It crosses my mind. Occasionally I think about it, maybe too much, maybe too often. Then I feel guilty.
It hasn’t happened, in the years since the strokes, it hasn’t even been close, it’s just there, too much, too often.
It’s not like I am a paragon of virtue, it’s not like I have had to turn people away, there haven’t been any real opportunities, it just hasn’t happened, but the guilt for just thinking about it, for rationalizing it, is omni-present.
I recognize there are people in the world who don’t need to closely connect with others, they don’t need an intimate relationship, they don’t need to be touched, they don’t need to be held, kissed, or caressed. I’m not one of those people.
The longer this care giving gig goes, the more I come face to face with who I am and what I need and want. I need all of those things, I need intimacy, I need affection, I need to be held tight, it’s more than just want, it’s more than just desire, I think I need those things in my life.
There are a lot of people in the world who are either in the same life circumstance as Marty and me or have been there and moved on with life. Our circumstance is unusual because of our relatively young age but we are not wholly unique and I am not the first to struggle with the concept of living a promise when so life’s circumstances have so radically changed.
There are many, like me, who have had a forced and premature celibacy. There are many like me who forgo and miss the physical and emotional intimacy that is a part of a healthy relationship between two loving and caring people. It’s not news that some of those same people try and find ways to meet those needs through someone other than their life’s partner. It’s also not news that those affairs are fraught with guilt.
The plain truth is the tug of touching, holding, being held, is inevitable and for some of us, primal and part of what makes us a whole being. To find ways to get physical and emotional needs met while keeping faith with the person you promised to love and honor in sickness and in health till death do you part when they can’t meet those needs is a long impossible struggle.
The needs, the desires don’t die with the onset of catastrophic illness. They get set aside, they become a low priority for a while, but they still exist, they still pull you, they still start deep in the pit of your stomach pulling and aching to be released. The feeling, the desire to touch and be touched never dies, it’s like being really thirsty and the only thing around you is the salty ocean, forbidden, untouchable, dangerous to drink, and, like time spent afloat on an empty ocean, the longer you are there, the more isolated, the more thirsty you become.
Just to be clear, this not just about sex. This is about intimate two way conversations, this is about a touch, a breath, a smell, a sight; this is about the kind of intimacy human beings were created to crave, this is about tactile and emotional touchstones that make us very human and make us want to be with another being.
I can rationalize the idea of finding someone to fill the gap, to meet the need, in fact, I have. In my mind, in the dark parts of my mind, I have rationalized developing a relationship with someone else, having an affair. Why not? I have a wife whom I love and cherish but through no fault of her own or mine simply can’t love and cherish me in a demonstrable way, and that will never, ever get better. I’m a good, loyal man, how far does the good and loyal have to go?
I know Marty loves me, I know she appreciates beyond measure what I do for her, what I have sacrificed for her. I know I am forever and always in love with her, we both know and understand there are things in this life she can never do again, ways she can’t care for me. Is there a moral high ground here?
It’s a problem, a problem for a lot of spousal caregivers who come to the realization that significant and meaningful parts of what once was can never be again with their spouse. It’s a problem because the need to be emotionally and physically loved doesn’t go away, the needs continue, they exist in a very real way, in a way the broken spouse can’t meet, in a way that directly contradicts the vows of marriage.
The vow I took, the promise to love and honor, in sickness and in health till death do us part stays with you. Sometimes the dreams, the fantasies a real human being constructs don’t include the vows, they hide from the promises I made 35 years ago. The vows don’t take into account living with illness, caring for the chronically ill, forgoing an important part of life that you are not ready to forgo, that no one should be required to forget.
There are no good answers. The real answer is for no one to get so sick and still live. How’s that for the hard and ugly truth? I neither like nor accept that truth, it’s not what I want now, it’s not what I want for tomorrow. I don’t want the illness, I mourn for Marty and I grieve every day for my own loss, but I cherish her presence even in the face of the loss of parts of my, our life.
I don’t know what to do except keep doing what we do, keep living day to day and accept what comes tomorrow as part of the process. I don’t know……