My best friend has a rocky marriage. No, it's not the marriage. It's the guy.
Her husband is a narcissist. I firmly suggested she not marry this guy when her first marriage dissolved. But she was on the rebound and knew she was marrying someone who would treat her well. Nine years later, not so much. Truthfully, in the first year he showed his true colors.
I'd like to say that I've been supportive of her marriage, encouraging her to keep trying, but I was saying "Dump the guy" before she reached her first anniversary. That year, growing large with pregnancy, her father dying of cancer, her husband scheduled corrective eye surgery. He couldn't afford it before, but the end of my friend's first marriage came with a settlement that her new husband felt free to spend. As she drove him home from the eye procedure, fighting a sinus infection that seemed to have taken root with the pregnancy, tears leaking from her eyes as she imagined her father fighting for each remaining breath, her husband told her that he had been dreaming of this corrective eye surgery for two years and now she "was ruining it for him."
Dump him, I advised.
She's been to years of marriage counseling with him, now as their son reaches his 8th year. They've had some happy times -- blips of moments that can't be pieced together to form weeks of happiness, much less months. They fight over her kids from the previous marriage who regard him with disdain. They fight over his free spending habits, his bi-monthly massages and $600 ski equipment. His refusal to help pay for her daughter's college so she has to hide the fact that she's covering the tuition costs. She works long hours, makes more money than him, puts the little guy to bed every night, cooks the dinners, goes to the sports events for the older kids. She's doing it all alone. Oh, wait. He does yard work, but lets her know what a drain it is on him.
Her husband is a little OCD. For instance, one day, she went out to the garage to change the bunny cage, washed her hands afterward, and continued with the rest of her day. That night when she made dinner, her husband refused to eat it because she hadn't worn gloves to clean the bunny cage. One of the biggest fights they have is about keeping the house clean, which isn't easy for most people, but even harder for my friend with the three teenagers, the 8-year-old and the unhelpful husband.
A few weeks ago, she told me the saddest story. She was chopping up jalapenos for dinner while her 8-year-old ate a snack in the kitchen. The cutting board tipped, sending the jalapeno pieces onto the floor. The 8-year-old hopped out of his chair and ran for the back door.
"I'll keep Dad outside until you get those picked up," he said. He knew that his father would blow a gasket if he saw the jalapeno pieces on the floor and then later in his dinner, even if my friend washed them and cooked them.
And that's her son's reality. Keep Dad from getting mad. Keep Dad from throwing a hissy fit.
So, my friend is inching her way toward a divorce. She gives ultimatums. She searches the internet for cute puppies she might get when doesn't have a husband any more. And the other day she upped the stakes.
"If I get a divorce, I'll pay for us to fly to France. You find us a place to stay," she said.
"Deal," I replied. Then I told her she might regret giving me skin in the game since I now had something to gain from seeing her divorce.
I texted her yesterday about great prices on flights to Europe, in case she needs incentive to hurry along her divorce.
She tells me, "I'm the only one in the room who has been through an awful divorce. I'm the only one who knows how hard it is."
Which is true.
But I haven't said to her, "You're the only one in the room who is living with a man who treats you with total disregard, who puts you last but expects you to put him first, in front of yourself, in front of your kids."
The trip to France was not the only skin I have in the game. She's my best friend. Every time he treats her badly, it scrapes away at my skin, wearing it raw as I see my best friend worn down into a numb person, moving through life like a race as if the finish line will provide her relief.
My stake in this game is the love of my friend -- and a trip to France.
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