Wanted: A Strong Man

I’m not interested in being a weak man’s mommy.

When my husband left me last summer for a woman eight years older than him, it was a rude awakening for me. For the 29 years we’d been together, I’d been treating him like an adult, respectfully challenging him to do more with his life, challenging him — as he’d challenged me years before — to make things happen. I discovered that he not only wasn’t up to the challenge, but he apparently felt threatened by (or jealous of?) me and my success — despite the fact that I offered him multiple opportunities to work with me and share that success. His fears — and inability to face them and talk to me about them — are what drove him away from me, into the arms of the first woman who would take him. After contacting him online, she lured him to meet her in person with old photos of herself in lingerie and then overwhelmed him with the attention that he sought. She helped him rewrite the history of our lives together, painting me as an evil, selfish bitch who had manipulated him and prevented him from reaching unspecified goals I knew nothing about. Eager to grab hold of anything that would help him justify his infidelity, he embraced that delusional world and it became his reality. He was with her less than a month when he called me on my birthday to ask for a divorce.

His completely irrational behavior soon afterward had me (and mutual friends) stunned and puzzled. That is, until I realized that he wasn’t making decisions for himself. His new mommy was doing all the thinking and decision-making for him. Sadly, her moral standards are quite a step down from what I thought his were. As a result, I’ve been bombarded with a series of cruel acts of harassment since my return home in September, starting with finding myself locked out of my own home and hangar (which I still have trouble believing he did to me) and culminating, in January, with their unsupported claims of harassment. Fortunately, judges aren’t dumb people and I was able to successfully fend off those claims in court — even though they showed up with a lawyer and I stood alone (somewhat tearfully) in my own defense.

The most heartbreaking part of that whole ordeal: Listening to her claim under oath that she was in fear for her safety while the man who knew me better than anyone else in the world, the man who knew full well that I would never do anything to jeopardize my career or freedom, sat behind her in silence, allowing her to make such outrageous claims about me.

It’s truly tragic that what was once such a good man should sink so low.

I’ll always love the man he was before he slipped into the cold embrace of his new mommy. It breaks my heart that he turned to a stranger before he turned to his own wife and life partner of 29 years. But as so many friends tell me regularly, he was bad for me and I’ll be so much better off without him. I know deep down inside that that’s true, but it still hurts — every goddamn day — to remember what we had and how he let a stranger take it away from us.

And there’s a reason she calls him “baby.”

The List

To help me get over my loss, a good friend advised me to make a list of what was bad about my husband and put it in a place where I could consult it whenever I needed a reminder of how much better off I was without him. I created a list in September in a word processing file, printed it, and hung it on my refrigerator. I’d left plenty of space for more bullet items and as the situation evolved, I added more. Occasionally, I’d update the word processing file, put the bullet points in a more logical order, and reprint it.

The list is long; it currently has 33 items. They’re all over the map, staring with the obvious single-word descriptors such as a liar and unfaithful to the more thoughtful items such as unable to do what it takes to achieve goals and unwilling to take responsibility for his own decisions. Weak and vindictive and hurtful seemed to contradict each other until I realized that his weakness was allowing him to be controlled by someone else who was vindictive and hurtful. Early on, I had added afraid of his wife and his mother but I later amended that to afraid of his wife and his mother and his girlfriend. And, as I thought about my own personal complaints about our relationship — the things about him that had been bothering me for years — I added unwilling to admit that he is ever wrong and unwilling to apologize for hurting the people he claims to like/love.

Just today, I added this: unable to take the lead on anything new or interesting. I can’t begin to explain how tired I had become of being the catalyst in our relationship. Anything new or different that we did — motorcycling, horseback riding, flying, moving to Arizona — were things I started. I was tired of being the leader. Oh, how I longed for him to take the lead to try something new.

As I consult this list right now, I’m glad I created it. My friend was right: it does help me realize how much better off I am without him.

But it doesn’t stop me from pitying him.

How Does a Strong Man Fall?

I should make it clear: my husband wasn’t always a weak man.

When we began our relationship back in 1983, when I was just 22 years old and he was 27, he was — as I recently told someone who knows us both well — my guiding light. He was strong and confident, working at a job he loved that gave him a flexible schedule. He was cheerful and always up for doing something new and different. I, on the other hand, was stuck in a 9 to 5 job that I didn’t really like, never quite sure of myself, and happy to follow his lead.

