David turns to me. “You?”
Yes, it was me. Yes, I am ashamed I did it. But it also wasn’t me. That wasn’t me. That person was so angry. I was so angry. I’m not angry anymore.
“The point is, everyone makes mistakes. And I have to think, the way you love Ashley, the way you talk about her, the way you can’t get over her, I’m not sure that’s all that common of a love. It might be the kind of love that can overcome this sort of stuff.”
The fact is, I look at David, I look at how he yearns for his ex-wife, I look at how he is clearly unable to move on from her in any meaningful way, and I’m the one who’s jealous. Not of her. Of him. I want to love like that. I want to feel as if I’m not OK without someone, without Ryan. But I am OK.
Things aren’t perfect right now. But I’m OK.
That can’t be good.
David and I keep talking. The conversation drifts in and out but always goes back to Ashley. I’m paying attention. I’m listening. But my mind is elsewhere.
I have something I need to do.
• • •
Dear Ask Allie,
I have been married for six years. My husband and I met eleven years ago. For most of my adult life, I have believed he was my soul mate. For most of our relationship, I have truly loved him and felt loved by him. But some time ago, for reasons that have only started to become clear to me now, we stopped being good to each other.
When I say that the reasons for this are starting to become clear, I mean I have realized that our marriage suffered from issues of resentment. We resented each other for things like how often we had sex, the quality of the sex we did have, the places we wanted to eat dinner, how we showed affection for each other, all the way down to basic errands like calling the plumber.
I’ve come to realize that resentment is malignant. That it starts small and festers. That it grows wild and unfettered inside of you until it’s so expansive that it has worked its way into the furthest, deepest parts of you and holds on for dear life.
I can see that now.
And the reason I can see all of this now is that my husband and I recognized that we had a problem about nine months ago, and we decided to give each other some space. We agreed to a yearlong break.
The year is not over, and I already feel I have gained a great deal of perspective that I didn’t have this time last year. I understand myself better. I understand what I did to contribute to the downfall of my marriage. I also understand what I allowed to happen to my marriage. When this trial period is over, I know I will be a changed woman.
The problem is that in our time apart, I have learned that I can lead an incredibly fulfilling life without my husband. I can be happy without him. And that scares me. Because I think, maybe, you shouldn’t spend your life with someone you don’t need. Isn’t your marriage supposed to be the union of two halves of a whole? Doesn’t that necessitate that they cannot be whole themselves? That they must feel as if they are missing a piece when they are apart?
When I agreed to this idea of taking time off, on some level, I thought I’d learn that it wasn’t possible. I thought I’d learn that life without my husband was unbearable and that it would be so unbearable that I’d beg him to come home, and when he came home, I’d have learned a lesson about never undervaluing him again. I thought this was a way to shock myself into realizing how much I needed him.
But when the worst happened, when I lost him and he started dating other people, the sun rose the next morning. Life went on. If it’s true love, is that even possible?
During our time apart, I’ve talked to anyone who will listen about my marriage. I’ve talked to my sister, my brother, my mother, my grandmother, my best friend, a man I’m seeing casually, and all of them have different ideas of what marriage is. All of them have different advice about what to do.
And yet I’m still lost.
So what do you think, Allie?
Do I get back together with the man I used to love?
Or do I start over, now that I know that I can?
Lost in Los Angeles
I don’t reread it. I know that I’ll lose my nerve. I just hit send. And off it goes, into the nothingness of the Internet.
I come into the office and head right to Mila’s desk.
“I wrote to her, the advice columnist.”
Mila looks up at me, smiling. “Well, I guess I have to take back all that stuff I said about it making you a loony.”
“You don’t think it means I’m crazy?” I say.
Mila laughs. “I find it easier to define ‘crazy’ by what rational people do rather than my own preconceived ideas. You did it. You’re a rational person. Thus, it is not crazy.”
My head cocks to the side. “Thank you,” I say. I really did think she was going to think I was crazy. I’m glad I was wrong.
“So show me this woman, this Ask Allie,” she says. “I want to read up on her. See what you’ve gotten yourself into.”
I take over her computer and type in the Web address. The page pops up. The question at the top is the one I read last night. It’s about a man who has been cheating on his wife for years and feels he finally needs to tell her. Ask Allie isn’t very nice to him.
“Don’t read that one,” I say. “Or, I mean, you can, but read this one first.”
I pull up the letter she wrote to a woman who gave her daughter up for adoption years ago and now wants to find her but doesn’t know if she should. I really like the part where she tells her, Make yourself available, make yourself easily found, should someone try to find you. Be open, be generous, be humble. You are in a unique position in which you cannot require love and acceptance, but you must give it if your daughter seeks it from you. It may seem hard, almost impossible, to love without the expectation of love in return, but once you have figured out how to do it, you will find that you really are a parent.
“Let me know what you think,” I tell Mila, and then I head back to my office.
Twenty minutes later, Mila is at my desk. “How have I spent my whole life not reading these letters?” she says. “Did you read the one about the g*y son? I lost it right at my desk. I was tearing up!” Her voice changes as she sits down. “So what if she reads your letter? What if she answers it?”
“She’s not gonna answer it,” I tell her. “She’s probably not even going to read it.”
“She could, though,” Mila says. “She might.”
“I very much doubt it.”
“You wrote to her about Ryan?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Did you mention the year-apart thing? That could be a good hook.”
“You sound like my grandmother!” I say. “I asked her if she thought it made sense to start a marriage over or if . . .”
“If I shouldn’t just start over on my own.”
“Whoa,” Mila says. “That’s even an option? You’re thinking about that?”
“I don’t know what I’m thinking! That’s why I wrote her.”
“How did you sign it?”
“Oh, come on, that’s the most embarrassing part,” I say.
“Give it up, Cooper. How did you sign it?”
I sigh and resign myself to admitting it. “Lost in Los Angeles.”
Mila nods her head in approval. “Not bad!” she says. “Not bad at all.”
“Get out of my office,” I say, smiling at her. “Are you free for lunch tomorrow? I need a second set of eyes on a dress fitting.”
“What kind of dress?” Mila asks, her hand on the doorframe.
Mila raises her eyebrow. “What are the wedding colors?”
“Um,” I say, trying to remember what Natalie told me. “Coral and pale yellow, I think.”
“Sort of like persimmon and poppy?”
“I don’t even know what you just said.”
“Like grapefruit and lemon?”
“Sure,” I say. “That sounds about right.” Whatever happened to primary colors?