The home where I existed | Vignettes of my failed marriage

I distinctly remember driving home one evening in the dark. It was late fall, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, so it was chilly and had already been dark for several hours. I don’t remember where I was returning home from exactly, but I remember the street and the exact stop sign I was at when the realization hit me–hard. My life felt exactly like it did when my (currently deployed) husband was home-except I was happier. I didn’t have that constant looming apprehension that I was going to disappoint him again today. Somehow. Because, really it was an implied inevitably of my life.

I’d become so accustomed to being varying levels of disappointing, the feeling was intrinsic. Just part of my marriage. Just part of how I viewed myself.
“What? Should we try to be messier? Is that what actually you want?”
“It just stresses me out, could you at least try?”
“I know, it’s sort of silly, but it just makes me feel better this way.”
“I don’t have OCD, I’m just particular.”
“Yea, but my way is the best way.”
“It’s okay, you know these things just matter to me anyway, I can get up extra early before work [when I already wake up at 4:45am to head to work by 6am, and usually don’t leave work until at least 6pm] and take of them. It’s fine.”

The realization hit me. I didn’t know the last time I felt truly comfortable in my own home. In his defense, of course I didn’t want to live in a super messy house. And some of his expectations made sense and were perfectly reasonable. It was just when they all started piling up, one on top of another…on top of another…and another…until it crushed me.

• All dirty dishes go directly into the dishwasher, don’t just set them to soak in the sink (I did that all the time, because I like taking care of the dishes when I feel like taking care of the dishes)
• If dishwasher is running, wash dishes by hand (I rarely, if ever did that)
• Dishwasher should be emptied shortly after it’s done (I emptied the dishwasher when I felt inclined to)
• Spray down shower after each use (Makes sense, helps keep it clean, I was just bad at remembering)
• Take off shoes in the house (Yep. Sounds great, I’m on board.)
• All shoes should be left in mud closet set neatly in pairs (Nope. I took them off, but I never carried them in a pair to the closet)
• The heat should never go above 65 degrees in the winter (“You can put on a sweater and use a blanket”)
• The entire pot of coffee needs to finish brewing before you can take a cup (I hadn’t known, but he made a good point, that as the coffee brews, it will be different strengths that all level out at the end.)
• He won’t drink already ground coffee, must be freshly ground before brewing
• The bed should be made with crisp ‘hospital corners’ (but I never did that, so he gave up the fight on that one)
• The bed should be made every morning by the last one up (this was almost always me, but then it got to the point where even if he was the last one out of bed, it was implied ‘Carly work’)
• Taking out the trash is ‘Carly work’
• Mowing the lawn is ‘Carly work’
• Raking the leaves is ‘Carly work’
• Towels in use should always be hung on racks, and folded in thirds with edges to the back
• Bathroom towels should all be rolled and folded on the closet shelf like this
Nothing should be stored on the bathroom counter except soap
• The bathroom counter should be wiped down after each use to avoid water spots (I rarely did this because it’s water. I’ll just clean up the water spots when I clean the entire bathroom, this earned me the name Aqua Girl)
• Dry off completely before you step out of the shower (Makes sense)
• Always replace the toilet paper roll once you finish the last one
• Fold all blankets on the sofas before bed
• No sex during my period (because I’m “just icky”)
• All drinks should be consumed from their appropriate glass (Except I have the unbreakable plastic wine glasses he bought me for Christmas-because I spilled too often, “Aqua Girl strikes again”, and I accidentally broke glasses too much. I also bought some stemless ones. I was less likely to knock those over being embarrassingly clumsy, which I admittedly am.)
• Curved pint glasses should all be placed on the left side of the shelf
• Standard pint glasses on the right

