I got married (for the first time) when I was 27. The first husband was not right for me in multiple crucial ways. The marriage lasted about 12 years, nonetheless.
Deep in my gut, I knew one deal-breaking thing from practically day one, though this detail did not stop me from moving forward: I was not sexually attracted to him. I liked his face very much, but not his body.
The morning after we first had sex, I remember looking at down at him objectively from a third-floor balcony as he was walking shirtless across the grass in the yard below. I remember feeling detached and somewhere between neutral about and turned off by his body.
The other deal-breaking detail I did not identify until we were practically divorced: He is a very black-and-white thinker. Once he has formed and pronounced his opinion on something, he is utterly done discussing the topic. I am a very flexible thinker. A devil’s advocate. A cartographer of gray areas. Every thought or idea remains subject to revision, or at least refinement.
I thought this relationship stood a chance despite the attraction gap because the man was growth and goal oriented. He had overcome some challenges in life and that impressed me. He had also traveled and lived in another culture, which had broadened his experience and world view. I sensed he would be a good father, which he has indeed turned out to be. He was 9 years older; the same age difference between my own parents. He was diligent in pursuing what he wanted. Which happened to be me, in this particular case.
I expressed to him one morning very early on that I was not really in a place for a relationship just then. Things were chaotic and I just had to figure my stuff out. Perhaps I needed the day to myself. He told me, “I think I should just stay and hang out. I like being around you, and it seems like you like being around me. No big deal, let’s just keep hanging out today and see what happens.” Now this proposition strikes me as a little creepy and invasive, but then it struck me as perfectly reasonable. I think I was even flattered by his interest. It did not even occur to me to say, “Um, no. Actually, I would really like you to go home now.” So we just kept hanging out.
Finally learned that I don’t have to keep hanging out with anyone if I don’t really want to. Fifteen-plus years later. After lots of dating.
Not long before my wedding, one of my oldest and best friends had a frank conversation with me. “Are you sure about him? she asked. “I don’t think he’s intellectual enough for you. You two just don’t seem to have enough in common. I’m having a hard time seeing you two together.” I recited all of his good points. I said that I was confident he would work on the relationship to any extent needed. I said he was fun to be with. I said I was sick of intellectuals and it was good for me to be with someone who was practical and grounded. My friend was not really convinced by my justifications, but she did not press the issue then or ever again.
The reality of the situation was that I had gotten together with him on the heels of a major heartbreak. My whole marriage arose from a rebound situation. I was too young and too naive to believe I could–and should–take more time to figure who I was and what I truly needed from life and from a life partner. Being wanted was what I wanted, at that point.
When I met my first husband, I had moved to my city 18 months before. I relocated there to continue a relationship with someone I had met in a master’s program overseas who was from that state originally and was about to start a doctoral program there. I loved that person intensely. He was intellectual, we shared many interests, we had a great erotic life. But, 13 months after I arrived, he broke up with me suddenly. There had been no warning of his discontentment whatsoever. We were already living in the same building and we were actively looking for a new apartment to live in together.
I was crushed. I planned to move back home to my parents, but at the last minute I decided not to leave that city. I had a good job and I thought I would become even more depressed if I gave it up to live with them.
The heartbreaker and I resumed an intermittent sexual relationship after a few months, once it became clear that I was not leaving town. The pressure about living together was gone. I don’t know. Perhaps not the smartest move on my part, but as much as I cared for him, I did feel 100-percent clear about the romantic relationship being over since I knew could never truly trust someone who was capable of hiding his feelings so completely and blind-siding me like that.
I had a few sessions with a therapist at the time. She commented, “Is it possible that this break up is a good thing? After all, a person like this could just as easily have packed a suitcase and left you without a word 10 years from now when the two of you were married and parents of two little children.” She was totally correct.
The long and short: I was still occasionally having sex with the heartbreaker while also dating a couple of new people at the time I met my first husband.
In a bar.