The state of your unions

Salon readers share tales of ugly divorces, same-sex relationships, and love born from tragedy.

Published November 13, 2003 12:08AM (EST)

My husband drives me crazy. Utterly up the wall. He likes mushrooms one week, doesn't like them the next. He flips out because of some stinking crumbs under the toaster oven and doesn't notice that he hasn't once managed to put his dirty clothes in the laundry basket, they lie instead in various spots on the floor two feet from the laundry basket. He will complain about the messy closet in the laundry room and yet his office is an utter pigsty. He is contrary.

We fight about these things: He yells, I yell, I cry and we drive ourselves into our separate corners. Wounded, we come out a few hours later, all forgotten. Because this is the only fight we have. Once every four or five months, sometimes not for an entire year, but it is always the same fight. And this is not what makes a marriage, although, to hear it from couples breaking up, it seems to be what breaks a marriage. What makes a marriage is something much deeper and almost ineffable.

I feel sad when I hear people talk about how marriage is "comfortable," and how much you give up in exchange for comfort. I think that person hasn't found his or her soul mate. Because if they had ...

Cynics be hanged, the truth is, we are meant for each other. We knew it when we were 17 and it scared the crap out of me -- I fled. We knew it later when we were 22 and it scared the crap out of him -- he fled. Finally, when we were 23, we realized it was pretty much meant to be. It really, really didn't get any better with anyone else than it was when we were together.

This was almost 12 years ago. We've been married for nine years and problems have arisen -- work, kids, homes, natural disasters -- but never with us. We have known sadness, in losing a pregnancy, worry, over further pregnancies, we have been driven to madness with sleep deprivation and hissed mean things at each other in the night over a colicky newborn. We have lost family and friends, to death, to estrangement. But the problems that arise do not define us, they are something to face together.

He is my best friend, my confidante, he is the first person I want to call when I have some news, the first person I want to run to if I have a problem and the first person I want to see when I've been away. And the sex, believe it or not, although we'd been told to expect dullness, habit and eventual frustration, the sex has gotten better. It is part of the adventure of the journey we are on and the idea of sex with someone else is far from tempting -- it is downright peculiar.

My husband's grandmother once said that after 20 years of marriage, her heart still skipped a beat when her husband pulled into the driveway. I know what she means.

-- Kate Maruyama

At 39, I ran away from home, as far as I could (Australia). My triathlete husband said he wasn't attracted to me anymore (which I already knew by the way he'd pinch the fat at my waist -- and I'm actually pretty skinny -- or feel my skin like Braille, searching for blemishes and bumps while making love). I'd always wanted kids. I was panicked by graphs of plunging fertility after age 40 and all of the sad stories on infertility Web sites, not to mention the price of frozen sperm (who knew!). A crazy friend from a writer's group Web site where I'd been posting my panic in the form of thinly disguised short stories took pity on me. He sent me his picture, and later offered his services. Free sperm and a trip down under. Any woman who has gone through this hormonally charged mix of midlife crisis and maternal yearning knows what I did. My knight with shining semen gave me high-IQ genes complete with good looks and athletic talent, but as a romance it was not happening.

Fast forward three years later, and my beautiful baby girl and I are living across the street from tragedy. The man had loved the woman for a decade, the woman a poet who'd come and gone from his life. Finally she came to stay, for good, for marriage (his dream), only to be diagnosed with incurable, metastasized cancer. He cared for her and watched her die an unfair death.

One year later, my little girl and I knocked on his door with Christmas cookies. He answered the door, startled and blinking, unused to visitors, having retreated to the cave of masculine grief. My child clambered inside, while I stood there lightheaded at the vision of tenderhearted gorgeous man standing in front of me. I'd never met him before this, had only peeked across the street at the comings and goings of doctors and hospice, family and friends. Thank God his heart is so large -- his poet filled that romantic place, but he's made room for us. He simply stretched it bigger. A quiet and shy Kentucky farm boy, largely unaware of his 6'2", broad-shouldered, hazel-eyed sex appeal, he is almost psychic in his ability to know what I'm feeling. In the dark, a sudden panicky feeling is met, uncannily, by a tighter hug from him. After a lifetime of frenzy, being with him is like diving into a deep, calm pool.

-- Anonymous

What do you do when you realize that the person you are in love with is your best friend, who you've known throughout high school? What do you do when your whole world is just opening up in college but you love the person you've been closest to for the last five years? What do you do when you are both girls?

Well, you fret about it for a while, weigh your options, lose sleep, and fret some more.

Then one day you will see her walking across campus to meet you before your next class. You'll see her oozing a confidence so intense as to be the sexiest thing you have ever witnessed. So what do you do? You tell her.

