JB was twenty-eight and Brenda was twenty-seven. Brenda knew JB wanted to marry her but was afraid to ask. Their friends were getting married and the subject came up a lot. When the “M” word was pushed, Brenda told JB marriage freaked her out. She didn’t like the idea of being locked into anything forever.
One afternoon, while Brenda was writing a magazine piece, it occurred to her that JB was someone she could live with longterm. He wasn’t controlling, seemed to love her, and he wasn’t gushy and vulnerable—which made her uncomfortable. She phoned him and nonchalantly asked if he thought they should get married.
“Yes,” JB said.
JB and Brenda got married in front of immediate family. The thought of walking down the aisle in front of a large audience made Brenda queasy. Three months after their wedding, JB and Brenda went skiing in Vail and Brenda got pregnant with their first son, Blake.
Blake was born and JB began feeling ignored. When Brenda did pay attention to him, JB noticed she didn’t respond like she used to. He was lucky to get a skeptical, “Huh,” after rattling off an impressive op-ed piece he’d read.
The lack of vulnerability Brenda initially appreciated in JB began to bug her. They had no deep connection. JB couldn’t identify a feeling to save his life. His recitations annoyed her. She suspected he didn’t have an original thought in his head.
Brenda began drinking. A lot. JB enjoyed flipping drunk Brenda around in the bedroom, but he disliked her getting plastered all the time. Seven years ticked by and Brenda got pregnant with their second son, Tom. She quit drinking, resumed drinking when Tom stopped breast feeding, and had an epiphany along the way that she was an alcoholic. Blake was eight and Tom was two when Brenda quit drinking. JB was mostly glad, but he had mixed feelings. Brenda wasn't passing out on the couch anymore and he didn't have to carry her out of parties or plead with her to stop serving wine at their dinner parties. But Brenda wasn’t throwing dinner parties. He wasn’t having drunk sex with her. She wouldn’t verbally shred people, events, and institutions, something they used to love to do. She was no longer the fun cynic he’d married.
JB brooded. He’d always been a brooder, but it became more pronounced. Brenda would ask JB what was wrong but after hearing, “Nothing,” muttered repeatedly she’d stopped asking. JB sighed loudly. He stomped around the house. Brenda ignored him.
The bedroom brooding, however, was un-ignorable. JB tossed and turned in bed, exhaled disgustedly, got up and stomped in and out of the room until Brenda rolled over and took one for the team.
Brenda told JB she didn’t like the way he touched her—it wasn’t loving, it was horny. He never put his arm around her, never hugged her, never gave her an affectionate kiss. JB pointed out that she never did that either. Brenda said whenever she did, he took it as a sign she was horny and started groping her.
Brenda’s friend, Kat, recommended a relationship rescue workbook. She bought two and handed JB one. She told JB they needed to complete the exercises or she was leaving. JB flipped through the workbook. The questions made him squirm but he didn’t want Brenda to leave. JB and Brenda assigned themselves questions and, once a week, sat in a coffee shop and discussed what they wrote. They began feeling closer and happier. But once they finished, things went back to the way they were.