A marriage to the romantic and dreamy teenaged girl next door.
When I was 11 years old, I met Anne, the neighbor girl who’d just moved in across the street. As it turned out, she had an older brother who later became my best friend. I didn’t find out until years later that one day, before we had met, she had told her brother, while looking out her living room window and pointing at me, that she was going to marry me some day.
Anne is of Mexican heritage. She was raised by her single mother and aunt Lola. Her mom worked in a factory and had very little. She was strict and expected her children to do well in school. Through the years, she would hang with me and her brother and we became great friends. Anne and I were dating by age 17, engaged by 19.
In contrast to her family, mine was intact. My dad worked at International Harvester as a machinist and my mom was a stay at home mom, raising me, five brothers and a sister; the sister and one brother passed away when they were small. We were a traditional Catholic family and active in the parish. We had Sunday dinners together, went on camping vacations and seemed always to have a lot of people over. Whereas my brothers went to prep schools—two went, by choice, to the seminary—I went to the neighborhood public school.
Anne was working before we got married and doing fairly well financially. I was pretty much a starving artist, going to school at the Chicago Art Institute and living in a crappy apartment. One Friday night, after Anne went home from my place, I called her with an ultimatum. Either we got married next Friday or our engagement was off.
Anne and I went back to the old neighborhood and made arrangements at our old parish to be married. She had a dress made and I bought a new sport coat. The wedding sucked. It was cold outside. We both had highly pissed off family. But we did it.
As Catholics, we had believed in waiting until we were married. We went back to my apartment—er, “our” apartment. She dressed in a fancy night gown and lit candles and we made love for the first time. It was really really really great. Quite great. So great that I should mention once again that it was great.
But the honeymoon was over the next morning.
What you have to understand about me is that I was old beyond my age. I was mature in the way I thought about things, very realistic about life. On the other hand, Anne was a dreamer, quite romantic and sentimental about everything. She loves TV shows like Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, I Love Lucy, etc. She also loves movies like Father of the Bride, A Touch of Mink and Bell Books and Candles.
Within a couple of months, I realized my wife was looking at marriage as though it was some TV show. No, she didn’t wear the apron or anything like that. But she seemed to believe everything was supposed to be picture-perfect. I was still in college and working part time, while Anne worked full time. She would come home and act as though the cameras were on and we should sit blissfully together on the love seat in the living room.
But I was having struggles at school and work. I’d be dead tired. Like my dad, I wasn’t very affectionate. I wasn’t into cuddling.
Within six months, things were completely falling apart. I was a married guy with responsibilities and Anne was trying to live a fantasy. My sex drive was going downhill. Her sex drive, however, was in full throttle.
I soon found out that we really had a bigger problem. It seemed Anne partially loved me as a “father figure”, the father she never had, one responsible for building a marriage on a fantasy she had constructed from TV shows and movies. It was smothering me. I felt she wanted to be next to me at my every move. I was no longer Tom; I was, instead, Tom-and-Anne. My friends were OUR friends.
We moved from my crappy artist apartment to something bigger in a better area of Chicago. I remember the arguments. I remember the neighbor below us pounding on their ceiling (our floor) yelling for us to shut up.
The crazy part is that I was still madly in love with her. No, I didn’t want to be her dad, but I loved her vulnerability. My biggest struggle was to help her find an identity as Anne and not “Tom and Anne” or Mrs. Tom B.
So that’s what we focused on. I had to bend as well. I couldn’t expect her to make all the changes. As hard as it was for Anne to find her own identity, it was equally as hard for me to lighten up and relax. We both had great families but at the same time we had both inherited aspects detrimental to our marriage. I didn’t have to be the “man” of the house, the serious one who saw everything as his responsibility or fault. Anne had to give up the unrealistic dreams of what she “thought” marriage should be.
We eventually found our way. A way unique to the two of us.
Writing this, I had to dig deep to remember some of those bad times and that’s a good thing. It’s good because I let them go. Yeah, our first year was hell but I’m glad we didn’t give up. Last February, we celebrated out 39th year of marriage.
Photo by davidwilson1949