You tell her and you ponder the implications. Does this make you lesbians? Bisexual? Should you tell your parents?

We started slowly, timidly, we had no experience in such things, but we knew we loved each other. We didn't think it would last, 20 years old is pretty young to be declaring your love for a lifetime. As cynical Gen-X'ers we thought that love was fleeting and made for TV, not real and forever.

Our families never suspected a thing, after all, we had been the best of friends in high school.

Ten years later I look at my lover, my partner, my best friend and I feel for her a love stronger than ever. We've had 10 solidly good years built on joy and hard work and tears. We've come close to breaking up more than once and mutually decided that there was nothing in this world worth more to us than each other.

In our ten years we've grown up a lot. We've come out to our families and were roundly accepted by all. Even in the intra-family gossip, it was decided that no one could name a happier couple among them and that was all the proof they needed that a lesbian relationship was okay.

At 20, our adult lives were just beginning and new love was scary. At 30, I realize that 20 was nothing and adult life is happening now. My adult life will happen hand in hand with the sexy lady sitting across from me. For the last ten years I've watched her smile as she thinks about things and I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life watching her.

-- Heather Ward

Divorce is an ugly business. I have experienced it from a personal and a professional perspective, as a divorce lawyer. As a result of the latter I just ought to know better.

There are some things you don't do in a divorce. For example, you don't fight over the handmade lamp. Why? The artist's studio is five miles away and you can get another one. You don't date or sleep with other people until the ink is dry on the divorce even if you are separated. Why? Because it is confusing for, and inconsiderate of, everyone involved. Finally, you don't take stuff that doesn't belong to you. Why? You know why. It just isn't right. Of course, I did all of these things with impunity.

I was so excited to be moving out of my marital home that I spent weeks packing every last item that I was taking. The best way to do the divorce thing is to move out of the house and leave behind all the stuff you don't want. I recommend it. I had sorted through the debris of six years of life together with Jack. I had packed the items we had agreed were mine to take. The very last thing I needed to do was sort through the stuff in the master bathroom. While packing and talking to my sister on the telephone, I started with the cabinet over the toilet. One of the first items I came upon was a box of empty condoms. "Strange", I thought. I knew I had not used those condoms and if I had I certainly would not have kept the empty box. I didn't say anything to my sister, threw out the box, and kept packing the bathroom. The next morning, however, my mind started churning.

Jack had been living in an apartment for several months but I had allowed him to keep a key to the house and unfortunately he came and went as he pleased. Sometimes I would come home and find random things missing. Things I knew had been there the day before. This is the kind of thing that tends to make you think that you are going crazy. You are looking for the can opener that you know you saw in the drawer next to the sink and suddenly it just is not there. So, I began to wonder whether Jack may have come into the house, taken the condoms, and left the empty box. He had, after all, made it clear that he was happily dating someone and planning a vacation with her family.

The day that I moved, my father came to assist me. Since I was so perfectly organized and the movers were three hours late, my father had lots of time to pick up stuff around the house he thought that I should have. I am embarrassed to say I did not stop him. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and so I watched him take down the pot rack, pack the random spices, and unplug the Bose speakers. He argued that I had been grossly mistreated and had supported Jack in the grandiose style to which he had been accustomed long after Jack stopped earning a salary. He also noted that Jack had almost let me die the previous year when I was sick with pneumonia. All true, and suddenly I was just as angry as my father.

While we waited for the movers, and he fumed, I shared the condom story with my father. He pointed out that we had to go to Jack's apartment to pick up some items that Jack had had during the separation but that I was keeping in the divorce. Jack was too busy with his new photography business to meet us so he had given me the key. He managed to leave out a photograph of a naked woman taken on the sofa I had come over to pick up. I also found the box of dishes that I was keeping marked clearly in a feminine handwriting. When I unpacked the dishes, some of them were dirty. With my father's sinister encouragement, I picked my way through the muck of Jack's apartment (it was disgustingly filthy) to the bathroom. I opened the top drawer and found, lying loose, four Trojan condoms. I shoved them in my pocket and left.

I'm not proud of myself and I can't swear that those were the condoms from the house; however, it felt damn good at that moment.

-- Margot

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We want to make you a part of this series. What is the state of your union? Did you find the one and never look back, or has finding lasting love been a marathon of trial and error? Did you have a fairy-tale wedding only to watch things crumble once the reception was over, or have you glided along in marital bliss since Day One? We want to hear your stories of joy, romance, heartbreak and pain. After all, partnership, as we all know, is a complex concoction of all of those things. (Please remember: Any writing submitted becomes the property of Salon if we publish it. We reserve the right to edit submissions, and cannot reply to every writer. Interested contributors should send their stories to

By Salon Staff

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