Monday, February 1, 2016

Dating With a Disability, Part 3 of 5

Our relationship had gone to the next level – Mike invited me to meet his parents.  One Sunday afternoon, we joined his family for a picnic in the park.  In attendance were his father, mother, brother, 3 sisters, a brother-in-law and 7-year-old nephew.  Although everyone appeared friendly, I felt instant discomfort and intense scrutiny.  Afterward, I learned that his parents would not and could not tolerate me as their son’s girlfriend.  Once out of my presence, they voiced their anxiety, questioned his judgment, and “forbid” him to see me again.     

This was extremely difficult on Mike.  We had already processed together that there might be complications of us dating but he was not prepared for their extreme negative reaction.  He also held a high-level position as the building engineer in charge of many departments in the construction of high-rise office buildings.  He became apprehensive that his employer would have the same reaction and question his ability to make good judgments.  Ultimately though he worried about the toll these reactions it would have on me. 

I could tell Mike was struggling.  He was not prepared for his parents’ reaction, and it hurt him deeply.   I explained that their reaction was not all that unusual really.  I told him that I was confident his parents would accept and like me once they got to know me.  As far as I was concerned, his job would pose no issue at all.  Despite my efforts, however, Mike was not convinced.  He began to withdraw.  Our dates went to every other weekend and even longer. 

Shortly afterward, Mike announced to me that he intended to never marry even though that subject had not yet come up between us.  His focus had clearly shifted to protecting me from the prejudice he blamed himself for causing.  The option to date around was proposed.  He theorized that since I had limited experience in the dating field, I was rather unqualified to really know who or what I was looking for in a life partner.  He was quite creative in his efforts to convince me that he had lost interest in us.  I did not believe him – not for a minute. 

Despite his proclamation that he would never marry, Mike and I continued to see each other off and on for several more years.  He no longer spoke of me to his parents, and they seemed satisfied that we had broken up.  Unfortunately, however, Mike had also convinced himself that marrying me was not an option and he often reminded me to date other people.  I saw no logic in this – his actions and his words were so different. 

Still, Mike thought it best that we break up so I could move on and forget about him.  So we did.  I was miserable.  Mike was miserable too but he honestly believed that this was the best thing for both of us.  I understood all too well that he alone had to come to terms with the reactions that his family and others would have about us.  I also knew we were hopelessly in love so I tried to remain optimistic that we would be together again. 

During this particularly painful breakup, Mike’s mom called me out of the blue.  It had been many years since I saw her in the park.  The call frightened me.  She quickly got to the point and very deliberately asked if I knew what was wrong with Mike.  She wondered if I knew why he had become so withdrawn and depressed and never visited his family anymore.  My heart ached when I heard this.  “Yes, I know the answer,” I told her.  Trying to hold back tears, I said, “Mike is withdrawn and depressed because we broke up.  He believes this is necessary because of negative reactions to our relationship.”  Very matter-of-factly, his mom replied, “Yes.  It is for the best.  We can all accept you as Mike’s friend but we cannot accept you as Mike’s wife.”  It was as if she didn’t even hear me.  I spoke a little louder as I said, “If Mike and I are meant to be together, it will happen no matter who thinks what.” 

During the time we were apart, I took the opportunity to date around as Mike had insisted.  It was the early 1980s and I joined the free-loving crowd and became a bit “adventurous” in the dating world but nothing came of any of these one-night stands.  After all, I had no intention of dating other men.  I did not want to date around.   I would never understand how this sexual freedom could be helpful to my relationship with Mike.  I did not desire anyone else.  I told myself over and over that I had to be patient until he came to terms with the fact that he wanted me.