I very rarely, if ever, write about topics that aren’t specifically fishing related. It isn’t that I rarely care to. I often do. It is that I know I am mouthy and am likely to come off like an asshole. In this case, I’m entirely certain I’m going to come off like an asshole, but have decided the importance of writing about this topic outweighs whatever harm can come from me sounding like a prick.
This is a piece about relationships. Bad ones. I’ve reached the end of an unreasonably long rope, watching both friends and family, acquaintances and individuals I don’t know -- but have observed -- struggle with the fruits of the lousy, interminable relationship they’ve fixed themselves in.
Don’t misunderstand, I have friends and family members that are in strong, healthy relationships. These are relationships characterized by two partners that honestly love and support each other, a fact which is wholly evident to the other people they share their lives with.
Much of this is written from the male point of view, since that’s my lens on the situation. It is the perspective I have. I would no more presume to write about fishing from the fish's perspective than I would presume to write about relationships from a woman's perspective. As a result, much of this is about men who made the mistake of co-mingling their lives with a woman that doesn’t respect them, one who chronically and cavalierly puts their own petty needs before the important duty of loving and caring for their partner.
You know one of these guys. Hell, you probably know ten. In fact, I’m willing to bet that most of the men you know are in these relationships, because I fear they’ve become the norm. These are the guys that are chronically absent from their own lives. Maybe not their current life, but the life they either once had or would choose to define for themselves. Why? Because they’ve stopped considering their own needs and desires as part of a never-ending, full-speed, white-knuckle effort to placate the tyrant they’ve chosen to bed down with.
It is important that I take a moment to note that, even though this is a piece about terrible women and the men that love them, virtually everything that follows exists the other way around. The world has no shortage of awful husbands and boyfriends that don’t even acknowledge that their wives and partners have needs and desires, let alone take them into consideration. That’s just not what I’m here to bitch about.
Since this is a fly fishing publication, obviously this is going to tie back into fishing. Fly fishing, for many of us, is one of the things that we choose to make a defining aspect of our lives. This isn’t because it is a way to avoid cutting the grass or to get out of spending time with our kids. It isn’t an escape. It is a true passion, an opportunity to connect with nature, and the time we spend doing it enriches our souls. I have no doubt that the time I spend on a river makes me a better man.
Yet, despite what a crucial role fly fishing plays in some of our lives, I’m forced to endure one fellow after another perpetually unable to make this fishing trip or that, because it is “too much time away from the family.” I bear witness to guys whose time spent on the river is literally stolen from some other task they’ve been slated for, fly rod in hand and riverside yet mired with guilt at where they’re “supposed to be right now”. I overhear guys at fly shops joking about how much trouble they’re going to be in when the wife finds out how much money they spent on the rod they’ve been working overtime for 3 months in order to buy, or -- even worse -- relating openly and giddily to other men how they’re in the shop today because “the wife” gave them permission to do a bit of spending.
That last example is particularly instructive and is one of the prime reasons that I’ve come to fear that these sort of situations have become the norm. Not only have an increasingly large number of men continued to set self respect and their own needs aside for the supposed benefit of their relationships, they’ve lost the shame that rightfully should come with doing so. Is this the state of the male human condition? Has the willingness to give up the reigns to your own life become some sort of badge of courage, a joke to be tossed around amongst the other sad sacks that share the same, unbelievably depressing fate?
I’m sure some of you are reading this, shocked that I am demonizing the lousy wife and appalled that I think some men don’t have enough quality solo time in a society in which women are still undeniably treated as second class citizens. If you are, then you’re missing the point. This isn’t a criticism of women. It is a criticism of people who don’t take charge of their lives, people that don’t require more of each other. Lousy partners aren’t born, they’re made. Good partners lead by example and don’t tolerate bullshit.
Around this time next year, I’ll have been married for 10 years. That’s one of those milestones that is supposed to signify that you got it right. And I did. For the last nine years I’ve been married to a spectacular woman who, for the lack of a better term, “gets it.” I’ve never had to lobby for my own needs. My wife understands what is important to me, understands and sees the passion I have for the things that matter to me -- which includes my children and her -- and supports every effort I make to fill my life with those things.
And why shouldn’t she? Seeing me happy makes her happy. Isn’t that how it is supposed to work? Doesn’t that come hand in hand with sincerely loving and respecting someone? Shouldn’t all of this go without saying? In fact, shouldn’t this entire conversation be preposterous?
It’s a two way street. I do the same for her. Any man that wouldn’t afford his wife or girlfriend the same opportunities doesn’t deserve them himself. And though we work hard to do so, making sure that we’re supporting each other comes naturally. Sure, we fight, we take unrelated frustrations out on each other and we occasionally blame one another for some of the shit that is wrong with our kids. But in the midst of doing so, we share the responsibilities of the house, the children and all the other crap that life makes you do. We set aside time for each other and make certain we each have time away from the whole mess.
I don’t consider any of this an accomplishment. This is how it should be. This is what makes sense. And, if this wasn’t the way things were, there would be no one to blame but me. It wouldn’t be my wife’s fault, it would be mine. No one forced any of this on me.
At the end of the day, this isn’t about wives and girlfriends or husbands and boyfriends. And it’s not about fishing, either. It is about relationships, both sides of them, and the particulars don’t matter. Any relationship in which either participant doesn’t take seriously and prioritize the things their partner holds dear and their freedom to pursue them -- whatever those things are -- is a bad one.
The point of all this pissing and moaning is this: a life filled with regret isn’t something you get to take back. Making time for the things that stir you, whether or not that involves demanding respect from your partner, isn’t a choice. It is a responsibility. And, if it is a responsibility you can’t fulfill within the confines of your current situation, there is a solution.
It's later than you think.