I remember one weekend in particular. We were living in our first apartment together in Bayside, NY. It was a Friday afternoon and we’d just come home from work. He said to me, “How about spending the weekend in Cape Cod?” And just like that, we packed weekend bags, hopped into the car, and went. Yes, we hit traffic and yes, it wasn’t the perfect weekend. But we had fun and I remember it to this day — mostly because of the wonderful spontaneity of our lives back then.

Over the years, he encouraged me to try new things, to do things I might not have done on my own. I can’t count the number of times he told me that if I wanted something I had to make it happen. Over time, this became a guiding principle in my life. It drove me to leave a job I didn’t like and eventually start doing the freelance work I wanted to do. It drove me to succeed in not one but three careers.

But over time, as I got stronger and more self-confident, as I was rewarded for my efforts with more and more success, he began to weaken and lose confidence. I think it was a series of bad jobs in the mid 2000s that began to take their toll on him, but I don’t really know why or when it began to happen. I do know that by October 2011, when I returned from my summer work in Washington, he was a changed man: quiet, uncommunicative, and seldom happy. The spontaneity was long gone; he said no to suggestions far more often than yes. I thought his mood was the result of the dead-end job he was in, a job I knew he hated but he was afraid to leave. But it was obviously more than that.

I recently spoke at length with someone who knows us both very well. I was tearful, as I so often get these days, sobbing into the phone about the death of our relationship. This person said to me, “Somewhere along the line, he lost his balls.”

“But why?” I sobbed. “What happened? I didn’t take away his balls.”

“I didn’t say you did,” this person replied. “And I don’t know why it happened. But it did.”

Moving Forward

As I struggle to get over the grief from my loss, I’m trying hard to think about my future. Needless to say, I’m not interested in entering into a relationship with another weak man. I just can’t deal with the frustration and angst.

I’ve been on a few online dating sites since September, but I soon realized that most were the refuge of desperate women and cheating men. Unlike the woman who now sleeps with my husband, I’m neither desperate nor interested in stealing another woman’s disillusioned mate. So one by one, I let the memberships lapse. I remain on just one these days, OKCupid.

OKCupid fascinates me with its frank approach to finding matches. It offers members the ability to create an extremely detailed profile. As a writer, I appreciate the ability to write as little or much as I like about myself and the kind of man I’m looking for. I also like the seemingly endless bank of questions that make it possible to find a match. And that the site isn’t only for people looking for soul mates — which I don’t expect to ever find. Indeed, the site helps people looking for any kind of relationship, regardless of sexual preference, number of partners, or level of commitment.

I thought I’d share the current version of my “Self-Summary” here. I think it provides a pretty thorough idea of what I’m looking for. Read between the lines and you’ll see what I’m trying to avoid:

Maria and PennyI’m an active, young-minded, independent woman and pride myself on being able to make things happen. I enjoy outdoor activities, smart humor, socializing with friends, visiting museums and parks, and having conversations that go deeper than just what’s on television or in the news. I love to travel and am fortunate enough to have built a lifestyle where that’s possible before retirement. I make friends easily and can be a good friend to the people I really like. I don’t have kids and never have, but I think I’d make a good friend and role model for a partner’s kids. I’m very independent and not “clingy” — I like spending time with others but also enjoy a certain amount of time alone.

I’m looking for a companion on the adventure of life, someone who can think outside the box and is willing to do new and exciting things, sometimes at the spur of the moment. I’m looking for someone smart and fun to be with, someone who isn’t tied to a job that leaves him little time for life, someone who doesn’t spend all his free time in front of the television. I want someone to do things with: hiking, camping, boating, road trips, motorcycling, flying, traveling — just the two of us or as part of a group. I want someone I can talk to about books and current events and philosophy. I want someone who can challenge me to learn new things and see new places that I didn’t know would interest me. And I want someone to cuddle with, someone to love, someone to make me feel like I matter to him.

I’m a strong woman and I need a strong man. I also need someone who is honest at all times — as I will be honest with him. Life’s too short for BS, wouldn’t you agree?

I honestly don’t expect anything to come of this. Although I have met a few interesting men online, I don’t think any of them are worth pursuing — at least not yet. I think a much better way to meet a future partner is to continue doing the things I love to do — hiking, flying, motorcycling, traveling, and photography — and talking to strangers as I’ve always done. After all, it was on a casual photography trip to Jones Beach that I met the man I fell in love with nearly 30 years ago.

