Seriously?! I did not believe him. It did not add up. Never could I have imagined that this man who held my heart in his hands, who pledged his life to me in conscious relationship would walk out on me—with no discussion, no consideration, no concern about me at all? The Rob I knew would never do something like this. I simply did not believe it. For a long time, I could only think he had panicked and would soon come to his senses.
To say I was blindsided is an understatement.
During the weeks and months leading up to his exit, our relationship had seemed normal to me, if somewhat strained by all the planning details. The weekend before he walked out, we had traveled to San Francisco to finalize the wedding arrangements. The week before had been tense, the emotional tenor vacillating between playful, intimate connection and strained, hurt feelings brought on by disagreements and petty conflicts.
Just the pressures of the wedding taking their toll, I thought off-handedly.
I even felt we were growing closer through it all. I know I was settling into more certainty than ever before about our life together. I recall a scene at dinner that first night in the city. Rob took my hands across the checkered tablecloth and, somewhat uncharacteristically, thanked me for my consideration of his “special needs.”
“Sweetie, do you know how much I love you and how much it means to me that you have accommodated to my health needs? I know how difficult it can be because of my sensitivities.” I was touched that he acknowledged me directly for adapting, however imperfectly, to his numerous concerns about his health.
Rob was so endearing on this point that when he excused himself from the table, the woman at the next table leaned over and said, “That was the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard!” It gave her hope about relationships, she confided, and then she asked how long we had been married, wondering was ours a new relationship? It made me smile to realize that our mutual caring had reached someone who did not even know us.
Rob and I made our way back to the hotel after dinner and spent the next two hours making love: close, crazy, tender sex I described in my journal as “that graced, radical drinking in of each other that changes you forever.”
“I’m amazed,” he whispered as we held each other, wrapped in the afterglow. “How can it be? I feel closer to you now than I ever have.” I felt the same delicious closeness, and fell asleep grateful, held in his protective embrace, my heart full with a rich, warm honey.
The next morning when I emerged from the bathroom, however, I no longer recognized my tender lover of the night before. Instead, I discovered a scowling Rob, who bore no trace of that man, glaring at me.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“Did you use hairspray?” he accused.
“You know I use hairspray every day,” I sighed.
“My throat and ears are tickling; my allergies are bothering me. I’m starting to get a headache, too—because of your hairspray.”
“Are you sure that’s the problem? I had the door closed, and it’s been at least ten minutes since I used it, only a tiny amount, as usual.”
“Look how large that crack is under the door. The spray must have seeped out from there,” he pointed, as his faced darkened into a deeper scowl.
“Hey, give me a break … My hairspray didn’t bother you the entire week we were in Santa Fe, and I was using it in the same room with you every morning.”
Still feeling the connecting glow from the night before, I smiled and said, “I’m sorry you are feeling bad, honey, I really am, but it is not my fault.”
By this time, I had grown accustomed to Rob’s concerns about his health, especially his numerous food and chemical sensitivities. To me he seemed remarkably healthy, so it took a while sometimes to suspend disbelief and to accept his concerns. I rarely saw any outward sign of his allergies, but Rob felt differently.
He took at least seventy-five supplements a day to address his worries, and routinely scrutinized menus and the labels on most everything for possible offending substances. Anytime he thought a headache, earache, or sniffles were coming on, he became alarmed, searching for the cause, sometimes to the point of near panic. It was not unusual for some behavior of mine to be the suspected culprit.
I had adjusted my cooking and changed my personal and household products, doing my best to avoid the ever-growing list of things Rob had deemed potentially unsafe (once I made a list of more than seventy). Every day for years, as in this instance, I had been using an approved-by-him miniscule amount of hairspray (organic, unscented, no aerosol, hypoallergenic).
After a lot of soul searching at the beginning about his anxious preoccupations, I concluded I loved him enough to commit to him anyway. His better qualities made up for all the hassle. But now if a spritz of my hairspray used behind a closed door could threaten to ruin our weekend, as his moodiness about his health often did, I wondered.
Leaving San Francisco, we made a side trip to Los Gatos for an elegant dinner with my parents. By this time, Rob was in good spirits. He laughed, chatted, reviewed wedding plans, and joked about dancing with my mother.
On the drive home, we spent a few hours listening to old songs and selecting music for the wedding. “This is really fun, we should do it more often,” he said, as we sang along to Elton John’s Your Song, his proposal tune, and Kate Wolf’s Give Yourself to Love—“our song.”
By this time, I imagined we were back in sync, that all was well in our world. I still had no sense that he wanted anything but to spend the rest of his life with me. I was obliviously happy just being with him, relieved we were that much closer to pulling off this monumental event.
