Prepared for what? Truthfully, that question never crossed my young mind back when I was saying these words in unison with my sister scouts. Five decades later, I know:
Be Prepared for Curves Life is Certain to Throw You.
This motto came to my mind while I was at an informal gathering of friends recently—all women. One of them told me her story, words tumbling out of her mouth so that I could not get a word in edgewise; I could tell the words were pushed out by pain. I know, from experience, of her need to have someone else listen. She is not my client but she found out I am a lawyer and felt compelled to tell me. I was riveted:
Jon and Mary did it all right. They were correct to the Nth degree. Jon’s parents were Missionaries. He grew up in the mission fields of eastern Europe, dedicated to Christ, as were his parents. His parents are off the field now, working in their mission’s home office not too far from Mary’s home town.
Mary was the daughter of a devout and respected clergyman. Because of this she found herself at the same Christian university as Jon, where they met.
Jon and Mary grew to know and love each other as friends. As fellow believers, they agreed to wait to have sex until after their marriage vows. They stuck to it. They also waited until both had their nursing degrees. All was in place for the perfect wedding and, to follow, the perfect marriage, the perfect life.
Surrounded on both sides by loving and supportive families, they began their careers, working in the same children’s hospital and, while they did not work directly together, they had similar schedules. They purchased a house. They found a church and did meaningful work there. Bliss settled over them like a blessing.
In 2009 Jon secretly arranged with Mary’s boss for her to have a week off in the winter. At Christmas he announced his surprise: A weeklong trip in January to Hawaii for which he had saved on the side. He had even ordered up a new bathing suit and clothes for Mary. She had very little notice—it was wondrous.
Hawaii was everything that Jon planned for. They had the time of their lives, seeing sights, soaking up sun and enjoying one another. Mary was amazed by the romance of Jon’s gesture, and it deepened her love for him, giving her even more faith that he loved her above all else.
Two months after their return, Mary’s pregnancy was confirmed. They were to have a child the following September. They learned it was a girl and, after much prayer for just the right name, they settled on Abigail, a woman of God. They decided that their daughter would be called “Abby.”
In June Jon left Mary to take a week long mission trip in Haiti with their church. He e mailed her every day—long, loving e mails about how he missed her, loved her, and each one contained a special message for little unborn Abby for Mom to read aloud to her. His homecoming was as intense for them both as if he had been gone a year instead of a week.
The very next month, July, Mary noticed Jon’s quiet. It worried her but she chalked it up to baby expectation anxiety. She had some of that herself.
The first week in August Jon came in with a strained look on his face. He sat down at the table where Mary was already seated.
“Mary, I’ve met someone else. I’m sorry—I don’t really want to discuss this because my mind is made up—I am in love with this other person. You must know that I have not been happy for a long time now. I’m moving out. In fact, I’m moving right now. You can have everything here—I just need my clothes.”
This was so quick that Mary had no time to process what was being said. Surely she had misunderstood, but Jon had left, going into the bedroom leaving her there in shock. She could hear him moving around, obviously gathering things to take with him. The panic rose as she realized what was happening.
There ensued a scene. Mary, full of emotion, begged Jon, reminding him of Abby, pleading with him to reconsider. He refused. Cold. The next thing she knew, he was gone.
As it turned out, he had fallen in love with another nurse, a young, twenty-two year old. Jon and Mary were ten years older. She was married, too, without children. She had already started divorce proceedings. Jon thought it would be a comfort to Mary to know that this new woman was excited about helping Jon parent little Abby when she came, sure (she assured him) that she could love her like her own. No comfort to Mary.
Jon learned that he could not get a divorce with a baby on the way. It made no difference, he moved right into his new love’s apartment. He would not return Mary’s calls, dealing with her only through e mail and only in order to take care of joint debts.
When it came time for the baby, he was notified by Mary’s sister, who was also her labor coach, since Jon was missing. He called to say he was in the hospital parking lot, awaiting word of the birth. He did not want to be in the waiting room with Mary’s family—or his, for that matter. His family had united to try to convince Jon that he was making a mistake. This, too, was to no avail.
At Abby’s birth, Jon saw her a few minutes, held her and left. He never asked to see her until they went to court for the first time in November. At that hearing, Jon not only demanded visitation rights, his lawyer raked Mary over the coals as Jon sat there smugly. Mary had changed jobs, not wanting to work in the same hospital with Jon and his honey. Her new job paid her slightly less money, but it offered her very flexible and fewer hours. She felt she needed this since she was now a single parent.
The hearing was a disappointment to them both. Jon did not get unsupervised visitation with this tiny baby whom he did not know and he was ordered not to have this child around his girlfriend until the divorce was final.
Mary was disappointed that she received the standard amount of child support, no alimony and only $200 per month toward their $1200.00 house payment. The judge had done the math and figured out that Mary could make it with this much money—although barely—pointing out that she had made a decision to cut her pay, and he did not feel Jon should have to pick up that slack. Huh?
Move forward to May, when we had our conversation. Jon has seen the baby twice at his parents’ house, preferring to wait until the divorce is final, when he can marry his girlfriend and she can help take care of the baby on visitation weekends. He knows the Court will let him have the baby around her after their marriage.
Mary is in shock at the thought of sending her little one off for “visitation,” especially into the care of a woman whom she does not know and who has been the cause of so much pain. It is something she never saw coming for her child or her life.
Mary is finding that her budget was so conservative that she is barely making ends meet. Her in-laws have graciously stepped in to provide her a cell phone on their account to spare her that bill, at least. She talked about how supportive they are and that they will not meet the new girlfriend, “until they have to when their son marries her.” What? Why then? Sorry, I don’t think the relationship should be countenanced, but I digress into my own opinion.
Mary is in the process of trying to decide if she should look for a job with more money, although it will mean far less time with the baby she must now raise mostly by herself.
And Jon? He’s living the good life. He is paying child support, which is far less than would come out of his pocket for this child if he were in the household, plus $200 per month. He’s living with his honey, sharing her apartment rent, and probably socking money back. He’s pushing for the house to be sold so that he can force the payment of his share of their small equity. And he will be successful.
So Mary is contemplating a move. On her own. Finding a place she can afford and which is appropriate to raise little Abby.
She talked to me obsessively because she is scared. I can tell. She has good reason. This is nothing like the picture of the life she had formulated in her mind and which she had every reason to expect, given her planning and the care in which she conducted herself.
What hurts her most are two things:
- Jon’s allegations of his long, miserable life with her. “It’s not true,” she kept telling me. “I KNOW he and I were happy. He is lying.” and
- The fact that Jon does not care—even one whit—about the hardships she must now endure. “This isn’t the Jon I know. He had a soft heart.” She is learning that when their heads turn, they feel nothing but contempt for the one left behind—contemptuous of anything that might get in the way of what they want.
I know she’s right. I hear it all the time. I’ve heard it in my own case. Men who find lovers suddenly “remember” all the unhappiness no one else knew about for years. Men who find lovers suddenly despise the one they leave behind.
So, I ask: What does one do to protect one’s marriage? The truth is that no one has any control—whatsoever—over the choices that another makes. And you can never predict another person’s choices. Mark it down.
I feel for her, but I believe she will be fine ultimately. She is young and attractive. She will find someone else. She’s afraid of that comfort, too, and asked me where I think she went wrong this time.
So, I repeat:
Uncertainty is the only certainty there is., and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.
John Allen Paulos
- C (for cynic?)