What is a Marriage: How We Live or How We Love

I had dinner last night with my girlfriend. She had just been served her divorce papers.

I've been supporting "Ann" through her separation and divorce for the last year. She initially struggled with her decision, but after years of physical abuse and infidelity, she decided to call it quits. Ann is the first friend I've had who has gone through a divorce and I tend to struggle a bit with how to handle giving her the support and advice she needs. Through our conversations, I have learned that how we live is how we love.

Ann, 60, grew up in an environment where women were showered in gifts. Men were handsome and gracious. Women were beautiful and pampered. Before marrying "Bill," Ann was single for more than 10 years. She had a high paying job and owned her own home. She entered her second marriage with wealth she had accumulated herself. Her new husband, "Bill," was handsome and smooth talking. He bought a large, expensive waterfront home for them. They both drove expensive sports cars. They had a time share in the southern Caribbean. He kept "Ann" in the lifestyle to which she was accustomed. They were an attractive, well-to-do couple. A month or so ago, Ann asked me if she should request an extension on the separation because she feared losing her medical benefits. She is currently living with a friend. She is miserable and lonely - feeling lost without her possessions.

I grew up in a poor family with alcoholism and domestic violence. I did not receive affection and support from my parents. They were too busy trying to make it and too busy blaming each other for their failure. There were many moves due to evictions. My parents, now divorced and in their 60's, still do not own homes. I grew up understanding what it meant to live without and learning how to make the best of what I had. I have been married for 26 years. I have a nice large, home and a luxury vehicle. My husband and I have lived a comfortable middle class life. Because of my husband's career, I spent the majority of my marriage alone - raising our children by myself. We have never been in financial trouble. We rarely argue but because of our separation, we find very little in common.

So, during our converation last night, Ann cried over the fact that she has nothing left. Bill took everything and saddled her with the burden of a very large mortgage. He refuses to release her from the waterfront home. Ann traded in her expensive sports car for a less expensive but still luxury vehicle. Despite her freedom from an abusive man, she seems more concerned about her financial situation. She wonders how another man could want to be in a relationship with her if she is in debt. She is not happy with her job and her salary, yet she hesitates on finding something new. She seems more comfortable in knowing that she has a paycheck even if it comes with a price.

I, on the other hand, recently quit my job because I was not happy. I did not have a back-up plan and I am actively looking for a new job. This is actually the second time that I have gone "cold turkey." I value my happiness and enthusiasm more than a buck. When it comes to a relationship, I value a partner who will spend quality time with me - someone who will talk with me, laugh with me and experience life with me. Money and prestige are not a priority.

To me, it seems that Ann is focusing on the money. I am a very good listener and I sympathize with her, but I cannot empathize because I do not feel the same. I'd give up everything for happiness. Ann cannot be happy without everything. Ann cannot imagine a man wanting to be with her if she is not financially sound. I'd send a man packing if he based our relationship on my financial status.

Our upbringings and lifestyles have molded us and set the standards for what we desire in a relationship. Ann and I continue to listen to and support each other. Fortunately, I consider us true friends. Although we realize and understand that we have different opinions and needs, we do not pass judgment on the other. Maybe, in the long run, our relationship - our friendship will prove to be the best thing for both of us.

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