This morning bright and early I received a phone call from my wife. “Happy Anniversary,” she chimed, thrilled with herself for being the first to say it. I looked briefly at my calendar and laughed. “But its not our anniversary,” I said. “Yes it is,” was the reply, “the civil one.” You see we got married twice, once before the law and the other time before God. No matter. It was on neither of these days. And so some fun back and forth ensued.
“Aren’t men supposed to be the ones who forget anniversaries?”
“Well,” she squirmed, “it had to be today.”
“No, it wasn’t, it was the X.”
“So what day do you think the church service was on?” and I knew she was asking not to test me, but because she didn’t know.
“You think we travelled all that way between the two in such a short time period?”
The funny thing is that since we’ve been married, she has never, not even once, gotten the date right…or even remembered it. I always do, and if we are together, take her out. And funnily enough, this exchange is a part of what I love so much about her. The certainty, the joy, the refusal to relinquish the joy even when wrong, the refusal to ever apologise for anything. And it made me realise how much I miss her. And I just saw her, just spent the majority of the last 2 months with her and my children.
And you know what she did to check and see if I was right after we spoke? She googled me. And then she WhatsApp’d me to show me search results showing that it was “not known” if I was married, followed by her remark “?!” So now, I’ve done something wrong. Ahhh, the crooked byways of the mind. How I love her!
But I live in exile. And our physical distance was hammered home to me at the family wedding I attended recently [written about here]. No matter the justification, the question came up relentlessly—“how come you guys aren’t living together?”
Simple. Our family home is in another country. That is “home” for us, and for our children. Work took me overseas. Now, without formal employment, but not yet ready to fully retire, work prospects remain brightest away from “home”. There is no point in uprooting my family until we know this will stick…even though it has been almost a year. There is also the consideration that my family doesn’t like it here—the culture gap is real—so may never come to join me, even if it becomes solid.
And going “home” is professionally threatening to the people I am working with in pursuit of opportunities, to the point where they might question my commitment, wondering if I plan to stay here to see it through. So, I live in exile, and make the best of it.
There is a positive side to exile too, though, and one which I cherish. My id is out and about here, living, feeling free, and needing this to the point of never wanting to give it up. As a result, I am trying to process how to maintain two homes, two lives, separated by an ocean, and to both nourish and sustain the people who depend on me, and myself. It isn’t easy.
It can also be at times quite lonely. I am a master of making minor interactions fulfilling—whether it be with a tennis teacher, someone in my building like the property manager, or some of the other residents—but it is all idle chatter. The Mistress who guides me has articulated her expectations of me, and all of them are “easy” save one—and that is to cultivate and sustain friendships in my personal life. This guidance will eliminate loneliness.
This is challenging because it is not something I have ever really done–cultivating friendships is hard work. I have always had small numbers of deep friendships, and never really actively socialised outside of those circles. I find it exhausting. Indeed, I am a person in need of solitude to recharge, though I really look forward to seeing my friends when I do. Perhaps in recognition of this, my wife has encouraged me to get back together with friends who I know threatened her in the past. Female friends. Ones with whom I have had “chaste” crushes on since I knew them. That was part of the problem for my wife, but she is most graciously giving me a long leash…
My wife understands that I don’t really like being around men. She knows that most of my friends are women—women who are now married women, and whose husbands may or not like having me around (most do not). I do have two close male friends, one of whom lives about an hour or so away, the other, half-way around the world. It’s always good to see them because conversation can pick up naturally where it left off no matter how long the time gap. But Mistress is right, I need to focus on this. I have been reaching out in the kink community, because all of the things I am experiencing need an outlet in conversation. Here I am finding warmth, guidance, knowledge, perspective, but not yet finding friendship.
I have also been rekindling old friends and acquaintances and looking to old networks to find new ones. These things take time, and for some of us, they come more easily than for others among us. But I know she is right to ask me to do this, and in the meantime, finding my way back to old friends has been particularly rewarding, and my wife no longer seems to mind. Can the calm last?
I express love and friendship through food. I have been feeding a dying relative, flying to her city once a month, and cooking for her, spending a few hours with her, listening to her talk, reading to her, talking to her about life. Each time I go, I end up seeing other friends in the area, spending the night in their homes, and cooking for them. My wife doesn’t seem to mind, but one of my relative’s caregivers told me I was being unfaithful and a bad man for cooking for these women. And while I say no to her, part of me wonders if she’s right, and part of me wishes for the simplicity of being able to cook for my wife day in and day out. I miss that terribly, but I also know that if we were living in a way that made that old routine possible, either one or the other or both of us would suffer in other ways.
What can I say or do? Take one step at a time. Find joy in small things. Manage my emotions and actions so that I am fully present with those around me when they are with me. And write. Because writing is a wonderful salve.