How many Japanese girls' comic magazines were full of such romantic stories of golden-haired princesses and handsome, tall men who, after various trials, tribulations and misunderstandings, would finally be reunited (or would finally acknowledge their love for each other), and all would end well in anticipation of the coming nuptials, and one knew that they would live happily ever after!
I would read these stories and dream of the day when my prince (always a European, of course, _never_ a Japanese!) would come and whisk me away to his castle of love, and we would spend our days in wedded bliss devoid of anger, hate, spite, and boredom. I was an avid writer of short stories and fairy tales, and I would spend hours concocting fanciful tales of such love for my own pleasure, but sometimes inflicting them on my little sister and my friends.
The day came when I did meet my prince, and while he was quite handsome, he was not tall, muscular nor blonde. Neither was he the sophisticated man of the world who would protect and care for me, loving me with great tenderness and treating me as the delicate princess I surely was! I soon discovered that the "happily ever after" of fairy tales was in reality a round of verbal and physical abuse, of money spent on drugs rather than the necessities to keep us going, and a world totally alien to me; a world inhabited by people who barely made it through high school and who had no interest beyond their narrow confines of home and work.
The less-than-happy childhood I had had stood me in good stead during this time. I re-discovered resources within me that allowed me to fight against the ignorance, violence, and squalor that was the reality of my married life. I firmly took charge of the finances and managed to stretch the meager pay to cover the bare necessities. By sheer force of will power, I managed to get most of my ex-husband's less-than-desirable family members to stay away, semi-permanently, and defied his order that I get an abortion when I discovered that I was pregnant.
In hindsight, I realise that much of the violence that was directed at me was a combination of what he had seen growing up (father beating mother and flaunting his infidelities), as well as feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem in the face of my coming from a well-educated, fairly comfortably well-off family, and having traveled much of the world in my short lifetime.
His jealous rages took a turn for the ridiculous: accusations that I was making it with anything that wore pants, irregardless of gender -- once looking out the window and seeing a man standing at the corner, waiting to cross the street, screamed at me that there was my lover waiting for me to come out, and began flailing at me with the metal side of a belt.
I won't go into all the classic symptoms and reasons as to why I stayed as long as I did. Suffice it to say that the catalyst for my departure was when I caught him abusing my son who was then just a baby. This was the push I needed, I guess, in ridding myself of a violent and twisted man, and with the help of a friend I made my escape. Six months later, I was able to file for divorce, and though I stipulated that my ex-husband be allowed visitation rights, he never took advantage of them. After one year, he even stopped sending the pitifully meager child support payments after accusing me of using the money for my own pleasures.
I was so traumatised by this experience that I could not look at another man without feeling nauseaous. This lasted for two years. Towards the end of two years, when I began thinking about romance again, I felt a sense of panic because I thought perhaps I would never find another man to love again. My mother did not help at all in this, reinforcing instead her old fashioned notion that a divorced woman had no business remarrying. That I had had my chance, had blown it(never mind that I had been a battered wife!), and therefore I was to spend the rest of my life devoting myself to my son, and doing good works.
Though my self-esteem was not excatly very high, I knew that surely, I could not be that undesirable; for after all, hadn't I been married? I decided, however, that culturally-speaking, it would be best to find someone from my own country. To that end, I began working at a Japanese restaurant and was delighted to see 2 or 3 eligible young men working there. After a month or so, I began noticing one of them in particular, and after some juggling on the part of the manager who acted as go-between, we began dating. I was thrilled because he was the first man I had even considered dating after my terrible marriage experience. The fact that he had quit school at age 16, came from a family of farmers in Chiba Prefecture, and worked as a cook in a restaurant did not bother me, though it bothered my mother. The only plus -- in her eyes -- was that he was Japanese. When I told him of my failed marriage and that I would never tolerate any man hitting me, and that if he should be so inclined he could kiss me good bye. He assured me with tenderness and love that _he_ would never do such a thing! His aim was to please and care for me.
