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On Becoming the Wife I Felt My Husband Always Deserved

“There’s a lingering ache — mostly low-level but sometimes almost unbearable — for how things might have been. Burning with sadness and regret, then flooded with respect and affection, when I see how simple things can be, but how hard they were for me. And worst of all, the ever-present, ragged hole ripped in the past, where this new me might have existed, might even have thrived.”

“I miss you. Please come back.”

It was an uncharacteristic outburst from my husband, not a man given to sudden emotional proclamations. I had just completed some admin, which had taken several hours, and was feeling rather pleased with myself. I hadn’t become frustrated, confused, or so bored I had to leave the house. I’d simply finished the task without distraction or disaster.

To my husband, this was startling behavior. Searching for the right words with a pained expression, he told me he missed the “indescribable chaos.” Charming. It turns out he actually relished the challenge of a wife with undiagnosed, untreated ADHD. After a lifetime on the other side of understanding, I was not persuaded.

When we got together, everyone was surprised — including me. He was the smartest, most successful person I’d ever met. I was the most erratic, exasperating person he’d ever encountered. We’d vaguely known of each other for a while, through a mutual acquaintance, but otherwise our lives didn’t overlap.

He says he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me after a Wild West themed party. In a room full of sexy squaws in chamois leather mini dresses, and cute gingham Calamity Janes, I arrived as General Custer. I was secretly furious that I hadn’t won best costume, my large blonde mustache twitching in indignation. I’d taken things seriously, risen to the challenge, and no one seemed to understand apart from him. He later said he found the facial hair disconcerting but not unattractive, and liked my commitment to historical accuracy. He also thought I was like no one he’d ever met. I though he was a little patronizing. He’d turned up in a suit, straight from work, and could only stay for 5 minutes. This was typical.

After that meeting, he’d arrive to take me out, simmering impatience covered with a thin veneer of politeness. His time was precious, and he worked to a schedule. For me, multi-tasking meant eating dinner in the bath — it’s actually very practical, being both time saving and mess-free. That habit, he said, was non-negotiable and had to stop, although nearly everything else remained. He was constantly surprised by my eclectic mix of friends, yet he was the most unlikely; we shared absolutely no common ground. Opposites most definitely attracted. I was too fascinated to be intimidated. He was probably too puzzled.

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I didn’t expect it to last, but life can be unexpected. He said he liked the challenge. If you believe there’s a strange beauty in our flaws, then you might understand the attraction he felt toward me. I now see that I aroused a need to protect, to shield from the everyday cruelties directed at those that are different.

He always said I made myself a target and would often become exasperated, comparing me to the bird with the different plumage, haplessly straying into the garden and about to be torn apart. Or like someone going headlong into battle without armor. I was always fighting lost causes and defending the underdog.

Living became so much easier once we were properly together. All the day-to-day dull stuff disappeared, allowing me to concentrate on the fun bits. The problem with the truly impulsive is the chaos left in their wake. If they’re lucky, someone is picking up after them, facilitating their responsibility-free existence, and leaving them safe in the knowledge that the bills will be paid and the dishes done.

My husband organized me, and fixed my many mistakes. I barely noticed. In turn, when his jet lag kicked in, I’d happily sit up, glad for the company at 3 am. I hardly slept, and was waiting to burn out, expecting accelerated aging, a stroke, or at the very least a heart attack after reading the regular scary articles in newspapers. I sleep more now. I spent long periods of time alone while he traveled, happily amusing myself with work and projects, his undemanding, free-spirited, resourceful partner.

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He rarely shouts, which is surprising given the continual provocation and I fell in love with his voice, deep and steady. Since I was a child, I’ve often been accused of daydreaming instead of listening, but this simply isn’t true. I was always listening, but my priorities were different. I was listening to the tone of voice, the way the vowels flattened or seemed to fade. The mix of accents, the hesitations. Before you know it, you’ve lost track of the content. So I did listen, just not in the usual way.

Today, my conversations with him no longer start with “You’re not going to believe this…”. Or, “Don’t be angry but…”. Cars remain uncrashed, bathrooms unflooded. Our lives are no longer wrapped in chaos. When did I last lean into a stranger and, entirely innocently, tell them they smelled gorgeous? It’s been a while. Not since I passed through airport security and startled the guard.

I’m more compatible, and life is so much easier, but it’s also less remarkable. Predictability means you lose the element of surprise. Time now stretches past me where once it flashed, crackling and sparking. Days ooze like treacle. Hours would slip away, but now I’m continually surprised by how early it is. It means I’m so much more productive. It also means I’ll have longer with him.

I’ve done lots and lots of things that I wish I hadn’t, and looking back at the picturesque, carnage-strewn landscape means you see horrors all too clearly for the first time. Things you could and should have prevented, people you shouldn’t have hurt, if only you’d realized. Regret is something everyone lives with to a certain extent, but knowing so many of your actions were driven by something that could have been treated? It’s hard.

There’s a lingering ache — mostly low-level but sometimes almost unbearable — for how things might have been. Burning with sadness and regret, then flooded with respect and affection, when I see how simple things can be, but how hard they were for me. And worst of all, the ever-present, ragged hole ripped in the past, where this new me might have existed, might even have thrived —  academic, steady and respectable.

When you’ve seen life in a clearer, easier way, it’s hard to go back.

And then there is my husband, standing on the sidelines, watching as the person he thought he’d spend the rest of his life with gradually disappears. Finally, I see that I was loved, not just despite my flaws — but also because of them. I was cared for in the way everyone should be, by someone who didn’t always understand but still accepted me as I was — his wildly impulsive, unfiltered, nocturnal friend.

So what do I say? That I’m never coming back? I’ve been tamed and re-released into society. My reign of terror is over. And I’ve become the person I always suspected I was, under the layers of difference and impulsiveness. I’m also now the woman I think he should have married in the first place. I just need to convince him.

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