• All glasses stored with their openings face-down
• Only alcoholic beverages should be kept in the bar fridge
• All beer should be removed from cardboard containers and placed in even rows with their labels facing forward
• All new bottles of hard alcohol should always be hit on the bottom by everyone present before its opened
• The metal cap covering the champagne cork take six twists to unwind, those should always be counted, out loud, every time.
• Alarm clocks need to be checked with the lights on and then checked again after the lights are out
• Bread should always be cut on the wooden cutting board
• Cheese should only be served on/eaten from the wooden cutting board
• Bread and cheeses should be cut as parallel in equal sizes
• Cheeses should always be different colors (they can’t be different flavors of the same color)
• We must go down every aisle of the grocery store each time we bought groceries (because “we might have left something off the list”)
• Fruits should be cut in equal wedges from the center (not in a square around the pit/seeds, because “That’s the wrong way to do it”)
• I shouldn’t be in the kitchen when he is baking because I’m distracting and/or in the way
• We can’t use different burners on the stove at the same time because I do things wrong and it’s frustrating
• Any art not on canvas must be framed
• All art projects should remain within my designated art space, and the door kept closed when not in use
• Pants should be folded with center creases down the leg like that
• Plastic food storage containers should be stored like this
• All clothes hangers should match, ideally white plastic hangers
• Ideally, we use metal ice cube trays
• Ideally, we only have one garbage can which would be in the kitchen (but he gave in on that one pretty quickly, and we were allowed to have one in the bedroom, bathroom, and office)
• Ideally, we use an old style metal toaster
• Ideally, all sound (television, video game, music) should come through the stereo system, not my laptop
• Ideally, the house should be vacuumed once a week
• Ideally we listen to vinyl (and his music choice, my music is “too whiney and collegey”)
• Ideally, I empty and rinse out the coffee pot before I head to work (Good idea, but easy to forget)
• Don’t look calendar pictures of a month until it gets to be that month
• Don’t walk and eat (“It looks dumb”)
• Don’t eat anything in bed
• Don’t eat anything in the car (“Seriously, you can’t wait?”)
• The car exterior should be washed every few weeks
• Clean car interior before you take it to the mechanic (“It’s just rude not to”)
• Really, just keep the interior of your car clean in general (‘That should be pretty easy if you aren’t eating in there.” I was totally eating in there.)
• Only kiss in sets of three
• He would only clap it sets of threes
• He won’t eat bruised pears or bananas
• He doesn’t smile with teeth (“it looks dumb” to smile with teeth)
• He would only hug with one arm (“because that’s how I hug”)
• He should always drive, he’s just better at it and feels safer
• He must sit facing the exit
• He must sleep between me and the door of the room
• That is his chair, and this is his side of the sofa…

Welcome to my home, well, obviously not my home. Welcome to the home that I ‘d been conditioned to live in. The home where I learned I was lucky someone could put up with messy-aqua-girl-me.

I would keep trying. And it would keep not being enough. And he would keep reminding me how much more relaxed he’d become living with me, much more patient and accepting of my faults…

Until I realized I was only comfortable in the home where I lived, without him.



It took until my early 30s to find a place that I could make my home. And I only have to please myself. I know it will probably be years, if ever, before I’ll be okay with the idea of once again sharing my living space with a partner.

And that’s okay.

23 responses to “The home where I existed | Vignettes of my failed marriage”

  1. Oh Carly, I’m glad you’ve found a space to just be. To just be you. To just be free. You deserve happiness and you deserve to be told how totally awesome and inspiring and convivial and lovely you are – because it’s all true. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry you had to go through all that hon. I gave up reading your list as it got on my nerves. Seems like you are well out of that one. And no, it wasn’t you. Your partner was a bit of a control freak. No one is a perfect person and even though I couldn’t live with a really messy person, my standards lowered once I had children, otherwise I would be yelling all of the time and missing out on what was really important. I have been through similar and I can only say that once you really don’t care whether you are with someone or not, that is when life will really be great for you.


