If ever two people were incompatible for marriage it was Julie and me.
Of course, that didn't stop us from getting married.
It's not that either of us was a terrible person or that just one of us was to blame for the inevitable breakup. We meshed well in every aspect of our relationship except for the ones that were integral to a successful marriage. We were terrific at being friends and lovers. We just weren't very good at being spouses.
We were 19 years old when we met and started dating seriously. At that age, long-term goals and future plans rarely mean anything past graduation. We didn't discuss where we wanted to be and how we would like to see ourselves in 10 years — or even in five.
Our personalities were opposite. I'm laid back and easy-going. I often act as if I don't have a care in the world. And that's mostly because I don't. I am content to sit around the house and watch TV or read a book.
Julie required constant motion and stimulation. She always wanted to be doing something or going somewhere. She craved success — and she wanted it immediately.
I don't consider myself stupid but I'm very unlikely to study anything that doesn't capture my attention instantly. At the time, I was more likely to be able to tell you something about the No. 3 quarterback for the 49ers than I was about the Three Tenors. I wouldn't classify Julie as brilliant but she seemed worldly and knowledgeable about a wealth of subjects because she enjoyed the research involved in becoming well-versed in a variety of matters.
The differences weren't as noticeable when we were dating. Our time was spent juggling classes, friends and part-time jobs. We would spend more time apart than together so the time we shared was treasured. The cracks didn't become evident until we moved in together after graduation.
We didn't plan the move very well. Actually, there was no plan at all. It was dictated by circumstance more than by a desire to live together.
I was offered a job a few weeks before graduation and Julie was having difficulty finding work in her field. She pounded the pavement day after day but the only job she could find was working in a diner for less than minimum wage plus tips. Simply put, she was having a hard time getting by.
I, on the other hand, lucked out.
I had worked for a small corporation part-time before my junior year and I interned in the personnel department there during the summer before my last year in college.
A freak accident left the personnel manager incapacitated for most of the summer so my 20-hour-per-week internship quickly turned into 60 hours a week of slave labor. Everyone in the department was in over his or her head and we knew it. I got all the crap assignments but rather than dig myself a hole, I simplified everything and muddled through. We managed to keep the paychecks coming and everyone relatively happy.
My reward didn't come until the spring when I was offered the job as assistant personnel director at the company minutes after my resume landed on the owners' desks.
Julie was an artist. She didn't paint portraits or perform classical music but there is no other way to describe her skill. Julie earned a degree in journalism but she didn't enjoy writing much. Her goal was to become an editorial cartoonist and eventually to produce her own satirical strip.
Her wickedly warped sense of humor and her quick wit had never ceased to leave my side aching from laughter — even when she was skewering me.
But the places she tried to gain employment either weren't interested or already had someone in place. She was struggling to pay her rent and utilities so I did the only thing I could think of — I asked her to move in with me.
Despite my title at my new job, I've never been very good with people. My problem is two-fold. First, I believe firmly that every person is responsible for his or her own happiness and I don't really care if you're unhappy. The second is an offshoot of the first: I don't really relate well to others. I am friendly and cordial but I seem to be missing that portion of my brain that allows me to connect with other humans.
But I recognize my faults and I embrace them. I try to compensate where I can but sometimes there is little I can do about them. Julie and I learned a lot about the person we had been dating for almost three years during the first month we shared accommodations — not much of it good. During our dating years we were the perfect foil for the other. I doubt I would have graduated if Julie's personality hadn't made me take a look a little further down the path to success. My attitude gave Julie a chance to enjoy the scenery along the way.
But once we were around the other more frequently the more obvious portions of our outlook on life began to grate on the other. I'm lazy. I readily admit that. I'll further admit that the only reason I work is to have money for fun things. I don't mind dirty clothes on the floor and dirty dishes in the sink — particularly if the alternative is me getting off my butt and doing something about it.
Julie dislike the very thought of my dirty socks anywhere but in the hamper — I should probably note that until she moved in I had never even seen a hamper. She wanted the cereal bowl washed and dried seconds after the spoon left my mouth. It was awkward but we reached a gradual compromise. I refused to be a neat freak but I did pick up after myself more frequently. Julie refused to become a slob but if something bothered too much to relax she took care of it herself rather than badgering me about it.
We weathered that problem and several others during our first few months of living together but the handwriting was on the wall — figuratively, of course; Julie would have scrubbed that sucker down to the drywall and I would have spent two days painting over it if something had actually been written on the wall.
