Living Together Left Me $26,000 in Debt
By Amy Hennessy
The year Chris finally became a jet pilot, we stopped flying together. He took his mom to Las Vegas all the time, but it was too hard to get me a seat, he said I wasn't family. One day, my mom sent me a book about a man who loved airplanes more than his fiancée. My parents hated that I was just living with him, but I'd done it against their wishes, and I was determined to make it work. I'd already downgraded my wedding fantasy: Gone were visions of a big party and my perfect puffy dress. I replaced them with a smaller, simpler ceremony. After all, I rationalized, we'd been together so long, who needed a big party? I knew his friends; he knew mine. That May, yet another one tied the knot. "You'll be next!" she laughed. It was a running joke. But I felt like the punch line. Finally, I confronted him.
"Where do you see your life in five years?" I blurted out.
"I don't know," Chris said.
"C'mon," I pressed. "Do you see yourself in a house? What do you see?"
"I think I'll have a house," he said slowly. "And I'll be a captain. And I'll have a better car."
I couldn't believe it; I didn't figure anywhere in his five-year plan.
"Do you see yourself married?" I asked.
"I don't think I do," he said carefully.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Don't you like this the way it is?" he asked.
"I think you need to leave," I said.
It's been two years now, and I haven't really dated anyone since. For months, I cried like crazy, for the lost time, the lost dream who I'd become waiting for him, what I'd put on hold. Because after I dried the tears, this is what I saw: I had been 23, and hopeful, when Chris first stepped off that plane. At 31 I was single again, scarred, and starting from scratch. Worse, perhaps. I had far more debt $26,000 than when I met him. Not to mention the $36,000 he owed me in back rent alone which he acknowledged, and I tried, in vain, to collect. If we were married, it would be different. After all, I did the time. But I was never his wife, and I had no recourse.
I thought about it a lot. When, exactly, our relationship froze; why I was willing to prop us both up for so long. I don't think I'm alone in this. I've seen plenty of smart, strong friends go to amazing lengths to keep broken relationships aloft. But I do, in part, blame myself. Sure, I was good to Chris. I was good at supporting his dreams, and absorbing his debts, but at my own expense. I hated myself for that. So I took a long, hard look at the should-haves: ultimatums I didn't issue, signs I refused to see, and why I didn't pull the rip cord much sooner. All I can say is that it's curious how myopic we become in the pursuit of love and particularly marriage. I didn't need it. I wore the suits. I was the breadwinner. But, I had to admit, beneath the career woman was this retro me, the Amy in that vintage cartoon, who really wanted it clamored for her big dress, her turn to cut the cake, but also for something more enduring: the commitment I imagined marriage would provide. It's why I pinned my hopes on Chris for so long. I still hope to find it. Only this time, I won't try to will it into existence. I'll look for someone willing to give it in return.