Sometimes when I’m with my husband, I imagine the women that might come after me, the women I have dubbed the after-women, another relationship.
My husband has told me that one woman he dated got him to adopt a skincare regimen. Another he got a restraining order against. Another got him to try role-playing. Another he calls “Satan.”
I have wondered about myself and our relationship and what little thing that would become to describe me to the after-women.
My husband thinks this is ridiculous. “Are you just expecting us to divorce?” he asked me recently.
“No!” I said. Because that’s true. I actually believe strongly that this is my forever someone and I will be with him for a long long while (read: when they pry my cold dead fingers off of him).
So why do I imagine these after-women when I don’t believe there will ever be any?
Because contemplating the potential end of my relationship relates to how contemplating the end of my life can help me live more choicefully.
Regular contemplation of death can lead to a deep experience of joy as old attachments and negative habits are released.
In Bhutan, people contemplate death five times a day as part of their Buddhist tradition, and instead of being deeply depressed and suicidal, they are citizens of The World’s Happiest Country. By focusing on their own mortality, they are acutely aware of the scarcity of their time on this planet and therefore make choices based on finding peace, meaning, and joy in life.
Mark Manson addresses this same concept in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:
“Death scares us. And because it scares us, we avoid thinking about it, sometimes even acknowledging it, even when it’s happening to someone close to us. Yet, in a bizarre, backwards way, death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured. Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero.”
I have been married before, and my marriage went down in flames. My husband and I are within the first year of our marriage, and another marriage that could end in another divorce terrifies me.
As soon as we moved from just dating to boyfriend/girlfriend, my head moved from elation at our new level to commitment to panic at the idea of having a second ex-husband.
However, at the time, I found myself shutting off all thoughts of our relationship ending as a way to compensate, of telling myself to “Just focus on the present!” But my just for today’s could never totally drown out the imaginings I’d have of dividing our shared assets and the searing emotional pain much like amputating a limb.
During one week, which happened to be the anniversary of when I filed for divorce, I kept bringing up things about my ex-husband. He was on my mind. Our marriage and its devolvement were on my mind, and my then fiancé started repeating once he’d obviously had enough, “Do we really need to talk about him again?”
I wondered then if this was something he would tell an after-woman. I imagined him at dinner, maybe at a first date, where the conversation inevitably turns to what happened in your last relationship.
“She talked about her ex way. too. much.” He would say and maybe punctuate it with an eye roll.
The after-woman would shake her head incredulously and say, “Oh really?” and then place her hand on his arm. She, of course, then would take note never to mention her exes’ names ever. (I will point out at this point in my imaginings, I have trouble not screaming.)
Therefore, contemplating the end of our relationship and the potential of the after-women makes me aware of what’s important.
I fought with my ex-husband. We shouted. Someone or both of us got called names. Sometimes walls got punched, dining room tables got flipped over, or remote controls got thrown.
The other night, my husband and I were bickering. We aren’t fighters, but we still sometimes get endlessly frustrated with one another, so we both retreated to separate areas of the house to cool off.
I had the decision then. I could hold onto my anger. I could worry it, much like a scab you can’t keep yourself from picking at. I could let it fester and then have it come out in mundate, unrelated interactions. I could feed it until it grew from a tiny snake to an Amazonian boa constrictor.
I instead let go. I can’t even remember now what had been the source of our irritations with one another because I walked out of our bedroom and said, “I love you. I’m sorry. Would you like to watch whatever you want on TV and get a back rub?”
He said, “Really?”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because I love you, and this is silly. Let’s have a nice night.”
Every moment, I get to ask myself questions: would I rather connect and share honestly with my husband or sit next to him and mindlessly scroll through the TV channels (and, to be fair, both can be acceptable at given times)? Should I fight with him over the dishes, or let it go? Am I truly letting this go, or will this keep irritating me and I should tell him now that it bothers me?
I get to decide what to do from a place of understanding that our time together is limited and precious and could end. Either one of us could die. Our marriage may end up in flames regardless of how certain I was about entering it.
But, for this moment and all the moments we have together, why not work to make it the best and most joyful it can be?