There was once a carefree little girl who spent half her time happily devouring books, and the other half watching Nickelodeon and trading Garbage Pail Kids. Then suddenly, without warning, life picked her up and threw her into adolescence – splash!
Unfortunately, no adult in her life had cared enough to give her swim lessons. But luckily, she was strong. After the initial icy shock, she managed to teach herself to swim.
Fast forward a few years
The day after her 19th birthday, at a university Christian group event, she met the man who would later become her husband. Her journal is filled with happy expressions and tiny hearts. She made a new friend. A nice guy. A Christian who is crazy about God, just like her. No, they don’t really like the same music. He doesn’t read. He’s not into sports. Only average intelligence. But who cares? He’s nice, and he’s into her, and he’s reasonably attractive. One day, he asks her to be his girlfriend. She is super excited. Her first college boyfriend!
Sometimes, her journal is filled with worry. They spent a summer working at different camps, and he didn’t write her even one letter. And afterward, she begins to realize something – they never go out on dates. Sometimes, if she really pushes, and pays his way, he will go to see a movie with her. But he does not ever initiate anything. He does not call her; she calls him. She gives, he takes. But still, he says that he loves her…
“Why do you love me?” she asks him.
“Because you love God,” he replies.
But lots of people love God, she thinks.
Four months after her 21st birthday, they are married. She wears a white gown with a long train and feels like a princess. Everyone has come to celebrate the union. They have built a big ship together – an unsinkable ship, they are convinced, and they have set sail. It is a perfect day.
They are both virgins. They are both excited about finally exploring sex together. But sex turns out to be very painful and difficult for her.
“I’m sure it will get better with practice,” she says.
One year later, she still hates sex. It is awful all the time, but he wants it all the time. She gives in, like a good wife. It hurts.
She works full time at her job, supporting him while he finishes university. She is exhausted when she returns home. The house is messy, dishes unwashed, bed unmade. He is playing computer games. She straightens up the mess and cooks dinner for the both of them. She asks him to help clean the house and wash laundry, but he doesn’t know how. She does it all, because she hates to nag a grown man. She resents it. There are holes in the ship that they did not notice before.
One day, she takes a bus to visit relatives in Seattle, and attends a job interview there. They want to hire her. Her husband says no. He doesn’t want to leave California. She considers going without him. In the end, she stays.
Two years later, they buy a house, and their first son is born, followed by their daughter, and then another son. She is so, so happy to be a mother. She stops working and becomes a homemaker, cooking, cleaning, and raising babies. She loves every moment of it. Her husband is now the one to work all day, and she takes pride in doing everything else so that he doesn’t have to. She also runs a home business, which brings in extra money to help make ends meet.
Her husband still spends every moment of his free time playing video games. But she doesn’t mind. Her time and energy is spent raising children. She still hates sex, but she tolerates it to keep the peace. They attend church as a family, go to social events, and take family trips, which she carefully plans. The holes are still there, but they patch them. Most of them. The ship still slowly fills with water, but she tries to ignore it.
When her youngest child is in grade school, she returns to work as a teacher.
“Good,” says her husband. “Now you can pay the mortgage, and I can spend my extra money on whatever I want.”
“Don’t you mean our extra money?”
“I earn it. So it’s mine.”
Despite the extra income, money seems to disappear before the bills are paid. He accuses her of overspending. She accuses him of the same thing. They fight. A lot. He accuses her of abandoning the children by going to work each day and not being there to pick them up after school.
“They are your children, too,” she reminds him.
The husband dominates the conversation. He talks on and on about the lack of sex. He wants the counselor to explain what he needs to do to make his wife have sex more. He keeps trying to get the counselor to side with him.
She quietly answers the counselor’s questions. She tries not to cry.
“There is a lack of coupleness about the two of you,” says the marriage counselor. “A failure to connect.”
She is depressed and lonely. The holes in the ship have grown too big to patch. Her husband has been hospitalized twice for psychosis caused by mental illness. She has no friends, no support network. She stops going to church.
“You don’t love me,” she tells her husband in a matter-of-fact way. “You don’t even know me.”
“Of course I know you,” he says. “I know you better than anyone.”
“Okay,” she says. “Then what’s my favorite song? One of my top five favorite bands, books, or movies? One of my top ten? Favorite sports teams? My favorite food? Favorite flower? Any of my life goals?”
He does not know any of these, even though most of the answers were on her Facebook page for anyone to see. They have been married for nearly fifteen years.
Although they have sex 2-3 times per week, he begins to seek out prostitutes. The first time he did, it was her birthday.
She is not even jealous. She is disgusted, but in a strange way, relieved. Now she has an excuse not to have sex with him anymore.
“You have to have sex with me,” he said. “It’s a biblical requirement. God says so.”
“Fuck you,” she said. “And fuck your god, too.”
He beats her for those words. He begins to punish her for her lack of interest in sex. He accosts her during random moments. He calls her names and makes false accusations. Although he is the main wage-earner, he refuses to provide money for groceries, clothes, or bills. She is forced to use credit cards to pay for the family’s necessities. The bills begin to mount.
He attacks her verbally every day. He follows her around town, certain that she is having an affair. He makes threats. She feels unsafe, and moves into their daughter’s bedroom. She hates using their children as a shield. She wants to leave, but does not know how. He forces her into positions in which she must defend herself, mentally and physically, then tells anyone who will listen – even the police, that he is her victim.
The ship has already sunk. She realizes that she has been treading water all this time, and so have the children. By staying with this man, she is putting them all at risk of drowning. It is time to become their life preserver.
Once upon a time, there was a strong, independent woman who learned to build her own ship. She put her three children in it, and they sailed away toward safety, toward a hopeful future, toward happiness. She left behind the man who was once her husband and does not miss him or their life together at all.
She returns to college to work toward a more fulfilling and lucrative career. Her children are healthy, joyful, and thriving. Although she still yearns for good friends, she realizes that, for the first time in many years, she is mostly happy and content with her life and her choices. No ship is unsinkable, she has learned. But that doesn’t mean she has to sink with it.