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When Happiness Moved Out of Our Marriage and Doubt Moved In

It’s a risk to stay, and it’s heartbreaking to leave.

Leaving And Looking In The Same Direction | APW (1)

For us, Saturdays are made for breakfast. We go out, he drives (as usual). We sit across from each other at the diner and my elbows stick to the Formica tabletop. I wonder who sat here before us, and if they enjoyed their meal. Almost without thinking, he orders savory—eggs (scrambled, the only way he likes them), sausage, home fries—and I order sweet—a full stack of challah bread French toast with real maple syrup. We order our meals to share, so each of us can have the best of both worlds. I stir the cream into my coffee and he sips his water. I look up at this man, my husband.

I have that sensation again, there in the crowded diner, the one where he feels like a stranger to me. Even though I know the feel of his body against mine and the scar on his elbow from when he fell off the monkey bars as a kid and the sound of his breathing as he sleeps. Even though I know that he doesn’t like avocado or the sheets tucked in too tight or the thought of needles or heights. And even though, not a year ago and after four years of dating, I walked down an aisle to him, promised him our life, and overflowed with love for him. This man, who makes terrible puns and is selfless and kind… and who, at times, I do not know.

We wait for our feast. We rank our top five destinations in Europe. We talk about travel and dreams and the places we could go together. I wonder aloud if we’ll get there, if there’s ever a good time to go, as we save for a house and feel the tightness of our budget and consider when we’ll have a baby. Amid this, a fleeting thought: What if I left? Him, our life, this first year, everything.

It’s a thought that has visited me more than I would like these past ten months, as I stand at the sink finishing the dishes or brush my teeth before work. Early in the morning, when the bedroom is gray before dawn, I think I could fill up my car and get on the highway and drive. The thought is furtive, guilty, ashamed. And when we fight, as we have done so much lately, I can almost believe that, though our priorities are the same, our means of attaining them are too different; there is no common ground. I can almost convince myself it would be better for both of us, and certainly easier. I could leave our hurt and apologies and the one overwhelming question that remains unsaid for both of us as any disagreement spirals dangerously: Is this what our life is going to be? I remember wryly thinking, six months into our supposed newlywed bliss, how ironic that our marriage has ruined our relationship.

And, from across the table and apparently seeing my thoughts, my husband meets my eyes and says it out loud: “I can’t keep doing this. I won’t be able to stay.” My eyes flood instantly. It’s a heartbreaking relief to hear him say it. My second-guessing has been so lonely. “I know,” I say. “When I think about it, I think of how much better off you’d be.” He sighs, “I worry about you, and how you’d get through it.” We wonder together what it would be like to separate before our first anniversary, if we’d have to return the gifts, which one of us would take the cats. And it’s here, as we split our breakfast and talk openly about an end, that I am reminded of how we care for each other. He has saved me the crispiest home fries and I offer him most of the syrup. We think mostly about the other even when we think about leaving. We join in the bravery and relief that comes from admitting such a secret. It’s a risk to stay, and it’s heartbreaking to leave.

As he pays for breakfast, I drain my coffee. It’s sweetest at the bottom. He returns to the table to see me blinking back tears again. “It’s going to be okay. We need to look forward, in the same direction, together,” he says. I nod, get up from the table, and take his offered hand. It feels familiar and comforting in mine, our wedding rings fitting together. Fingers intertwined, we walk out into the morning, together, in the same direction.

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