Is It Always Greener?

I’d seen it all before.  I recognized all of the signs.

I looked at my girlfriend Jessica from across the room at the town library early that summer.  She was the mother I’d met at special needs playgroup, whose son shared the same diagnosis as my own, had traded “life is hard” stories with me over playdates while our children played side by side (not together, as most children on the spectrum will never do) and we shared bits and pieces of our lives together as much as two strangers thrown together by circumstance.  Her complaints about her husband had grown more stark and more severe as the months had worn on, and another friend in whom I’d seen myself started veering off onto a path that I’d only imagined in my wildest imaginings.

Jessica was heading towards divorce.

I’d heard that couples with children on the autism spectrum were double or triple times more likely to split up.  The stress of the meltdowns, the harshness of the routines that must be adhered to, the financial difficulties of finding the right types of therapy for your child were enough to send many couples into the marital dustbin.  I knew for a fact that Jessica’s husband thought that her son’s odd behaviors and strange rigidity were more a product of her parenting skills than any possible neurological issues.

This actually worried me.  At first Jessica and I had bonded over shared stories of our husbands who often traveled too much, who worked late hours, who took little responsibility for the care of the home or the children.  She had an older, typical daughter and a younger son on the spectrum, so we talked about how our girls were growing up with this atypical family structure of a younger brother who needed all sorts of understanding that didn’t necessarily come easily for a 7 year old girl.

But lately Jessica’s rants about her husband had gone beyond my own brand of “he just doesn’t appreciate all that I do around the house” or the “I wish he didn’t work quite so much” variety.  Instead she talked about controlling behaviors and double standards.  In response, she’d done something I couldn’t imagine either; she’d started spending the martial money like it was going out of style.

But the tell tale sign I knew their marriage was over?  When I looked at her that summery, sunny day from across the library and realized she’d lost a significant amount of weight.  My own cousin had done this ten years prior and within six months of shedding the excess pounds that came from ten years in an unhappy marriage, she was separated from her husband and dating someone else.  A year after that, she was living with the man, and six months after that, she was married to him.

It startled me.  I remembered all of our shared conversations and wondered to myself, what if?  What if I decided it had all become too much? All of the arguments, the insecurities, the opposite interested, the snide comments and snarky digs that created the divide in a marriage?  I’d caught myself more than once recently wondering if my current state of apathy, of unambitious going along to get along was the way I could exist for the rest of my life?  I remembered a conversation I’d overheard years ago:  “She says she wants more?  More of what?”  I wasn’t sure myself.

But when I looked at Jessica from across the library, my own children quietly arguing in the puppet corner, I saw a woman who was happier than I was.  Someone who looked confident and assured and sure.  And I wondered, as I often did, how green the grass really was on the other side.

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