Instead of accepting that perhaps we weren't compatible, we did what so many young couples do when faced with a dying relationship: we ignored the evidence and rushed headlong into the future hoping things would right themselves. We refused to admit that we might have wasted the last three years.
I know that immaturity and insecurity played a large role in our divorce. Once the die was cast and we decided to marry, the real trouble began.
Our fights were never loud and didn't include the hurling of objects at one another. Our battles were subtle and we kept much of what was bothering us to ourselves.
The stress level in the apartment lessened some when Julie found an alternative newspaper that wanted to run her cartoons. It didn't pay much but at least it was in her field. The tranquility didn't last.
I never got a fix on Julie's political leanings because she would lampoon each side equally. I hold a dim view of politics in general and politicians in specific so she would often have to explain her sketches to me. I would feel like a moron and it seemed to me that she was looking at me that way, too.
It didn't help that I was more interested in the cost of Dole bananas at Clinton's Market than I was about the choice of Bob Dole or Bill Clinton for president.
When Julie got into a battle of wills with the newspaper over the content of her political cartoons I didn't communicate my feelings to her very well.
The newspaper was decidedly left leaning and it refused to print a couple of Julie's cartoons that made fun of Democratic policies. Julie told them it was an all-or-nothing proposition. I thought I was backing her decision wholeheartedly but it seems that I didn't give that impression.
I told her that things would work out no matter what she decided. When I said that, I meant that I had faith in her and her abilities, that now that she had her foot in the door she was too talented for it to be closed again.
What she heard was that since she made so little money it didn't matter if she quit or not, that she couldn't carry her share of the financial load regardless.
I held no allusions about my long-term earning capacity. In fact, I didn't worry about it. I liked my job and I liked the people I worked with. It wasn't overly stressful and when I left for the day it was behind me. I made a decent living and I was home by 5 p.m. every day. I would have been happy with a modest house in a decent neighborhood with a couple of children running around.
I told Julie at least once (and I'm sure it was more often) that I would be perfectly content being a stay-at-home dad while she worked to earn the money. I was her biggest fan and I knew that her work eventually would find the mainstream.
Because she misunderstood my intention, Julie took my comments about her newspaper job almost as a challenge. Within a month she had a better job at a better paper. But with it came more hours and more responsibilities. The paper wanted a fresh cartoon for each afternoon edition so Julie would spend hours upon hours at night at her desk. She would be drawing a sketch, researching a topic or scanning channel after channel for updates on things so her work wouldn't seem dated when it hit the press the next day. More than once she fell into bed after midnight only to rise at 2 or 3 a.m. when a fresh thought hit her.
Our schedules were completely different. I still worked the normal 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift but Julie couldn't really start to work until after I was home and she would toil until the early hours of the morning. We no longer shared meals and rarely did we share a bed. As often as not I would pass her in the hallway. I was headed to the shower as she was headed to sleep. In fact, we rarely shared much of anything. She would routinely cancel plans so I quit asking her to go places or to do things. To me, each time she decided to spend extra time at work was a personal affront: she was choosing her job over me.
I'm embarrassed to admit it but I started to keep a small notebook in my pocket. It was titled "Things I Can't Compete With." Childish, I know. But it gives a perspective of the times, I think.
Another problem we faced is that we each carried an idealized view of married life. My parents had been married for more than 30 years at that point; Julie's for more than 25. We had no idea what to do when the reality didn't measure up to what we expected. So we did nothing.
The gradual slide into martial discord became a full-fledged plunge into separation rather quickly.
I love the outdoors, another life-long interest unshared by Julie. Grudgingly, she had agreed to accompany me on a three-day camping trip. At least that's where I told her we were going. I had rented a room at a romantic bed and breakfast and scheduled a tour of the vineyard that produced one of her favorite wines.
We were scheduled to leave at noon on a Friday. On Wednesday, she told me she wouldn't be able to leave until after 4 p.m. On Thursday, she informed me she really couldn't get away at all that weekend.
I started to tell her about the actual plans but she interrupted.
"It's not about sleeping on the ground," she said in a voice filled with frustration. "I just don't have time to do silly things with you."
In times past when our plans had been derailed I had stayed at home or at least relatively close by. This time I took the trip as planned.
It was a little awkward staying in the Honeymoon Room by myself but I did it anyway. I had made sure to bring along my camera and I probably took 200 pictures of the inn, the scenery on the way and the winery.
When I got home Sunday night, Julie was in her customary spot — behind her computer terminal. I didn't say a word. I just grabbed her chair and slid her backward, popped the CD with the weekend's pictures into the drive and started a slideshow.