Who knows? Maybe magic like that can happen again. This time — hopefully — with a strong man who remains strong.

13 thoughts on “Wanted: A Strong Man

  1. Maria. I know well that this must have been difficult to write. I mostly just wanted to say that I admire and respect your courage during this difficult time and I hope that you can serve as an inspiration for others going through challenging times of their own.

    I won’t speculate on your husband. I don’t know how him. But I do also hope that whatever personal demons made him so weak and manipulatable, that he is able to overcome them. Though he’ll never be able to undo what has happened, I know that he’ll be happier and healthier if he is able to do so.

    Thank you for posting this and I hope that others learn from it.

    • Thanks so much, Jonathan. It is difficult for me to write about this — I think about what happened every single day and I can’t even read what I’ve written here without crying. But it’s also cathartic. My grief counselor recommended writing about the causes of my pain and it does help. I also hope it helps others to recognize a situation like mine before it’s too late to fix it.

      As for my husband, I don’t think he’ll ever wake up to the reality of his situation. And that’s the saddest thing of all.

  2. This is a wonderfully clear, considered and lovely piece to read, Maria – despite the unfortunate and upsetting topic. It does sound like you’re very self-aware and know what you are after – I wish you all the best in finding that in due course. Thanks for sharing in such an open manner.

  3. Dear Maria,
    I experienced so many emotions while reading your thoughts it is hard for me to identify and name them all. But each one increases my admiration of you and your talents and reinforces how very lucky I and all your friends are to have you in our lives. I know that somewhere you will find a strong man who will again make your heart flutter! So far, since Lee died, I’ve only had that feeling for one person and he isn’t free–dang.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Sharon. I’m so lucky to have so many great friends, too.

      I’m like you, though: when the one love in your life is gone, you feel that it’s unlikely you’ll find a worthy replacement. Maybe I will. Maybe you and I both will.

      But I’m prepared to go it alone. After all, when I think back on the way things were these past few years, I was already pretty much going it on my own. My mistake was expecting him to snap out of his malaise and get his life together — and then waiting in vain for that to happen.

  4. Maria,

    I am not one of your close friends, but I have bought your books and followed your writings since I first heard you at MacWorld back in 1992. You have a way with words and I don’t always agree with your opinions, but I have a great respect for your eclectic mind. I just wanted to say that as someone who has gone through similar circumstances (from the male point of view) your story has encouraged me and you are to be commended for being willing to share your pain. I’m sure that others have found encouragement in reading your words.

  5. I’m sure both of you played a role in the demise of your marriage. It doesn’t sound, to me, like you’re ready for a new relationship. How about some healing time (usually one year) before moving on to a new, and possibly, rebound relationship? 29 years is a long time. There are two sides (plus the absolute truth)to every story. Each person has their own version!!

    • I agree. I’m sure his version is very different from mine. In his version, I’m the evil bitch who manipulated him and kept him from achieving his goals. That’s what he’s telling himself and everyone else about me.

      But the facts don’t lie. He had an affair. He lied about it. He cut off communications with me. He plotted with his lawyer to keep me out of my home. He changed the locks on my house and hangar. He lied about me and his actions in court. He and his girlfriend harassed me for nine months with a wide range of claims and actions that they intended to hurt me and wear me down so I’d give up. Those are the facts and they can’t be disputed. They are damning.

      The marriage apparently was dead on arrival; things started falling apart not long after we married. Marrying him was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. Trusting him, expecting him to grow with me, believing that he wanted to enjoy life NOW — well those were other mistakes I made. Live and learn. Too bad it’s such a painful lesson.

      I’m not in a hurry to enter into a new relationship. I’d like to date and meet lots of new people. When the time is right, a new relationship will happen. I’m not desperate and I have enough of my own life that I don’t NEED a man to “complete” me. And I certainly don’t want a man who NEEDS a woman. I want someone on equal footing — my husband was definitely not my equal any longer. I should be very glad to be rid of him.

      • Any time a relationship ends where one person is more hurt, it’s quite a process to go through!! It happens to me eight years ago, and I still think about him. I wouldn’t want him back, but the fact that he had the affair is still painful. I think it’s better to acknowledge hurt and pain rather than inflicting blame. The healing comes from getting over the hurt, not trying to make the other person (s) suffer. I don’t think it helps your cause. It just makes him hate you more!!

What do you think?