Life in a Skinner Box: A Memoir [Chapter 6.1]

I thought a lot about Chris during my time in B-ville. I felt bad for having been so judgmental. I’d been so worried about how Chris wasn’t meeting my needs instead of spending time and energy meeting his. He was a very kind, sweet man, and he had committed himself to loving me for the rest of his life. Everything in me wanted to make things work. At the end of the summer, I left B-ville and moved back into the apartment with Chris, hoping we could have some deep, long conversations and mend things.

We worked hard to clear the air. Well, it would be more accurate to say that in typical Chris fashion, he listened quietly while I cleared the air. Admittedly, I was disappointed that he didn’t seem to appreciate the significance of all that had happened and how important it was to get on the same page about life. Then it occurred to me the evolution that had taken place inside me hadn’t occurred inside Chris. How could I expect him to fully “get it”? I’d changed, but he hadn’t. And no matter how many conversations we had, I still felt something amiss between us.

Even though we weren’t synching up, I reaffirmed my commitment to Chris and suggested it might be helpful to get some therapy together. I wanted this marriage to work. Therapy was useful. Through a series of sessions, the therapist helped us identify one of the bigger disconnects inherent in our dynamic; Chris took a passive approach to life while I took a more active one. I tended to make decisions quickly and change rapidly. I was inclined to think of things for us to do, and I knew how to set goals and put them into action. This all resulted in Chris often feeling controlled by me, which he resented, and I often felt annoyed with his inability to make things happen and with his overall lack of engagement.

The power in the relationship was unequal—not because either of us wanted it that way—but by default because of our past histories. I was forced to be self-sufficient early on. If I wanted something, I had to figure out how to get it and do it mostly on my own. Chris, on the other hand, had a very domineering father who never let anyone else take charge or make decisions. Chris had little opportunity to set his own goals and figure things out on his own. This made sense to us. I wasn’t sure these insights fixed the problem, but they certainly helped explain some of it, and it helped us see that our intentions were never to hurt each other. I lowered my expectations of Chris and became more accepting of his slower pace and willingness to just come along. Chris admitted to not having strong opinions on most things, so he chose to keep letting me take the reins while trying not to resent me for it.

Things seemed to get better for a while. We had some big decisions to make together regarding where we wanted to live next and the types of jobs we’d search for. I explored all the options for both of us and instigated a series of conversations with Chris until we had agreed on a plan. I was aware that I could have “sold” pretty much any option to Chris and he would have gone along with it. We agreed that we wanted to move closer to my parents if we were going to have a child.

Knowing this, I tried to find options that were just as favorable for him as they were for me. I had no idea which direction I wanted to go with my career, and I was trying to be okay with that. I was reading about Zen Buddhism and joked to my concerned father, “Dad, I’m just trying to get to a place in my life where I could be happy chopping vegetables.” I truly meant that. And it was pretty clear that geology jobs were harder to come by. So, when Chris got an offer for a position as a hydrologist at a start-up company in a college town in the Midwest, I applied and was accepted to the university’s School Psychology PhD program for the fall. Even though it meant three more years of grad school, I felt it was a way for me to apply my degree outside of academics because, if I achieved licensure, I could perform testing and design interventions for children in K-12 schools. I felt I was ready to make a small difference in schools any way I could. We really loved the town, too, so we decided to give it a shot. A few weeks after Chris graduated, we put an offer on a small house and made the move.


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