AK Reader: “I’ve been married four times . . .” (1996)

. . . and each one presented a very different opportunity.

I wrote this column for SageWoman, Summer 1996 edition, in response to the theme, “Light and Shadow.” And, I would say now, all four marriages contained light and shadow, interlaced, in spades! Above all, each remains in memory as a  tremendously valuable cauldron for lessons learned — or unlearned! 

I’d say now, over 30 years after this column was penned, that mostly the lessons were learned. Never again have I married. The marriage to Jeff ended in 2001, with his death from a heart attack. The story of my first year as a widow is documented in the award-winning book, This Vast Being: A Voyage through Grief and Exaltation.

On another level, I would say now that each of my marriages was arranged, an “arranged marriage”! — by the soul, which knew precisely the type of mirroring I needed, and with whom, for a certain period of time, in order to continue learning.

Now I live in a small intentional community, Green Acres Village, which I realize now, serves in part as an alternative to primary one-to-one relationship which, at this point in my long life, feels much too restrictive. The cauldron widens and deepens. And my capacity to stir its contents amplifies as I bring to bear, in community, all the often painful lessons learned through this long long life while seeking to remain strong, flexible, and curious, open to whatever or whomever blooms into view.


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“I’ve been married four times . . .” (1996)

by Ann Kreilkamp

“You’ve been married four times?!?” How often have I heard that astonished remark? “Yes, it’s true,” I tell them, and “each time has been a very different experience.”

My first marriage was what they used to call a “shotgun wedding” — though everybody pretended it wasn’t. And maybe it wasn’t! I thought I was pregnant — and I wouldn’t get a pregnancy test done. I preferred to yoke myself to a man whom I did not love “’til death do us part” over the brief embarrassment of a pregnancy test.

The baby actually arrived nine months after we married in September, 1963, though Sean was big, and the doctor told me he would arrive in April. I begged God to let it be May — and it was!

Such was the level of my thinking — and my feeling — in those days. My husband Patrick was an architect, Harvard-trained, arrogant, self-centered, and he expected me to be his unpaid secretary, waitress, cook, housekeeper, babytender, and a good lay too.

That marriage lasted six years — until I exploded into the wild abandon of the early ‘70s. Within the first month of my freedom, I “fucked” ten men. I use the word advisedly here. That’s what we called it. Feelings. Relationships? That wasn’t the “trip,” back then.

In 1976 I married again, this time to Dick, my “true love,” a man with whom I had first fallen in love when we were 13 years old. Marriage in our mid-30s felt like a dream come true. I became his “wife,” and he my “husband”— the dream we had always had of each other finally realized! I cried all the way through our wedding. Tears of joy. Tears of relief. Tears of gratitude. Finally. After 12 long years, we were back together again. Now, as adults, we were assured of a long full happy life.

For the next year and a half we made love, over and over again, literally morning, noon and night. His staff at the newspaper didn’t like me much, as he, the Editor, was so rarely there! Meanwhile, I was already chafing within the confines of the way the world saw me, as “wife,” — where he was the breadwinner” and I “the little woman” who “stood by his side” — all those roles our parents played out. (We were living within two blocks of his parents, and within only 60 miles of where my parents had since moved.)

Finally, I woke up one morning in a tent in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho where we had gone on one of our wonderful backpacking trips, and didn’t want to make love. What?

Something had changed.

My energy had switched; now, I wanted to understand us mentally, not just feel us emotionally. “Who are you?” I asked,  “Who am I? What are we doing together? Canwe be together as adults? What is your path, what is mine? Can we combine them?” Now that I my long-standing physical and emotional desires had been satiated, I wanted more, much more. My original dream of full partnership (a dream I didn’t even know I had) emerged from the mists of the unconscious and demanded my attention.

What had been the “dream come true” now felt like a bubble — and I was inside it, rubbing up against its inside skin, feeling suffocated. I had to get out. This feeling was not immediate; it seeped in over a period of months. Meanwhile, we were talking, talking, endless discussions. Whereas before we had spent four or five hours each day and night making love, now we were using that same energy in earnest, soul-baring conversation.

“Is there a way we can join forces professionally?” I asked him. “Will you quit the newspaper and start something new with me? A new publication?” But the thought of working with me in public made him visibly shudder. My ideas were so radical — he was now finding out. His ideas were so conservative—I was now realizing. Now I wanted to change him. To change him so that he would become somebody who could work with me, who was on the same path.

“What is your path?” he would ask me. “I have no idea!” I would have to admit. I wanted him to leave his path to follow mine, and I had no idea what my path was; all I knew was that I couldn’t follow my path and still be the “wife” everyone expected.

I also knew that in order to complete my karma with him, I had to remain until he was willing to let me go. Otherwise my leaving would not be ethical. I did not want to create any new karma, and so would stay for as long as necessary — even if it turned out to be years and years.

Finally, after nine months of continuous, energetic tug-of-war, he reluctantly agreed that I could leave, with the $3000 we had in savings as my “start-up” money.