But two days later, the issue of the hairspray came up again in one of our regular counseling sessions. Rob was unhappy with my “lack of sensitivity,” and accused me of not believing how serious his health problems were. Then, testily, he surprised me by demanding, “Do you think I am a hypochondriac?”
This was difficult territory to navigate. From the beginning of our relationship, even with our commitment to openness, his allergies had been a virtually taboo topic of discussion. It was like the proverbial elephant in the room. I also thought of it as the black hole in our communication, and did not know what to say that would not upset him.
Normally, I walked on eggshells around this topic, but what should I do now? Nervous, but encouraged that he had asked, I hesitated. Finally I replied that often I did question the timing of his anxieties. Sometimes I even felt controlled by and blamed for his symptoms.
An impatient exchange followed. His acid tone was so alarming that I asked, “What are you saying? Are you implying you would want to end the relationship over this?” This was the first inkling I had that such a thing could even have been on his mind.
Rob looked me right in the eye and said,“No! I am not going anywhere.”
* * * *
Later that evening, however, he came into the bedroom and with a satisfied smile—as if he had finally solved a perplexing puzzle—delivered this ultimatum. “You have to promise never to use hairspray in a hotel room again, or I won’t go through with this wedding.”
“What? What are you saying?” I thought I misunderstood him.
When I realized I had not, I felt hurt, frustrated … and angry to be put in this double bind. How do you respond to an ultimatum like that and maintain your dignity? You do not. And, how much of this bait-and-switch was I supposed to take?
“Okay then, I give up,” I said, throwing up my hands. “Fine with me, if that is what you want, okay, let’s cancel the ceremony.”
At that moment, I did not want to deal with this craziness anymore. I suppose I was already in shock, in denial, about the situation, still oblivious to what was happening.
“No. No—you have to think about this,” Rob snapped. And he stalked out of the room.
The next morning as he readied for work, the storm seemed to have passed. We emailed later about a few details of the hotel and gift list that still needed tending. I calmed down after speaking with a friend, and was still so clueless, I spent eight hours that day on wedding plans.
That evening, as soon as he walked in the door after work though, I could tell he was in a huff. He said sternly, “We need to talk,” and directed me into the living room.
He sat down with his arms spread on the back of the couch, and with his head cocked peered down at me. Through a set jaw and tight lips, he asked, “Have you decided anything about the hairspray?”
My supposed heart’s companion leaned forward with tightly knitted brows and hissed, “I am dissatisfied with you!” In a tone twisted by contempt, he continued, “You are arrogant and have no empathy.”
I drew back, and could barely speak. Stunned by his demeanor and caustic pitch more than his words, all I could think was, who IS this man?
“You do not meet my needs at all,” this stranger with Rob’s face went on. “This has been a joyless, conflict-ridden relationship from the start… I want a divorce from this ‘marriage.’”
Still, no words came. I could not stop staring at him curiously.
He could not be serious. All this over some hairspray? I could not believe what I was hearing. Mostly, I was frightened by the appearance in my living room of this alien I did not know, impersonating Rob.
Leaning back on the couch, his arms still stretched across the top, he continued, “I have been doing a lot of soul-searching. . .” He paused, and then added ,as if sharing a secret, “Actually, I’ve been thinking it over for a long time, and could not come up with a single reason I want to marry you—except, possibly,” his face distorted in a sneer, “personal growth, and that doesn’t really matter all that much.”
He looked away, then turned sharply towards me and confided, “Besides, my intuition told me you are really bad for my health.”
I registered that something serious was happening, but his words barely made sense. “Okay … okay,” I said, still chirping along, as if we were talking about fixing the car. “We can cancel the wedding, if you want. I was thinking maybe we can just have a party, since so many people are coming from far away and have their airline tickets, and we’ve already paid big deposits everywhere. We can put the whole public, legal marriage question on hold until we sort this out.”
“No!” Rob was standing now with his hands on his hips, and swirled around to face me directly. “This relationship isn’t working for me. I am finished with you. I want out.”
He had finally hit his mark, stealing my breath away with this precision strike to the heart.
Time stopped dead, and the world began to reel. The lamp, wall paintings, fireplace irons, shelves of books, and raspberry drapes all swirled around me. I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Was this really happening? My mind delivered only the echo of his words, “I love you, sweetie. I am not going anywhere.”
“But—it was you who wanted this wedding,” I stammered, the room still spinning around me. “Don’t do this. What about… our life together … ?”
“It was all a colossal mistake,” said my beloved icily. “It’s over.”
He turned to walk out of the living room, and then called over his shoulder, “I will be moving out at the end of the month.”
I followed him into the bedroom. “Are you kidding? That’s a month from now. Please, you can’t stay here—not after this!”
He spun around, eyebrows knit again, his voice dripping disdain, “That’s my plan. If you don’t like it, evict me.”
But he backed off. The next day, he was gone.