Untangling

My wife and I got together in December 2004. We got married in June 2006. Our relationship ended with her death in July 2018.

Except it didn’t. After her death, I still felt very much part of us. I remember that same evening, as I was sitting in my office and staring at my book case, how I got this strong sense that I wanted to continue the work that we were doing, even though I didn’t have a clear picture of what that work really was.

I found comfort in continuing to live our life. In the weeks after her death, I washed and ironed her clothes that were still lying around and then put them back in their proper place in the wardrobe. Almost all of her things are still where they were last summer. Her deodorant still on a shelf next to the bed, her tampons still in the bathroom. This is still our house.

But in the almost twelve months since, I have moved on. At times much faster than I should have. At other times more hesitantly than was necessary. But there has been a whole year added to me that’s not part of us.

And I find adjusting to this harder than I had anticipated.

“But who are you really, Martijn?” I imagine the psychologist sitting in a big armchair asking me. And I don’t always know the answer.

I spent a third of my life being together with my wife. We weren’t the kind of couple who did everything together ─ far from it. But we were a couple and my life would have been different in just about every aspect if we hadn’t been together.

And now I suddenly find myself wondering: what do I really want from life? How do I really like to spend my time? What kind of person am I?

Exciting though it is that the world lies open to me ─ and it is genuinely exciting ─ I find it also often unsettling. Life is easier when you have found some kind of pattern to follow. I am still trying to find a new pattern.

And then there is our relationship. After my wife’s death, I said that it had been a perfect relationship, but that was always meant in a Leibnizian “best of all possible worlds” sense: it was perfect in all its imperfections.

And imperfections there were many. Things that I regret. Things that I wish I had done differently. Things that I wish she had done differently. Things that we didn’t talk about and that now remain a mystery forever.

And much as I have said that the way our relationship ended was a happy one ─ which it really was ─ I still need to untangle myself from it. To digest what happened and here too, to decide what I want from the future ─ and from future relationships.

We approach the one year anniversary of her death and I find myself looking forward to that. It’s like a symbolic date on which I switch from my wife’s widower to that guy who once was married. An important step in the journey from us to me.

But I’m not going to fool myself and believe that everything will be resolved by then, and that the untangling will be done. This will take some more time.

And that is okay. It was a good relationship but also a complex one and it will take some time for me to properly unwind it. For us to have fully become me. Our relationship deserves that time.

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