Discover more from "Opening Up"
Boyd's Fortunate Breakup
Prelude to Solid Commitment
"This is not going to work out," Mitzie said matter-of-factly. Sitting across from Boyd at the tear-shaped breakfast bar in his condo, she took another sip of her coffee, shifted her weight in the beige chair and folded her arms across her pink robe.
Boyd felt the muscles in his forearms and in the calves of his legs stiffen.
"What do you mean?" he asked in a raspy voice. He didn't want to hear the answer.
"I'm moving back to Tennessee," she announced. Her brown eyes, unblinkingly met his before they sank into her coffee cup. She again looked up at Boyd in the peaceful quiet of the dark winter morning. He could see in her eyes disappointment and conviction.
"Because that's where I belong. I moved away 15 years ago because I had to. But, now I'm my own person. I can deal with Mom's drinking."
Dressed in a white polo shirt and blue jeans, Boyd sat back in his chair and sipped his orange juice from a tall glass his gnarled hands had learned to handle. It was another of her strange changes in direction that Boyd had come to anticipate after knowing her only six months.
Through Mitzie, he had learned about serendipity, but too many side trips distracted him. Boyd needed a companion who had a clear direction of where she wanted to go. And it would be nice if that direction dovetailed with his.
Maybe it was her divorce, Boyd conjectured. But that was two years ago. Mitzie was acting like a frightened rabbit, which finally escapes back into the taller grass of an undeveloped lot after venturing onto a closely clipped suburban lawn and encountering a deck party of noisy neighbors. But Boyd found himself taking too much time in picturing the analogy.
A solid marriage, good friends, a quiet home, a secure job -- that was his dream. And, despite significant disabilities due to a childhood car-bike accident, he had a promising job as a grain procurement director, the first ticket in rural America to that future.
"You're so placid," she finally added. "You're so weak."
"What do you mean?" Boyd asked blankly, trying to hide his rejection of her irrational conclusions, her harsh charges, her banal past in the lucid stillness of the morning.
"I mean you have no passion ...," she slowly said, sad and resentful. Her right hand left the coffee cup and did a deliberate, controlled flip, as if trying to communicate what she couldn't put into words.
"Passion for what?" Boyd demanded, uncomfortably surprised she had picked on a feeling he had not really explored before. What was passion, anyway?
"Passion for me!" Mitzie blurted out. "Passion for what I stand for! Passion for what I've been through!"
For the first time, Boyd saw her eyes grow sharp, her cheeks draw taut and her upper lip curl into an ugly snarl -- the stance she perhaps had to sometimes take as a nursing supervisor for a metropolitan hospital. "And you don't make decisions."
"What do you mean, I don't make decisions?" Boyd shouted in flat consonants. "How do you think I got to where I am today?"
"Decisions about us -- that's what I mean!" she said curtly, almost under her breath.
"How can I leave a good job and go to Tennessee with you?" he said, resorting to the same question he had posed in previous arguments about the issue. "What about my career?"
"That's what I mean!" Mitzie said, again raising her voice and flinging the backside of her hand toward him with all four fingers spread apart. "No passion! No decision!"
"Mitzie, I need you!" Boyd heard himself saying, knowing he was giving in to that buried longing he suspected many men have for a surrogate mother but suppress as too childish for the adult world. Tears ran down his face. It was not so much that he needed Mitzie. He grieved for his vulnerability and loneliness, exposing a self-pity he didn't know he had.
Boyd had broken the promise he had made to himself as a person with a disability to never admit he needed the emotional support of another person, a spouse or a significant other. He admonished himself for using the code word, "need," that the women's movement had loaded with connotations of weakness and chauvinism.
"See!" Mitzie snapped. "That's what worries me. I don't want to be your crutch."
"I don't want you to become my crutch!" Boyd shot back through his tears, disappointed that she, like so many others during the early 1980s, were not separating emotional and psychological dependency from spiritual and intellectual needs. "That's the last thing I would want to happen!"
"I just can't see myself going through the rest of my life with someone on crutches," she said more calmly. "The other day I was trying to imagine what it would be like -- always moving so slowly ..."
"I thought we had gotten beyond that," Boyd broke in, flinching under the impersonal tone of her analysis.
"No, we haven't," She said quietly. "I don't know what you're going to do. Where are you going to find -- around here -- someone like me?"
Now, nearly four decades later, Boyd finds himself celebrating a 35-year marriage to Shelley and feeling lucky to have escaped that "situationship" with Mitzie precisely because neither of them at that time were ready to make a commitment to each other.
Why lucky? Boyd likes this simple explanation by Anthon St. Maarten:
"A 'situationship' is not a relationship. Excuses about limitations and obstacles are just a lack of courage and commitment. Those who truly want to be together, find a way to make it happen."
Boyd's takeaway tip from his story: Build primary relationships with those who have the potential for coping with unexpected obstacles and limitations.
Here’s to elderhood and vulnerability!
Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF retired, author of “Opening Up” newsletter
“Story-guided Discussion for Finding Peace with Age-related Limitations”
Use “My Latest Legacy Nugget” resources to share your “Opening Up” comment with a family member or friend.
See all past issues of “Opening Up.”
Check guidelines for your “Opening Up” Discussion Group