    • Now that I have my own space, I feel so much better. It’s crazy how deeply that can become ingrained in you and not really realize it until it isn’t in your life anymore. It’s understandable that you stopped reading the list. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I lived in a very similar relationship for nearly 10 years. I did it for so long because I loved him, obviously, and I loved his kids and family (we’re still in touch). I am still not sure how much of his disorder was OCD and how much was narcissism, ego, low self-esteem, and borderline personality disorder, how much was actually under his control and he just pretended he couldn’t help himself in order to use his habits/temper/etc to try to control me or worse. Break my spirit. Get me to stop being my naturally kind and loving self, perhaps because it made him feel like children who rip the wings off of flies.

    The name he chose for me early on was “Curby,” because my tire of my new AWD vehicle hit the curb a couple of times while parking (easy to do with that type of vehicle), and after that, he tried to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy so he could collect one more thing to feel superior about. The other name he liked was “Spilly,” because I spilled something once or twice. I’m not clumsy and I don’t normally spill. But calling me out for it and giving me a “cute” nickname about it was, once again, his way of inferiorizing and degrading me.

    So many other things. The clean dishes couldn’t dry next to the sink because they’d get splashed by water from the sink. (How do you think they got clean in the first place?) Our kitchen wasn’t big enough to put them anywhere else… ergo, they should be hand dried. The couch had to be placed blocking the fireplace so he could have a projector taking up the largest wall, opposite the fireplace. After he got a large 3D TV (which almost completely blocked our living room window), the couch could then face the fireplace, but we still couldn’t use the projector wall for something useful, or take down the projector, because he might want to still use it. (Maybe once a month or less?) Like you, pretty much every chore (except vacuuming and occasional dish washing) was my job, including changing toilet rolls.

    The week we broke up, it had all come to a head. I discovered although he wasn’t paying half of our bills, he had been buying and hoarding electronics and media. He had two name brand unopened TV/computer monitors. Our office was stuffed with dozens of cases of Blu Ray discs onto which he’d burned pirated media that, once filed away, were not referenced in any meaningful way and could not be found to use again, just added to ever-larger piles of useless plastic.

    When I expressed my discontent and frustration about the senseless waste and clutter, he’d screamed at me until I shouted back, which resulted in a loud, horrible fight that made his kids so uncomfortable, they phoned their mom to come pick them up early. I told him I couldn’t keep going like we were, I would rather be alone. He spent a week trying to manipulate my opinions and change my mind, using the kind of gaslighting tactics I always saw right through, but often just gave into because I ran out of energy. The minute I told him, “it’s over, I want you to move out, and I’m giving you a month to find a new place,” his demeanor completely changed. He went from screaming and anger to completely peaceful and calm. It really hit me, just then, how in control he actually was of all his behavior. He then said, “I only need two weeks to find a new place.”

    He had his dating profiles online before he moved out, and he had lined up 2-3 replacements for me before he’d been gone a week. He dated one of them for a couple months before moving in with the other one for a year. He’s currently on #3 since we broke up, and I hear they’ve broken up and gotten back together a few times.

    Mostly, I felt relief when we parted. Although I had felt I loved him intensely, I have not wanted him back for a single moment since then. I did some self-work for a half year and dated a few guys, and now I’m in a relationship that reminds me every day how good things can be when you find someone who really cares about you and is kind and respectful.


    • Oh, we had so many situations where he put no-win choices in front of me so he’d have some excuse to get angry and yell. I remember once at Trader Joe’s, we were going in to get rice, and he had a problem with all the options. He’d heard or read somewhere that organic rice wasn’t really organic, but it was contaminated by pesticides. But conventional rice was clearly grown with pesticides. “Which one should I get?” I asked. He shrugged, so I got the organic rice. “YOU DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT ME! You don’t listen to anything I say!!” was the immediate response. “What do you want me to do? Should I get the other rice?” “NO!! THAT ONE IS WORSE!” OMG>> I somehow paid and made it out of the store while ignoring his ranting (embarrassing both myself and the cashier). I wish I could say that was an isolated incident! But it happened just occasionally enough that, after we had both calmed down, he’d apologize and I’d forgive him and we’d move on. Only for the cycle to start over again weeks later.

      I haven’t thought about this for a while, but reading this post just brought that all back to me.


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