"I just can't imagine you married," says anybody who is friends with me now.
"Why?" I ask. "I'm a nice lady. I'm a nice potential wife lady."
"It's just hard to picture."
I know there are a few semi-digs packed in here: 1. How could I stay faithful? 2. Who the hell married me? 3. But marriage seems so "normal" and I'm not. 4. Haven't I done the whole low-rent Carrie Bradshaw schtick over the last few years? 5. No seriously, who married me?
To answer those five: 1. Easily. I like sex, but I'm a disciplined bitch. 2. A very nice man, thank you very much. 3. No one is normal. 4. Well, yeah, at times, but that was by accident. 5. A fine fellow.
And then one night recently during a bout of insomnia, I dug up an old email that I had sent in 2004 to a friend of mine who I had an elaborate and neurotic email penpalship with and I read it to one of my closest friends now.
Reading the email aloud to her, I just wanted to shake myself. Like, really? Did I really not think that I was the one behind the driver's wheel? Why would anyone ever stay in what was clearly an unhappy situation and never stop droning on about it?
I know why, of course, and you might too.
Sometimes no matter how corrosive or imperfect love and companionship is, the idea of losing it seems incomprehensible and way harder than anything else. Especially if you come from dysfunction in your childhood. For me, I believe I was subconsciously probably wanting to re-create some of the familiar patterns from my childhood. Controlling, angry, brilliant, charismatic male figure. Submissive neurotic wife who channeled all of her anxiety into trying to make a never-happy man happy. That's a cozy little trap.
When I read this email to my friend, she was pretty much dying laughing at what a disaster I was. And she said, "You do realize that your friend who you emailed this back in 2004 probably took one look at the length of it and about six paragraphs in was like, 'I'm out'?"
Which is funny, but I think she actually probably did read the whole miserable thing. There is some freakish kind of voyeurism in the schadenfreude of watching someone else's relationship implode, and as much as I'm sure my penpal at the time did genuinely care about me (we have not stayed in touch in recent years), I'm sure it was a mildly entertaining train wreck all the same.
Reading this email to my friend today provided some wild healing in me, though. It was probably combined with the jarring discombobulation happening with my sleep schedule as well, but I found myself a lot more unstuck by sharing this with her. Instead of not being able to deal with various things in my life, I found myself in the days after attacking issues and piles of work that I hadn't had the wherewithal to face before.
I'll share the email with you now, and you are welcome to do, as my friend predicted, a quick once-over instead of reading the whole damn thing. But if you do read it, I would hope that you feel however you want to feel about me — but use it as an exercise to feel some empathy for wherever you were 10 years ago or wherever you are right now in your relationships. It can be so hard to see clearly at the time — and sometimes finding a relic of our past opens up an entire vista of self-awareness and empowerment.
It can show us: Just as we had the agency to change our life back then, we do right now today.
And now, The Email. (Oh, Lord.) I could change my ex's first name, but there are a million Mikes out there, so I'm just going to leave it be.
I also put in a few editor's notes to clarify a few points.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Mandy Stadtmiller
> Sent: Tuesday, July 06, 2004 5:33 PM
> To: [REDACTED]
> Subject: RE:
i've got to tell you about me and mike's fight this weekend. he literally jumped out of the car when i had barely slowed down at KFC and started running. running!
boy, we do have some fights.
did i ever tell you about the time he hid his wedding ring in the paprika jar? it was after i had thrown mine at him in the kitchen. now that's marital comedy.
marriages are really hard. but did i mention that the girl i had lunch with had ended her marriage of like 8 years (she's our age...got married really young) and regrets it. it worked the same way as with my mom. woman wants it over...woman talks of divorce...woman changes mind and wants to stay to together...too late...man wants divorce...man gets divorce.* [*EDITOR'S NOTE: My parents ended up remarrying after being divorced for five years, the same span as my marriage. I know. Crazy.]
actually that's kind of how it was with our fight this weekend. i literally started hyperventilating i was so freaked at the idea of us not being together. i've never done that before!
i feel like i initiate everything...wow, i would love mike to say 'you're right.' he does that sometimes... but not this weekend. it was also about the stupidest fucking thing: making a doctor's appt.
PS i just bust out laughing at your "i made tuna
casserole...hadn't gotten your email yet" line.* [*EDITORS NOTE: I was at the time going through this phase where I kept emailing people articles about health warnings, and I had just emailed my friend and everyone else I know about all the immunity boosting foods they should be eating and how they should avoid the dangers of mercury in tuna. Yes, I was that friend.]
somehow that just epitomized the futility of everything. i mean, life is so hilarious.
i will say that this fighting with mike is getting exhausting. he just doesn't like me. i could tell when i came home today wearing pearls and my hair back that he just thought here's this stuck up bitch square who is my wife.
and then i tried to engage him in conversation, but it was stupid, about the music he was playing. and i tried to make jokes. and i said about one singer he was playing, 'is this bart davenport?' and this singer is like the most straight up singer...you know..like just very sweet and wonderful and great. and i said 'what he needs is an edge.' and mike said 'i completely disagree.' and i said 'i was joking' and he said 'oh i can't tell. because everything you say about music is so uninformed it's hard to tell.'
and that just broke my heart. and now he came downstairs and said i closed out of some program he was in on the computer, but i didn't...
god, and i asked him to apologize for the comment
about my uninformed opinion about music and he said that when i said stupid things about stuff he really cares about it hurts his feelings or something, which i understand, but...it's all just so exhausting.