So, in fear and trembling, wondering what had gotten into me that I would leave the man I loved so fully, and who was the only real security I had ever had, he helped me get my own studio apartment, where I started counting my pennies to begin my own life, asking “what is my path?”

That was in 1977. By 1980, I was successfully launched as the first local professional astrologer. I was also set up as a “guru” in my hometown, publishing an alternative publication, “OpenSpace,” that was receiving rave notices. Sitting on my Sagittarian high horse, my path, so cloudy before, now seemed clear.

Meanwhile, I was secretly smoking cigarettes, drinking, smoking dope and generally indulging in all sorts of addictions. I was also (surprise!) attracting serious alcoholics to me as lovers, men whom I would immediately stop seeing as soon as I realized they were addicts, and whom I did notsee as mirroring my own addictions. This was the perfect setup for a con man to arrive and present me with the greatest lesson of my life.

That second husband’s name was Dick High perfect name for the man who had been our Student Body President in high school. Phil Lowman, on the other hand, had been our high school’s most prominent “lowlife,” and I had been an elitist snob, Dick’s girl friend. Phil was my perfect nemesis. One man named High, the other Low, and I married them both! I had to experience both the high and the low within myself. So now, at 39, I had to go down, down into the underworld of alcoholism with Phil: liver disease, stomach ulcers, esophageal varicies, and pathological lying.

I, the great shining heroine, was going to heal Phil’s body, chnge his mind, and save his soul. HA! I had to find out, like millions of other women, that I could not save another, that the one who needed saving was me.

That process with Phil took one full year. In the middle of it, we got married. During one of his many trips to the emergency room, his eyes desperate, his wrists and arms hooked into Ivs full of blood, he begged me to marry him.

I was furious! “This is blackmail!” I cried, and returned to our trailer to write up a marriage contract. I thought I was protecting myself by specifying that the marriage was to be temporary, that I would only stay with him until he got his health back, and that in order to get his health back he would make specific changes in his diet and behavior. He, of course, signed the contract eagerly. Why not? The contract specified that I would stay with him as long as he was sick; forever, if necessary! That’s what he was looking for; somebody to take care of him while he was sick.

Our life together consisted of ambulances, emergency rooms, transfusions, intensive care, and brief times when I was stuck alone in our tiny trailer in the middle of a eucalyptus forest in California and he was out on the road, selling high school sports calendars, doing what he did best: pretending to connect.

I find it hard now to believe that, even at the age of 40, I was so foolish. Life with Phil finally ended one memorable night when he arrived home drunk, finally letting me see his alcoholism. (The doctors had all told me he was alcoholic, and I kept saying no, he wasn’t, he had said he wasn’t alcoholic, and he wouldn’t lie to me.)

He arrived drunk, mean and threatening, and went to the closet and got out his guns. That ordeal lasted for four hours, and in order to get out I had to stare him down. I finally moved into my own power by admitting that I could not heal another. It was time to heal myself, change myself, save myself.

For the next seven years, my relationships were brief and far-flung. Mainly I was working on myself, on facing and embracing the inner demons that had generated my own addictive behavior.

I met Jeff in 1990. He came to live with me within two months of our meeting at a conference in San Francisco. We married three years later. Jeff is the partner I was seeking when I asked Dick to move into real partnership with me, not just be “husband and wife” in the social sense of falling into the expected roles.

I thought that I could never really marry again. I thought that love could not coexist with the social roles of marriage. I am learning with jeff that love shines through the social roles and makes of them what it will.

With Dick, I longed for a true partnership, on all levels, though I did not know what that meant. Now I am learning. Jeff and I do meet each other, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually; our educational backgrounds are similar — and both of us are both left- and right-brained. Like Dick, Jeff is conservative; I am (still) radical. But we realize that these differences are in our natures, and that in combination, they are complementary. It is his jobto be conservative, my job to be radical.

Our problems come up when I try to change him. And I do; I guess I will always try to change what’s in front of me, although I’m getting better at learning how to take back my projections and focus on changing myself. Over and over again I yank out the cords, let him go, move to center within. Over and over as I let him go, space opens up for him — to change, to stay the same, to do whatever heneeds to do.

We are lucky that our needs for togetherness and apartness are similar. We have two places (a large office in Jackson, and a small yurt 25 minutes away in the village of Kelly across from the Grand Tetons), so we go back and forth between them; sometimes together, sometimes apart. With Jeff I have finally found the partner with whom I can build my life on a firm foundation.

So yes, I’ve been married four times. Four very different experiences. Each one preparing for the next. With Patrick I learned to find my own ego in order not to be crushed by his. With Dick I found love, and discovered that love alone was not enough. With Phil I discovered my own shadow side. And with Jeff I am glad for my ego, glad for love, glad for my shadow; for he too has all of these, is all of these, and together we explore them all in both of us. Our egos spar — and laugh; our love opens; our shadows lurk and then pounce, and then exaggerate, breaking into comedy. No trouble is so serious that we cannot see through it eventually. In giving in to each other, we are each delivered to ourselves.


About Ann Kreilkamp

PhD Philosophy, 1972. Rogue philosopher ever since.
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