Within a year and a half, the bubble burst, and when I made the break, I determined that I would remain unmarried forever. The golden, romantic world as portrayed by those girls' comic magazines was an illusion; there was no golden-haired prince waiting for me at the end of the rainbow. Granted, there were men who were kind, considerate, and did not beat or cheat on their wives, but I opined that they were few and far between. If I did fall in love again, I would be careful and make sure that not only was he culturally compatible, but also aesthetically compatible. He must not only have brains, but come from a well-educated, comfortably-well off family, and have a professional job.
Alas, how soon we forget! When the heart rules the mind, all rational thought flies out the window! While my second husband had the brains and education and family, he too was possessed of the notion that a husband ruled his wife with -- if necessary -- an iron fist. While he did not engage in daily or weekly physical abuse(though he was physically violent), his mouth was a conduit for the most stinging and hurtful verbal abuse. However, having failed at my first marriage, I was determined to make this one work. I would not let my family -- in particular, my mother down -- especially after meeting him she was bubbling with such enthusiasm over him; something she had never done with my first husband or subsequent boyfriends.
He was the first to genuinely encourage me to return to school, and helped me as I made it through university and then graduate school. After a particularly difficult first six years of our marriage, he seemed to shape up and finally take himself and our relationship seriously, and began his own business. However, for reasons too numerous to go into, after ten years, I realised that the marriage was over.
When a job offer opened up in another city, I took it and relocated. I began a new life and look forward with great eagerness to a successful future. I have come to learn that one does not need a husband to accomplish what wants to do, or even just to live. This does not negate the feelings of disappointment in myself at having another failed marriage. This time, too, my soon-to-be-ex husband chose to involve my family in the sordid details which, though they could not have cared less about them, it pained me for them to have to be put in the middle. In fact, my mother refuses to even hear anything about the reasons why this one failed. While we have never been close, we have become more estranged as of late, so being told that I am going to be divorced again has her giving up on me pretty much altogether. Though she does not verbalise all this, I know that is how she is thinking. She also is of the old-school notion that the woman must have done _something_ to warrant any sort of verbal or physical att ack by the husband.
I know that it is a mistake to go through life thinking one can depend on another. While it would be nice to be able to depend on someone for emotional support, too many relationships fail to do that. One must grow and become strong within oneself. For a woman to become self-reliant is a wonderful accomplishment. This does not mean that one rejects offers of help or support, whether emotional or financial. But to depend on such offers as _the_ only outlet to happpiness can cause unhappiness and bitter disappointment.
I have come to learn,too, what great emotional investment is necessary in maintaining a successful relationship. Love is not a natural entity that occurs and helps to "conqueor all". Love can fade and it can sour. To keep such love alive takes strength, cooperation, and a willingness to accept that some sacrifices must be made; that all of one's expectations are not always met; that one cannot forget the little, seemingly insignificant things that let a person know you are thinking about them, and care about them.
Am I willing to invest in such a relationship again? Do I really want to go through the whole romantic courtship ritual with someone who, in the end, may not be compatible with me at all? While at the moment I may feel that the answer is No to both questions, I am also an optimist and a tenacious one at that. I do not give up easily, so therefore, I think that in time, I may feel differently, and be willing to test the waters of a one-on-one romance again. In the meantime, I do enjoy casual dates from time to time, and I feel proud of myself that I am now able to tell a man that beyond an occasional lunch or dinner, do not expect anything more; that I am not interested in establishing any sort of relationship. I have also become very selective in who I go out with. I find now that I value a man's intellect, and while looks are important for me, being able to converse intelligently with a man has become very precious. His occupation also is important, for I discovered that not only culturally, but career -wise, it is important to be compatible -- or as compatible as possible -- becasue otherwise, too many conflicts can arise; not the least of which, one runs out of things to say if one doesn't understand what the other is trying to convey about, say, politics or the arts or international affairs.