i mean, i guess maybe we would be better separate
because we're such different people but i just can't
handle it. i mean, maybe that will happen eventually. i just don't know. it's all very incredibly exhausting especially because i feel like i am as supportive as can be. i mean, i did all the shopping tonight, and...you know so what does he do, he gets mad because i chopped a red pepper too thin. he said that makes it hard for dipping.
isn't he insane? i mean, not insane, but just incredibly temperamental and picky and whatnot. it's all so stupid. i just feel so...angry and kind of sick about things.
i always think things can be okay, but then when i
came home he just started off being cold to me. i
mean. he does that. like i do that to my mom. i do
that to my mom when i don't think she's acting smart enough, or she's embarrassing me. it's that same feeling he gives me and i absolutely hate it.
i mean, here's this. you'll love this. when we were
fighting so hard about everything yesterday, i told
him in a more serious way than i've ever told him
before that he should just fool around with other
people for the next year and then we can see how it
goes. and it doesn't even make me sick anymore like it used to when i would say things like that and not even mean them. so i wonder if he'll do anything. i just am like this pathetic martyr of a person. i mean, i do whatever i can for this guy, and he doesn't care.
i feel like i'm doing all these things with the potential excitement of: ooh! an emotion from mike, or something. a positive emotion from mike as if it's like this elusive holy grail....
i'm so sick of not being cool. i'm the lamo
one who has the job that brings in the health
benefits, etc. what a fucking dork. and i'm the one
who is a party pooper and has to get up at 7:20 in the morning to go to work so doesn't particularly want to stay out until 1 am.
and today i was just so pissed at myself. it was like
when mike was playing this beautiful music and saying i was too dumb to make jokes about it, or whatever...i was thinking, goddamnit, mandy, you want to do things.
you want to do things, and you should be concentrating all of your energy on them instead of trying to support your fucking man who doesn't even want you to be doing that in the first place. what is my problem? why did i marry him? i mean, i know why. he's really great. but it's just kind of hard.
it's all very confusing. i absolutely cannot imagine
being without him, which is probably not practical. i would be the one who would be the most okay, you know?
god this is rambling on way too long to even be cute anymore...sorry for the length.
i just want to have a sense of direction in my life. i
mean, okay, i have one. i just want to spend my life
not having these stupid exhaustive arguments. i feel like, why does mike have to make things so difficult? i guess i understand his perspective: that i'm controlling. when we had the big kfc fight...i was telling him he had to make a doctor's appt. where do i get off doing that? today: i'm ridiculing in a sloppy, ignorant way something he cares deeply about. i understand that. i understand both these things...but i just feel like if he could be a little more fucking easygoing i wouldn't feel like i was having to live up to his goddamned 'is the red pepper cut widely enough for optimal dipping' test every goddamned minute of my life...
anyway, sorry for the long rant. i guess that i will
just...you know. keep on trucking. i'll be okay. i
know that. with mike, the sad thing, the thing that i
fear...is that my solution to all of these things. my
solution to all of this fighting and his making me
feel so small and stupid and uncool (and yes, me
realizing that i'm the one letting him make me feel
that way...) is that i always try hard to shut up.
and that's what i fear.
my whole desire is to not shut up. i want to be a stand up comic. i want to be a comedy writer. i want to be a personality. i want to be in vanity fair even though mike hates everything about that. mike wants to be a revolutionary and i want to be in vanity fair. the original odd couple! jesus christ. what the fuck was i thinking in getting so attached to him. it's just...one of those things where you can't imagine anyone else. i'm sure that's how a lot of these relationships can work out: you fear losing the rock, the guy. because...no matter how bad things are and how nasty he is to you...you know, you can at least count on that.
as i joked to mike the other day: if i didn't have mike, who would i have to complain about mike to? which i thought was actually a kind of
sweet, beautiful way to look at life, and our
it's like a woody allen joke.
and i'm glad that i wrote that, because somehow that makes things seem more oddly comforting to me. so now i think that i will place in some weird unnecessary portfolio all these letters and cards and scraps from my past that somehow make me feel that i am whole person no matter what happens to me. they remind me what a wonderful, rich life i have with so many people who've touched me and that i've touched...
that was a beautiful hallmark card, eh?
i got interrupted by my mom who called and i gave her the immunity boosting foods speech that i gave you over email. she had just finished eating albacore tuna!
ha, the joke about the futility of everything is the
joke that doesn't stop giving. everyone's eating tuna right as i tell them STOP! the thing about tuna is that i guess the albacore is what is super high in
mercury, but chunk light is not so bad. so whoomp,
there that is.
well, i guess i better go do something. i'm so sick of
crawling to mike wanting him to love me. when i'm
tired and stressed, i just want to know everything's
okay, you know? i've said it before and i'll say it
again but relationships are all about power, man. and right now, he's got it because he knows that i'll
probably hyperventilate at the thought of us busting up.
i can't believe i hyperventilated. it was kind of just
like, this fun melodramatic splurge. like all my kid
fantasies of fainting in church in front of the
congregation come true. i'm such a dork.
anyway. well yes, thanks for reading. have a
I kept the tuna stuff in because to this day that makes me laugh my ass off. Just completely ridiculous.
The moral of this story is: I left. I stopped being a nightmare wife to him. I stopped being a doormat to myself. And the two of us disentangled from a "claws fitting wounds" relationship where both of our little baby dysfunctions synched with one another like two sick creatures who had love in there somewhere, but who mostly just weren't meant to be married to one another.
Oh, and if you're wondering, I'm so glad I was married. I wouldn't change a thing.
Because after losing my best friend, after working so hard to make myself my own best friend, I've never been scared of anything again.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.