May 12, 2004


I don't really know what else to call this one. I had a dear, old friend over the house last night. He was in from out of town. He stayed over and came into the city with me this morning for meetings. Then, he heads back home. We talked on the train out last night, after dinner when the kids were asleep, and this morning on the way in.

His life is falling apart -- work, marriage, kids. The whole thing.

Work: It stems from this, maybe. He lost his job. The fourth one in a row. He's a lawyer, from an Ivy League law school, who had jobs with two of the most prestigious law firms in NY, a big investment bank in NY, and a law firm in the Mid West where he and his family moved after he lost his third job. The fourth job he lost was in the Mid West where the firm had recruited him and had also been happy to employ his wife as a lawyer. She was working at a big firm in NY. She is now happily on her way to a lucrative partnership at this new firm, probably by next year.

So, effect? Well, succinctly, he feels like a failure and she wonders, he says, whether she married a bum who can't keep a job. That leads us to marriage.

Marriage: Their marriage has always been filled with tensions, any observer would agree. Too many, in fact, for me to go into here. Let it suffice that I note that even before the job issues, there were tensions. I think that she feels trapped. Trapped because of the kids, who, as a nurturer type, she'd like to stay home and take care of. Trapped into being the main bread winner because she not only can hold a job, she excels at the practice of law (she does real estate law). Clients love her and the firms she's worked at love her. She's scared. My friend is dealing with feelings of failure and loss and self-esteem issues. To cope, he's thrown himself into a start up venture to which, based on hearing the business plan he's going to present this morning to some investors, I ascribe a very low possibility of success. That means he works at night a lot, after the kids are in bed. What does she do? She watches television and drinks a little wine. Maybe, my friend worries, more than a little. What do they not do? Well, clearly talk. Forget about having sex, which I think you will agree, is an essential component of a good marriage. But they are not even talking. Or if they are, I wonder, are they listening to each other? Does he understand how she needs reassurance that this won't be forever and does she understand that he needs to be told that she does not think he's a shiftless bum (his words there, by the way). Do they remember that they are playing for the same team? Do they still love each other even? Did I mention, as a complicating factor, that her mother lives with them now? Like it couldn't get any worse, right?

It is naive to think that love is the answer or that all you need for a good marriage is love. No, a good marriage takes work. It is a partnership, it is constant compromise, it is giving of yourself and receiving from the other. Love is the reason you do it, but love is just the starting place. Sorry, here endeth my sermon on marriage and love.

Nevertheless, the tension in that house is apparently so thick that, forget the knife, you would need a skill saw to get through it. That brings us to the kids.

Their boy is not yet three and the girl is closing in on one. The boy is clearly troubled by the tension and, according to my friend, ungovernable and uncontrollable. The friend and the wife are not talking, so forget about coming up with a consistent plan to manage the boy, who after all, they should be able to handle and out think. And, if they do have a plan, it does not survive the guilt feelings the wife has from not being home more. Children are naturally manipulative and my friend says the boy plays on the guilt and that makes it nigh impossible for them to present a united front.

I despair of being able to help him or his wife, who I dearly love. By nature, I want to help my friends. I want to make everything right. No way I can do that here. I am watching him hold on with whatever he has left inside and I worry that it won't be enough.

We trooped off to bed on the early side because my friend has his meeting and my wife has another job interview this morning.

I got into bed with my wife after we said good night to our friend and I held her extra close, and I told her I loved her a little more emphatically than usual, and I told her how lucky I felt I was to have her, and I reflected on my comparative good fortune. As I drifted off to sleep, I realized that in many of the important ways, home, marriage, children, we are blessed. [Excuse me now while I spit three times to avert the evil eye.] Seriously, I think of my friend and I wonder if, there but for the grace. . .

I wonder how many of us are truly just one pay check away from watching our whole lives disintegrate. Too many of us confuse our identity and our self-esteem with our job. I hope I don't. My wife and I have talked about this before. When it seems like her career is going better than mine, we prioritize her career and I pick up the slack at home. Why? Because we are a team and I am as proud, prouder even, of her successes than I am of mine and because supporting each other is what we do. When mine is going better, the reverse. We simply do what's best for the team. I would not hesitate to quit my job and fly off to wherever with her if she was presented with an outstanding career opportunity and I know that she would do the same for me. Again, it's what's best for our team that matters. I worry that my friends don't see the world like that.

So, today, I start my day sad. Sorry for the long post, but I needed to write it. Can you think of a better title?

Posted by Random Penseur at May 12, 2004 08:07 AM
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