If I had to pick a pivotal topic within our marriage that changed the course of our future, I would pin it to decisions that evolved around motorcycles and boats. Maybe this sounds lame to some people – that our marriage hinged on what happened relevant to two inanimate objects. Well first, I must inform you that there is nothing inanimate about boating or for that matter, motorcycling. Both in fact add animation to life. Or at least I’d say they add “living” to life.
Bob and I are passionate people with strong opinions and a commitment to living life to the fullest. Some people may be okay just cruising through life on autopilot. Not us. We want to experience life. It is fleeting after all. Our strong passions for life could have been a great asset to our marriage and I’d say early on it was as we shared many common interests. But as time marched on, the strength of our desires evolved with different emphasis.
Bob loves motorcycles and I like them ok. I love boating and Bob likes boating well enough. But both of these things were catalysts for each of us to make decisions that were self-centered at the time. Although, looking back over the past 18 years, I can conclude that it was inevitable. You see, Bob had to become a Harley rider. And I had to become a boat owner. We just had to. But each got in the way of the other and this is when the trouble started.
When Ian was about 2 years old, I got a substantial raise at my job. I wanted to buy a boat that we could all enjoy together as Ian got older. Bob thought it was a good time to buy his first Harley. We could have finally afforded either, albeit a modest selection of whichever one we chose. But we certainly couldn’t afford both. I don’t really know what the market is for Harley’s now but back then, there was a waiting list for the most basic Harley you could get. And the type of boats we both liked was Mastercraft brand. They are what our friends had and what I felt most comfortable in. Bottom line, neither of these items is cheap!
So a few months into my new job and income, Bob didn’t so much ask me as much as he announced to me that he had put himself on the wait list for a bike. What? I was pissed. How were we going to enjoy this investment with a two year old? Three people do not fit on a motorcycle! Bob’s response was that we would get his mom to watch Ian when we went on the bike. I just saw this as a completely selfish move and one that took money we could use for so many things (eh hem… a boat!) and divert it to this extravagance that only Bob could truly enjoy. Still “we” proceeded with the purchase of Bob’s first Harley.
Conversely, a few years before Ian was born, we had developed a circuit of friends who owned and/or enjoyed boating and waterskiing. I fell in love with the sport and everything about being on the water. Waterskiing was really the first sport I felt reasonably good at. It was freeing and boating itself was simultaneously energizing and relaxing. Bob was actually a much better skier than me back in the day. So it motivated me to get better, to keep up. But I wanted more rope time. So we went with friends as often as we could. We started going on houseboat trips to Lake Cumberland where one could get in several opportunities to ski each day. I looked forward all year every year to these houseboat trips and being back on the lake. As soon as we got in our cars to leave the lake each year, I looked fondly upon my return. Then in the fall of ‘97, our friends who we’ll call Bill and Crystal and who also happened to be both boaters and Harley riders, bought a house on the Scioto River in Columbus. … in the ski zone! It was awesome because we enjoyed each other’s company and they were very gracious in sharing their amenities with us.
As spring ’98 approached, it was time to plan the houseboat trip which usually took place in June. Instead, Bob announced to me that he and Bill had been talking and that they wanted for the four of us to forego the houseboat trip this one year and instead go to Milwaukee for the Harley Davidson 95th Anniversary celebration. Well it wasn’t a houseboat trip but it was only one year we’d miss it and this would be a different type of memorable experience. So I agreed. Just this one year.
The next spring, again it was time to plan the houseboat trip and I had heard no talk of it. So I asked Bob and he announced to me that this year, he and Bill were instead going to go to Sturgis for another Harley thing. I suggested I may not be interested in doing that and Bob informed me that it was going to be an all guys trip anyway. No women allowed. Really? When confronted with my displeasure of this situation, Bob said, “What’s the big deal? We can ski on the river anytime we want with Bill and Crystal.” What? That is NOT THE SAME! That’s not the lake NOR a houseboat trip!!!