"This is the silly stuff I wanted to do this weekend," I said as I went to the living room to watch a Raiders preseason game.
Julie looked repentant when she came in a few minutes later.
"I'm sorry you went to so much trouble," she said. "But even if I would have known it wouldn't have changed this. I had work to do. You'll have to accept that."
I already knew this so I just nodded.
"Julie, I love you," I said. "But I don't have to accept it and I don't want to live this life anymore. I spend too many days and evenings like I spent this weekend — by myself doing things that I want to be doing with you. I give up. I quit."
She looked at me strangely.
"You're saying that you want a divorce?" she asked, seemingly aghast at the very concept. It was the first time the word had been spoken but I can assure you it was not the first time it had been thought.
"I don't know," I confessed. "If this is how my life is going to be, then I guess I do. This was never what I wanted, Julie. I wanted to share my life with you, not live separate lives together."
I moved into a new apartment less than a week later. We spent hours talking for the next few days but we could never resolve the fundamental differences between us.
For the next four years Julie and I would talk to each other on the phone or visit each other about every other day. There were long periods where we would spend more quality time together in a month than in our entire marriage. We reconciled several times. In fact, we would live together about six months of every year.
The pattern was always the same. For the first few months I would be more tolerant of the tolls of her professional life. And for the first few months she would be more understanding about the time needed for a personal life. After three or four months we would find ourselves slipping back to where we once were. And a few months after that, one of us would move out. We swapped apartments so frequently that I finally decided just to buy a house.
We tried couples therapy. We took vacations together. I took a greater interest in her work. She showed more interest in things outside of her job. None of them worked for very long. About the only thing we didn't do was file for divorce.
There was no doubt that we loved the other. And I think we kept hoping that we could eventually find a way to make it work. But it was fruitless.
I've read that men marry a woman hoping she'll never change and women marry a man hoping he'll change quickly.
I don't think I truly recognized the most pressing problem that Julie and I would face. I don't think it manifested itself until after we already were married.
I'm not sure if it was because she was a daughter born to a man who longed for a son or if it was because of the difficulty she had in landing her first job but Julie was nothing short of driven to succeed. As soon as she identified a goal she worked as hard as she could — to the exclusion of almost everything else — toward making it a reality. I have no doubt that in the waning days of our relationship Julie tried to put forth the same effort toward making our marriage succeed. Some things simply can't be fixed.
I don't think changing me was a goal for Julie. Oh sure, she wanted me to stop living in squalor, but any human who shared quarters with me would find that to be a reasonable expectation.
During our marriage she never pushed me to find a better job or to do something more meaningful for a living. She didn't complain about money or the lack thereof. We would cut back our budget from time to time but she didn't fuss about the things we couldn't do — even when she had time to do them.
Our last foray into living as husband and wife was probably the best we ever managed. We had both grown up a lot and we each finally understood that we couldn't have everything our own way. We had to make compromises and concessions.
But the pattern couldn't be changed. Eventually work called her away again, this time to Los Angeles when she got the chance at a syndication deal.
For the first few months while Julie was in L.A. we would speak daily. We shared e-mails sometimes dozens of times per day. The original plan was for Julie to spend three or four months getting her contracts and contacts in order. Then she would head back to our house. That plan changed within weeks. She told me she loved L.A. and was considering moving there.
She didn't ask me to join her. I don't know if she already knew the answer or if she didn't want me to come. It didn't really matter either way. In Los Angeles I think Julie finally found a pace and a lifestyle she enjoyed. Our conversations got shorter and the time between them longer as time passed. The e-mails became forwarded jokes sent from someone else.
It was three weeks short of a year when I realized I hadn't spoken to Julie in a month. I could hear laughter in the background when she answered the phone and disappointment in her voice when she realized it was only me. Still, we chatted amiably for a minute or two. But I recognized before I hung up the phone that a portion of my life had ended. I have come to the realization months before but I fought it bravely. But, as they say, there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity. If I wanted to carry the thought of Julie returning home to me, I would have to move firmly across that line.
During a talk a few days later we agreed that a divorce was probably the way to go. It was difficult decision for each of us. We had been a part of the other's life for more than a decade and we had been married — off and on — for almost eight years. But in the end we both knew the decision had been out of our hands for perhaps years.
We said goodbye on the courthouse steps six months later. With a tearful hug and a meaningful kiss we ended our marriage and promised to stay in touch.
That was five years ago last week and I haven't heard from her since. She was just 30 when she moved to L.A. and I was sure her new friends and her new life occupied the time she wasn't working.
And I had too much pride to call her first.