This one isn’t me. It arrived by email, with a request for anonymity.
It’s a parable of sorts. An analogy, where the UK is the wife in a doomed marriage and who is trying to escape it. It struck a chord with me, for sure, and with only a couple of days left to the Big Vote, I thought it well worth an airing.
It might help to explain, in simple terms, what both sides of the debate have been explaining in complex terms.
Anyway, have a read. See if it makes sense to you and if it does, pass it on. If it doesn’t, it’s a very good piece of writing anyway.
To leave him. To leave this trapped life where my decisions are no longer mine. I would rather be alone than lonely in an abusive marriage in my own house. Oh he has never laid a finger on me but the little cruelties that can crush your soul and destroy your spirit little by little. Year by year.
In front of everyone he pretends everything is fine. That I’m as happy as any wife has a right to be. But I’m not free, the basic freedoms that we take for granted are a luxuries that I can no longer afford. That I was never able to afford. They were always an illusion.
We’ve been married for so long that I’ve almost forgotten why we got married in the first place. It was the seventies, I had my independence, I was mistress of my own destiny. But my friends were getting married and it still seemed the thing to do. Everyone told me that I didn’t want to be left on the shelf. What was I going to do, my friends would say, live by myself? Was that even safe? A woman alone without a husband, living by herself? Apparently, in spite of the emancipation, I still needed a man to give my life meaning and keep me safe.
I wondered whether I was doing the right thing. Whether getting married to a man I scarcely knew was the right thing for me. There was a voice in my head whispering that I didn’t need a man to feel complete, to be safe, to feel that my life had meaning; that I didn’t need a man to enjoy the rewards of my financial independence. I didn’t need a man to go on holiday to beautiful destinations, I didn’t need a man to eat in fancy restaurants, I didn’t need a man to fix the odd job around the house. And yet I decided to ignore that voice, to shut it in a remote recess of my brain and walk down the aisle with this handsome man, to tie my future to his until death do us part.
On paper he was perfect. A good family, educated at the best schools, well-travelled, passionate about art and classical music. His father was a French intellectual, a champagne socialist from an aristocratic if no longer wealthy family. His mother was the youngest daughter of a German industrialist, who, ignoring his daughter’s obvious business sense, had thought it more useful to marry her off to a French aristocrat in the hope of making people forget his own working class beginnings. My husband’s family was rich in status if not in cash. But I didn’t care about all of that. He was handsome and passionate. My friends swooned and I let myself be swept up by the wedding mania that was affecting all of them.
At first I was hopeful. I had told him many times I wanted to maintain my independence. Financial and otherwise. After all I was my own woman, a child of the seventies. I made it clear I wanted to continue working. I had landed a job in a bank, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My hard work was being rewarded and I was getting promoted. Being paid less than my male colleagues wasn’t at the time the concern it is today. It was the seventies; looking at my friends I considered myself lucky that my parents had always encouraged me to study and have a career.
The first few months after the wedding were oh so exciting. We would go on romantic city breaks on the spur of the moment: Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona. And then Prague, Budapest, Athens. The summer would be spent on Greek Islands or in the south of Italy. Friends would drop by for dinner or come and stay for the weekend. I didn’t mind. They were exotic and exciting.
Little by little things started to get awkward. I was working hard every hour of the day. On the way home I would stop by the supermarket to buy food to make dinner for whoever my husband had happened to invite that day. I would get home, prepare dinner, entertain our guests until they decided it was time to leave, which was never before midnight. I would then tidy up, go to bed to start it all over again the following morning.
It was the same almost every day and worse over the weekend. People would come and stay, unannounced, uninvited. I tried asking him if we could maybe limit the dinner parties to one or two evenings a week, or maybe have a weekend to ourselves once a month.
At first he would say he understood but didn’t want to be rude to that friend who had already booked flights to come and stay, or seem ungrateful after that other friend had hosted us in his place in Majorca last year. He said his friends didn’t expect fancy dinners, and I loved cooking so what was the harm in cooking for a few extra people as I would have cooked for the two of us anyway, and where you can feed two, surely you can feed three or five. I tried to point out the fallacy in his logic but he wasn’t having it.
I kept at it. Told him how tired I was and how important it was to keep my eye on the ball at work since my salary was the main income in the household. I kept this last part to myself trying to protect his ego. After a while, however, he became aggressive. Started accusing me of not liking his friends, of being an unsociable miserable cow, of being stingy.
It’s too much. All the broken promises, the lies. We’re supposed to be in this together but somehow my words don’t matter. I work but he makes all the decisions. He convinced me early on to let him look after my money and now I can’t even buy a new hoover without his permission. In exchange, he said, he’d keep me safe.
Safe? He ignored my protests when a guest tried to molest me, saying it was nothing, just his manner, and anyway, I must have led him on. He ignored me when I asked to install a security system in the house, saying I was being paranoid; now we’ve been burgled twice in the space for a few months. So much for protection. He promised fine things yet we never seem to have enough money, and he’s always ‘borrowing’ from me.
I tried to talk to him, to make him understand. I wanted this to work. He said he’d change, that all relationships require compromise, but nothing happened.
Then he got angry. He started insulting me. He accused me of not loving him, of not having any feelings, of not caring for our marriage, that I love nobody by myself. He told me that I’m greedy, that all I care about is my job, and the house and our “financial security”. But all these things? Apparently, I owe them all to him.
When I corrected him, telling him I was fine on my own, more than fine, I was happy on my own, with a good job and house and career, he threatened to take away all we had, not caring whether it made his life worse, so long as he had his revenge on me.
How can I live like this? Day after day, trapped in a relationship where I have no say. I’ve made up my mind. I’m leaving. I’m leaving him.
Oh sure, my friends are horrified – what kind of person am I? What does it matter that I have no say in our relationship if all the decisions he makes are in my best interest? So he invites a ‘few’ friends over, am I really that antisocial? So some might be over friendly, why must I be so judgemental? That’s the continental way, poor ignorant bumpkin that I am. The burglaries? Probably poor chaps who had no other choices. Can you imagine what it must be like to be so poor that your only choice is to commit a crime?
How will I cope on my own, they say? How will I make my living? No one will ever love me again; no one will invite me for dinner because nobody likes a singleton. What about holidays? Do I know how much single holidays cost? How humiliating to book a single holiday. What are my employers going to say? What are they going to think about having a divorced woman on their books? And yes, my husband isn’t perfect but let’s be honest, I’m nothing special and I’m lucky to have him, it’s not like I can do any better. Who will ever want me? I will be alone in the world.
Well, so much for my friends. I’m worth more than that. I believe in myself. I trust myself. It’s more important to make my own choices and accept the ups and downs, than rely on a strong man who says he’ll take care of everything but actually can’t even take care of himself. A man who says that without him I am nothing and could do nothing. I could have done everything in my life without him, and I sure as hell can thrive when he’s gone.
It’s about dignity.
It’s about self-belief.
It’s about my life, on my terms.
It’s time to leave.