My husband and I were both unhappily married. Although it’s very easy for me to demonize him, I realize now that he was just as miserable as I was albeit for very different reasons.
He frequently spent his evenings riding on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle with or without some biker groupie sitting on the back while I spent my nights crying and shaking uncontrollably and waiting for him to return — and praying that he wouldn’t.
If I had one message I could send to that sobbing twenty-something girl decades ago, it would be this. Instead of crying when your husband is running around town with another woman, pack your bags and get out of the house before he comes home.
My husband would invariably come home drunk and belligerent, stinking of booze, cigarettes, and other women. He’d shout, throw things, make a ruckus, and then eventually pass out on the bed or the sofa or the floor with our dog curled up against his side.
Then one night he didn’t come home.
It wasn’t unusual for him to come home as the first streaks of daylight were beginning to illuminate the sky. So when he wasn’t home by the time I left for work, it was barely a reason for concern. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t furious.
When I arrived home from work and there was still no trace of his presence in the third-floor apartment we shared, I started to worry. Even our dog seemed confused.
Dinnertime came and went, and there was still no sign of my husband. The apartment was preternaturally quiet. No doors were slammed. Neither glassware nor curses were hurled. There was no shouting. No hitting. It was peaceful. And quiet.
It should have been bliss, but I was not accustomed to peace and quiet. I was accustomed to chaos.
I called the police station and the hospital, but he wasn’t there.
I picked up the Yellow Pages. I found the phone number to the local police station, and I dialed the landline phone that was tethered to the wall in our tiny kitchen. When I explained the situation, the dispatcher yelled at me. I had called the phone number designated for emergencies only. This was not an emergency.
I picked up the Yellow Pages. I found the non-emergency phone number to the local police station, and I dialed the landline phone that was tethered to the wall in our tiny kitchen. When I explained the situation, the dispatcher advised that there was nothing he could do until I had exhausted all other options.
He suggested I call the local hospitals. Perhaps my husband was lying unconscious and unidentified there. Then he suggested I call the local morgue. Perhaps my husband was lying dead and unidentified there.
If nothing turned up, I could call the police station back. If they were satisfied with my efforts, then perhaps they would file a missing person report.
I picked up the Yellow Pages. I found the phone number to the local hospital, and I dialed the landline phone that was tethered to the wall in our tiny kitchen. When I explained the situation to the nurse on duty, she assured me that there was no unconscious and unidentified John Doe awaiting my call.
I didn’t call the morgue; I called my father-in-law instead.
“I think I know exactly where he is,” my father-in-law said into the phone. “I’ll go there and tell him to go home.”
Thirty minutes later, my husband was home safe and none the worse for — wherever he’d been. Five years later, we were divorced. Ten years later, he was dead.
I never did find out where he was the night he didn’t come home, but I always had my suspicions. I still do.
Why didn’t my husband come home that night?
He was frustrated with his life and his job. He was frustrated with our marriage.
I couldn’t blame him. I was frustrated with our marriage, too.
Faced with a total lack of control in his life, my husband decided to take back power in the only way he could. He decided to stay out all night without telling me because he needed to feel like he still had control.
My husband certainly didn’t feel the need to ask my permission to go out after work that night. There’s only one problem. By deciding to exert his autonomy and stay out all night without my prior knowledge, he showed a complete and total disregard for our marriage.
It was a clear case of disrespect, and here’s the kicker. This wasn’t the only time my husband didn’t come home after work. It happened multiple times.
It’s not about permission; it’s about respect.
When we got married, I assumed I would have the right to know where my husband was and what he was doing at all times. Although I didn’t expect to have veto power over his friends and his activities, I did think I’d have some influence.
At the very least, if my husband didn’t want to come home after work, I thought he’d ask.
I was wrong. He didn't ask me whether I was okay with him not coming home from work because he didn't care if I was okay with it. All that mattered to him were his wants and needs. My fear and anxiety were irrelevant. He never even said he was sorry.
The most important thing I learned when my husband didn’t come home that night was this: My partner doesn’t need to ask permission to do something, but there is no successful marriage without respect.
Years have passed since that night, and I have matured. In the future, if my partner wants to go somewhere after work instead of coming home, I hope he will let me know.
It’s not about asking permission. My permission isn’t needed, but mutual respect is required. That quality was missing in my past relationships, but I couldn’t imagine having a successful relationship without it now.