to be piping up all over your blog today as work is slow and I get caught up.

    Again, have I mentioned my heart goes out to you?

    In my few years of (great) therapy and 2 sessions where my boyfriend has come along, i have to say this post is so insightful – and there might be another tipping point on the horizon.

    Did you know (and skip my post if you do..) the biggest problem we have in relationships (I’m talking about ‘we’ in the singular sense.. meaning me, you, anyone) is either 1) projection of a parent onto our spouse or 2) modeling of our parents’ relationship?

    Meaning all of us, at some point, “see” our spouse as our dominant parent, even if they aren’t that way, or act the way our parents acted with each other.

    It often tends to be what leads to a demise in relationships.

    What I mean: a girl has a critical father. She grows up. Finds a critical boyfriend. Realizes this is too cliche and ends that relationship. She finds a nice, giving, wonderful boyfriend. Enough time passes where she starts to read into his actions as critical, even when – wait for it – THEY AREN’T. It’s not his fault. And really, it’s not her fault, because the trauma from her dad is buried so deeply she doesn’t even realize she is doing it. So she reacts the way she did with her dad, by getting defensive, and angry at him, and the man ends up feeling like he’s the one who is criticized for no reason.. and you can see how things go from here.

    Every. Couple. Does this. On some level – even if they don’t realize it. Sounds like Penny fell victim to this, though I won’t presume to know how since I don’t know either of you.. perhaps she didn’t respect her dad, and then something triggered her to see you as being like him, and she reacted the same way as she does to her dad, even if the way you acted was completely different? I dunno. I’m just guessing because the pattern is SO predictable.

    (Remember in my last comment about me trying to get good tools before even entering a commitment? Well here they are.)

    Well.. my point is this: YOU have the power to see all of this, either as a really introspective person on your own or with a therapist (I know you guys did that already – and Penny is unwilling to discuss, which makes salvaging the relationship impossible). But before entering into your next relationship, you have the opportunity to see what your “stuff” is around this. I don’t know, nor would I expect you to share, what your relationship is like with your mom, but as cliche as it feels, it can reveal a lot of “ah ha!” moments about ALL your LT relationships (not just this one) that will really help going forward.

    Hope this isn’t overly intrusive but this is (obviously) a topic I’m passionate about, because of how much I’ve grown in leaps and bounds after looking at all of this in myself and my past relationships.

    Okay onto December.. šŸ˜‰

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