Married but dead in the water

Our marriage never caught fire and I want love. Can we buy some land, live separate lives and raise our kid together?

Published February 5, 2003 8:43PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am 44 years old, married to a 48-year-old man, and we have a 5-year-old son. My relationship with my husband is basically dead in the water; we're (sometimes) fond of one another (in a brother/sister/friend kind of way), but that's about it. We both realize that we probably shouldn't have gotten married in the first place, as each of us knew down deep that there was something missing, but we thought that that "something" would miraculously blossom once we tied the knot. Well, it never really did. And we're coming up on our nine-year anniversary, and I don't see anything blossoming in the years to come, either. And that thought simply makes me sad.

I was a very unhappy teenager and young adult, extremely shy, very awkward around boys and men (to the point of blushing uncontrollably when approached, and not being able to talk to them because of my embarrassment), and I actually had a nervous breakdown at age 20. It took years for me to get to the point of feeling worthy of a good relationship, and by the time I got there, I was in my late 20s, and so didn't have much experience with dating, men, relationships, etc. I had a few superficial and short-lived relationships (if you want to call them that; they were more like dysfunctional encounters, except for one that was pretty "normal").

And then I met the man who became my husband. He was kind, attractive, sensitive, tall, artistic, gentlemanly, generous and sweet. But even from the beginning, that "something" (i.e., "chemistry") was missing. He was so perfect in all those other ways, and we had so much in common, that I couldn't bring myself to move on from him. (Although I did at one point; we had lived together for about a year, and things weren't meshing very well, so I decided to move out. After a year of living apart, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes.)

Neither of us wants to continue living in this backwater eddy of a relationship, which is going absolutely nowhere except down into meanness and depression (both on my part; simply depression on his part). I want to experience "true love" in my life, or at least some exhilaration and joy in a relationship. Am I crazy to want to chuck what I have in the slim hopes that I might someday find the "true love" that I feel has been missing from my life? Or should I settle for a basically sexless and joyless marriage to someone who used to be a good friend (but who has slowly become the one on whom I vent all my anger, frustration and meanness) because it is a safe and secure place? And of course my age probably makes my question seem all the more ridiculous; who's going to want to find "true love" with a 44-year-old woman (although people still tell me I'm beautiful, and I feel emotionally that I'm in my 20s). I feel the relationship I've had with my husband has allowed me to heal and that I'm now ready to experience real, adult love, not just fondness and friendship and a safe haven.

And, of course, the biggest question of all is: What about our son, whom we both love dearly? Do I really want to do this to him? I always disliked the woman in "Kramer vs. Kramer" who left her darling young son because she had to go "find herself." But I think I have a solution to the "broken home" dilemma. I'm fantasizing that, since my husband and I are still basically good friends, and I see us remaining so for the rest of our lives (unless we stay married), I'm thinking we could sell our home and find a piece of property with two dwellings on it, and he could live in one and I could live in the other. And our son could go back and forth between "Dad's house" and "Mom's house." And perhaps I could move on with my life, and come across that someone with whom I truly resonate.

I know my husband wants and needs the same thing with a loving woman; we've discussed this many times, and we both agree that it just ain't happening between us, and it never will. We've tried counseling also, to no avail.

I want to know if it is possible to have an amicable divorce and continue to raise a child together while living separate, although close, lives, and if it's possible to break up without damaging the child?

Missed the (Love) Boat in Life?

Dear Missed the Boat,

I think that is a marvelous idea. In fact, you've posed the question and the answer so thoroughly that I don't know what I have to add. But since people are paying for this column these days, I ought to add something.

So let's get right down to the nuts and bolts: Would you get an absolute or a limited divorce -- a total dissolution or something more like a separation decree? In your case, there ought to be a way to fashion a kind of limited divorce that provides for your son's well-being and perhaps even provides for some continuation of joint assets between you, if such a continuation would be stronger financially than dividing everything up. I don't know all the ins and outs, and it varies from state to state, but your letter so humanely spells out your situation that I don't see why the state would frown on what you are trying to do. There simply ought to be a way to do this. It sounds so sensible. Find yourself a good, compassionate lawyer and get to work.

Good luck. You're trying to make the best of a tough situation in a very principled way, and I admire you for it.

Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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