Andy, early 40s
Exactly 38 minutes of my day are mine. I wake up every morning at 5 o’clock and get myself ready for work. I brush my teeth, shower, and groom—in that order. Then, I look over my work emails while I’m walking downstairs to the kitchen, where my wife is waiting with a cup of already-brewed coffee.
I tell her good morning, usually without looking up from my phone. I grab the coffee in one hand and gulp it down in one go, setting it back down on the marble counter with a clink that signals I’m ready for my second cup. Then, I grab an apple and head back upstairs to wake up the kids. It’s 5:45.
By 6:30, the kids are dressed and their lunches are packed. I’ve asked them if they’ve done their homework, and they’ve nodded “yes” with a roll of their eyes—an obligatory gesture at their age. I make a mental note to engage them more, to find out more about their lives, but there’s not enough time. There’s never enough time.
In the next ten minutes, I give my wife a kiss—our only form of intimacy in the last several months—and I head to my car. She will drop off the kids before driving to work herself. And I—well, my thoughts for the next 19 minutes will be occupied by myriad worries.
For one, my wife and I haven’t had sex in over six months. There’s this space between us that keeps growing. Any attempt I make at breaching the gap seems contrived—she thinks that it’s all a means to an end, the end being sex. But honestly, I want to feel that we’re not just roommates—that we’re not just waiting for the kids to grow up so that we can move on.
But it’s not all her fault. We have separate bedtimes, and she often stays up to study or catch up on work. I do, too. There have been times when she’s tried to initiate intimacy and I’ve turned her down. I tell her that I’ll be up in a minute, but then I get caught up with work, or I decide I need a shower. I realize I’m making excuses. And that worries me.
We both work in the same field, and it’s a highly competitive one. I have a higher position, but she recently chose to go back to grad school so that she can have access to better opportunities. I support her, but she says that I secretly begrudge her eventual success. In a lot of ways, it does seem like a zero-sum game. Any time that she spends with her schoolwork is time that I have to spend compensating—whether it’s for housework or parenting chores.
It doesn’t help that we have entirely different parenting styles. She’s strict, and I’m more laid back; the kids see this and, being kids, they pit us against each other. I let them get away with it, which upsets her endlessly. And I spend money on them—on us—money that she doesn’t think we have. She has a very firm grip on our finances, and we always fight about it. It seems like we fight about everything lately. It’s getting rough; being in this marriage is burning up so much energy that it feels like I’m holding down a second job.
I arrive at work at roughly 7 AM. I greet my coworkers and grab yet another cup of coffee on my way to the office. And then I work, often uninterrupted until late afternoon. I work hard because I’m in my early 40s and these are peak years for upward mobility. But that’s the short answer.
Around 6:00 PM, I usually get a text from my wife. Where are you, she wants to know. Are you avoiding us? She’s on to something. I work long hours because it’s easier than what awaits me at home; it’s simpler.
But I reluctantly get back in my car and for another 19 minutes, I am on my own. There are no children demanding to watch just five more minutes of their TV show. There is no wife nagging me about money, or about working too much or not working hard enough. It is quiet and I get to visit with my thoughts, and for a little while, I feel all right.
As I pull up to the third stop sign from my house, though, anxiety bubbles in the pit of my stomach and I slow the car down to a crawl. I keep going, little by little, meaning to stop any second now—but the driveway slips away and then I can see it in the rearview mirror. I drive around the block once more, twice more, and then I finally park.