So faced with missing a second year in a row at my beloved lake, I asked Bob if he minded if I tried to find another houseboat trip to go on. He said he didn’t care, a decision he would live to regret for quite a while. I knew of at least one other friend who was going on a trip and promptly made a call to ask her if there was room for me. Of course there was. So both out of spite and desire, I packed my bags and was on a houseboat on Lake Cumberland in about three weeks.
I was so giddy the morning of the trip I couldn’t contain myself. It was like I was overwhelmed with a sense of freedom. I was deciding how to live my life rather than someone else dictating it to me. I ended up riding down with a friend of the friend who planned the trip along with a few others. None of which I knew all that well. All the way there I felt a connection developing to this person – not as a love interest. Not at all at that point. He was just someone who shared my passion for boating, philosophy about life, and who was excessively easy to talk to. He got me! Bob used to get me but somewhere along the way, he stopped getting me and just became critical of me. Why wasn’t I more this or less that?
This new friend and I proceeded to spend endless hours talking about everything from family to our academic backgrounds, our professional backgrounds, to our mutual dream of living on a body of ski-able water. Oh and did I mention he had a Mastercraft ski boat?!?! We also ventured into the turbulent waters, quite literally, of discussing my current marital strife. As we talked, I felt this urgency building inside of me that if I didn’t choose to start living my life my way now, I was going to be one of those people lying on their death bed suffocated by regret. It weighed on me like a ton of bricks. And I was so pissed that Bob, so caught up in his own desires, couldn’t see I was missing out on my life. So, while I gave a lot of thought during that trip as to what my life could be as someone choosing my own path, I gave little thought to what it wouldn’t be… what it could no longer be.
I returned from the houseboat trip to announce to Bob three days later that I wanted a divorce. And that was that. Bob and I split up over motorcycles and boats.
Of course, this isn’t true. We didn’t split up over things. We split up because we both stopped treating each other as we wanted to be treated. We stopped honoring each other’s desires and wanting each other to be happy. We had both become consumed with our individual dreams and forgot to listen to each other. We forgot about our little dream family we had created. Bob wanted his boyish freedom to roam the country with his buddies. I wanted the freedom of skiing behind a boat any time I chose. Although I also wanted to introduce my son to the boating experience as I’m sure Bob wanted to indoctrinate Ian on the ways of the Harley rider. In the end though, it was really about each of us wanting the right to live the life we wanted to live, not one that was thrust upon us.
After our divorce, Bob got his Harley and free time with the guys. I got my boat, more rope time, and a whole new group of friends. Friends that liked me for me, not because I was Bob’s wife. Friends that shared my love of boating and the lake. I don’t think either of us regrets having these things in our lives now. They are the fabric of who we each have become. But it’s unfortunate we couldn’t figure out how to make room for both of these things in our family.
Ian liked, but I wouldn’t say loved, boating when he was very young. He tolerated it and liked the swimming but didn’t really get into watersports until middle school at which point, he started wakeboarding and grew to like that a lot. As soon as Ian was old enough to hang on to his dad securely, he road with him on the back of his bike. I’m sure he enjoyed that just as I did as a child with my dad riding on his Honda with him. I’m glad Ian has gotten to experience both of our passions just as we’ve shared in his passion for music. And maybe our divorce was the only way that was ever all going to happen.
If you are struggling in your relationship with conflicting dreams, I think it is key to understand your partner’s passions and support them. Nothing will kill a relationship more quickly than denying someone their dream. If you don’t know what they are, you had better ask. If you think you know her dreams, you better make sure you’re right and are paying attention. If those dreams conflict with yours, you must work through it. Don’t leave it to chance and don’t make assumptions. We know what that does.
This doesn’t mean you should allow your partner’s dreams to keep you from living yours. If someone loves you and wants to be with you enough, make sure they know what your dreams are. You can’t be pissed that they killed your dreams if they don’t know what they are. And for God’s sake, make sure they’re listening. If your partner doesn’t work with you to help you achieve your dreams or worse, stands in your way of them, you’re probably headed for trouble or already in it. Likewise, if you can’t come to terms with the dreams your partner holds and find room for compromise, you’re going to struggle. Best to move on from the relationship because one or both of you will always be haunted by your unlived dreams.