Stuck in the Middle With You

Ending a marriage is incredibly painful, which is why a lot of us just settle

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Lots of people our age become restless in their marriages, growing bored and dissatisfied. The thought of divorce is frightening and adventurous souls may find themselves on the verge of having an affair. All too often they are too insecure of their own desirability or too affected by their religious or moral code to take that step. So for a great many of us, it’s about settling.

At a typical girls' night out, I heard one friend say, “He’s really not that bad.” “I only hate him when I’m awake,” said another. “I just want to be free,” said someone else. This is what happens when older married girls go wild.

When I suggest any of the obvious solutions, I get shut down. One girlfriend who’s in her forties stays with her husband because of the young daughter they share. She believes it’s best for her child. She’s read up on all the stats regarding how men won’t want to date a woman with a young kid and figures it’s better that she stay in a loveless marriage until her daughter is grown. Because, she reasons, it’s better for the child that she remain with both parents in a stable home.

Another friend convinced his girlfriend to move to the country and to invest her money in a house. Then they weren’t getting along so well anymore. He flirted with the idea of moving on, but to what? She was working full-time and he, well, not so much. He remembered a lot of good qualities that she possessed. They settled their differences and remain together, for now.

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I know plenty of people who have stayed inside their comfortable, yet stalled marriages, while stepping out on the side. There’s a group of parents in the Bay Area, who think it’s still the 1970s, with parties where the alcohol is flowing and there are frequent forays into one another’s bedrooms. Often, a poor innocent couple who really believed they were getting together to discuss alternate forms of education, comes to these gatherings with reams of paper, outlining their research.

A woman I know found herself in a wild, passionate affair with an artist. They worked together and they went everywhere jointly, while her husband stayed home with their two children. She assured her friends that the two of them were just pals, when it was incredibly obvious to everyone what was going on. Eventually, she became frightened that they’d be exposed. She ended the relationship because she feared losing her children. Her lover was incredibly hurt and confronted the husband. Somehow the couple closed ranks and let everyone they know that the spurned lover was a madman.

Even I have thought about moving on. First of all, it seems so complicated and expensive. Time-consuming and also consuming of whatever goodwill we have as a couple. Is it better, I reasoned, to stay together and wait until the economy improves and our house has value again? Or maybe when our daughter is grown and out of the house? I think my husband also pondered the possibilities, but they were so complex and would take up so much energy and resources that he, too, agreed to settle.

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We actually did separate and tried life as single parents. I found some success out there in the dating world. He did, too. Ultimately, it caught up with us. Either you’re in or you’re out; either you’re free or you're not.

Most of the people we dated (despite outcries to the contrary) were interested in building a relationship with someone who was truly available. Every one of the guys I seriously dated is now in a long-term relationship; one even got over his bachelor status and is married.

So, I admit it. We’re stuck. We like each other, have loads in common and frequently do spend an entire evening together companionably. But is it mad, passionate love? Do we stare into one another’s eyes and recite Shakespearian odes? No, it’s more likely we discuss the leaky faucet or the outrageous plumbing bills.

So, I try to understand why my friends settle and try to be kind to them as they rail about what they would do and how the years are marching on and they’re still stuck. In settling, there is some relief. It’s as if we stepped out into the roiling wild ocean, lost our bearings, swam furiously against the tow and then came back to dry land.