Walking Away

The absence of complaints has their husbands believing that things have improved; they’re out of the dog house.
– Michele Weiner-Davis, “The Walk-away Wife Syndrome”


It has taken two years of thrift store shopping and beans and rice, but Hal and Wendy finally save enough nickels for ten days at all-inclusive resort in Cozumel. As soon as they arrive, they order margaritas and dance holes in their shoes. They stumble back to the room and sink into the soft belly of the bed. They are drifting off, blissed out and hoping to wake up early enough to catch the snorkeling cruise.
Drip Drip Drip.
Wendy: “What’s that?”

Hal: “What?”

Wendy: “That drip? I can’t sleep with that.”
Grumbling, Hal rises and fumbles with the shower. He comes back to bed.
Hal: “I tightened it.”
Wendy: “Thank you.”
Drip Drip Drip
Wendy: “I really can’t sleep with that.” She gets up and shuts the bathroom door.
Hal conks out. The dripping goes on, fracturing Wendy’s night. On the snorkeling boat the next morning, she is grumpy and dark-eyed. Back on land, the pair finds a pharmacy. Earplugs. Just in case. Wendy elbows Hal into talking to the front desk. A maintenance guy shows up, speaking in rapid Spanish and noodling with the fixtures above and the pipes below.
That night: Drip Drip Drip.
Hal sleeps. Wendy tenses. The earplugs are useless. She gets up. She stuffs a towel on the shower floor to muffle the noise. It works until she is ju-u-ust about under, then:
Drip Drip Drip
The next morning, knowing she has not slept, Hal slips down and gathers fresh mango and Wendy’s favorite omelet, carrying them up on a tray. She picks at the food then hints hard that maybe another room would be better. He sighs and heads off to go talk to the front desk. He comes back and shrugs.

Hal: “No rooms. Booked all the way through next month. Sorry, babe.”
Hal gets dressed to head out on the jungle excursion. He finds Wendy stretched by the pool with a paperback. “Aren’t you coming? You love things like this.”
Wendy: “Too tired. I’m just going to chill.”
She drags herself to the front desk while Hal is gone. The hotel will not reimburse them if they want to re-book at another establishment. The part for the shower is somewhere else. The receptionists are sweet and entirely evasive. They offer free drink tickets for four cocktails as compensation. That night, Wendy is not interested in the marimba show. They go to bed early. Hal falls asleep.
Drip Drip Drip.
The fourth day, Wendy is by the pool with her paperback again.
Hal: “How’s the book?”


Hal: “You’re really into it.”

Wendy: “Yep. It’s good.”

Hal: “I paid for a 90-minute massage at the spa for you. They have openings at 11 and 3 today.”

Wendy: “Cool. Thanks. But I’m really fine just reading.”

Hal: “You’re not going to go? All you need to do is make the appointment.”

Wendy: “I might. I don’t know. Thanks. Have fun on the water.”
Hal rarely sees his whirling dervish of a wife relax. That’s good enough for him. He heads off for a swim.
Sometime in the wee hours of that night, Hal wakes up when he hears shuffling and banging in the room. Wendy, in the dim light, fully dressed, and with a face like a fist. Not aimed at him, but still.
Hal: “What’s going on?”

Wendy: “I’m leaving.”

Hal: “What? Where are you going?”

“The cab is waiting. I’m going back to the airport and I’m going home.”

Hal: “What the hell? You’re leaving? Over what?”

Wendy: “You know exactly what. I can’t stay here one more minute. This trip was the biggest mistake we ever made.”

She grabs her bag and is gone.


A post on DivorcedAndAngry last week led me back around to the Weiner-Davis article. The theory goes like this: When Husband and Wife* are giving attention and feeling supported with some degree of balance, the relationship thrives. Eventually, though, faucets leak and trouble comes knocking. If the partners put their heads together to resolve the issues, the relationship still thrives. When communication fails to bring about resolution, the result is division and decay.
Husband pads the rough edges with gifts or compliments. He thinks he has done his best. Wife needles and nags, barely acknowledging his misguided offerings. Because trying to coddle a shrew neither appeals nor satisfies, he withdraws. She battens down the hatches and begins planning her escape. Whether her retreat is emotional (“Screw him. I can take care of myself”) or practical (squirreling money, meeting with a lawyer), the upshot is the same: she has already turned her back on the marriage at a time when the marriage most needs her attention. Meanwhile, Husband has not heard Wife moaning about the leaky faucet for a while, so he figures the problem has gone away. All is well in his world. Until the night she drops the bomb.

Wendy: “I’m leaving.”

Hal: “What? Where are you going?”

Wendy: “I’ve signed a lease on a place across town.”

Hal: “What the hell? You’re leaving? Over what?”

“You know exactly what. We’ve talked about it a thousand times, and nothing has changed. I can’t stay with you another minute. This marriage was the biggest mistake of my life.”


It is chilling to see Tee’s and my story reflected with such perfect clarity in some social worker’s theory. I assumed for years Tee knew what I needed but was simply unwilling to make the changes. The tired saw about old dogs haunted me. “You can’t make a man change, and trying is a losing game.” My choice, it seemed, was to endure the leaks or jump ship. Tee tells me now, in slack-jawed wonder, that he had no idea there was a problem. He thought everything was fine.
If someone had suggested to me that I was Wendy, I wonder if I would I have worked harder to attend to the marriage. It’s impossible to know. So many years of walking away emotionally wore a deep chasm into the terrain of our marriage. I may not have had the courage or energy to try to bridge it, even if someone had forced a mirror in front of me.
I do know this, however. I hear the drip drip drip in my relationship with the fine and attentive Don Giovanni.  I can even pinpoint the precise weakness in the seal that joins us. I am not interested in repeating design errors. Setting my jaw and building my resentments have never worked, and they will not work now. Talking with honest frankness about the fractures terrifies me, but what choice do I have? Like Tee, Giovanni may do nothing. Or, he may do all the lovely things that come naturally to him to make me smile, while still not attending to the leak. As some of his predecessors have done, he may even decide I am a judgmental bitch and a bottomless pit of need, and do the walking himself.
I have heard it all before, endured it all before. I tell you this: none of it compares to the agony of living with the drip drip drip.
It is worth considering that a successful adjustment and even creative resolution might result from caring conversation. I am damned sure that nothing good will come of eggshells and avoidance.
So, perhaps this: Whatever man chooses to place his bets on me is going to hear about that leak. He does not need to be a plumber because I am pretty handy with tools myself, but he had better believe there won’t be any sleeping on the job. We’ll be up and at it together, or we won’t be a We at all.

* Please forgive my assumptions about gender and orientation. While the pattern is most understood in the context of heterosexual marriage, other configurations do not confer immunity. Indeed, any partner in any partnership can play these roles all too well.


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