The Back-Up Wife

You smile expectantly at me, but the silence is as awkward as a blindfolded giraffe figure skating.

“Uh… wow…” I stammer. “Thanks?”

I don’t really know what to say because what you’ve told me makes me uncomfortable, like an itchy tag in a shirt or when you have to sit in a child-sized chair for a parent/teacher conference.

The thing is, I don’t want to be your husband’s back-up wife. You know, the one person you tell him to marry if something happens to you? Yeah, I don’t want to be that.

And it is really awkward that not only did you tell me this, but you told your husband that as well.

Now if I run into him, I have to wonder if he’s thought about it – being married to not you, but to me. And I feel weird and gross and slightly like a piece of produce at the grocery store, measured and handled and evaluated when I wasn’t expecting it.

I can see many reasons that posthumously gifting me to your husband is a safe choice for you: you know me, you know I love your kids, and you feel absolutely unthreatened by me. I’m not going to supersede your position as the love of his life because I’m so nice and respectful and kind.

In doing so, you’ve also committed him to a pale imitation of the life you had with him, a watered-down mixed drink, a photocopy of something alive.

You’ve also married me off to the person you call me to vent about.

“He’s just not helpful when it comes to getting the kids to and from their activities.”

Great.

“As soon as he’s finished, he bolts for the bathroom to pee, then collapses in bed snoring and sound asleep when I’m not even there yet.”

Awesome.

“His mother drives me bonkers because she just will not understand that I will never love formal meals with ‘the good china’ and she is downright rude about it. And don’t get me started on her not-childproofed house.”

Fantastic.

This is what you’re giving me? More children to run all over creation by myself, a boring lover, and a stuffy mother-in-law? Sheesh… I thought you liked me…

Here’s the deal: you’re not dead, nor are you dying any faster than the rest of us. You are my friend, and imagining a life where you’re dead is not a fun activity for me. I like you better alive and hope to create many memories with you, though I’d prefer that we don’t include this particular “back-up wife” conversation in our scrapbook.

If I ever remarry, I do not plan to marry someone who sees me as interchangeable with a former spouse. I want passion, tenderness, and genuine love – not reheated left-overs. I want to love with utter abandon and passion and joy. Don’t you want that for your husband, too, should you kick the bucket before he does? Giving him that freedom is terrifying because it means that his decisions are out of your control and he might not make the choice you want him to make. For that matter, I might not, either.

We don’t get to write the script for what happens when we’re not in the picture.

8 thoughts on “The Back-Up Wife

  1. I love the conversational tone – it’s perfect for the subject matter. It also reminds me of the guy my mom wanted me to get with if I wasn’t married by 40 – my “backup” to spinsterhood, I guess.
    Christine recently posted…LilithMy Profile

  2. A fantastic piece! In my Toastmasters Speaking Club, we are urged to come up with an attention-grabbing opening that is apropos for the subject and you nailed that here with the “giraffe” line!

    I also liked the way you summarized expectations in a no-nonsense manner, with these lines – “If I ever remarry, I do not plan to marry someone who sees me as interchangeable with a former spouse. I want passion, tenderness, and genuine love – not reheated left-overs. I want to love with utter abandon and passion and joy.”

    And that last line — a superb finish, pithy yet powerful.

  3. I loved everything about this. You nailed the tone from the start with that awesome giraffe line. I usually try to avoid analogies, but they were just perfect to show your feelings here. Well done!

  4. It’s weird how threatened people are by the idea that a person who loves them might someday love someone else when they literally don’t exist anymore, though. I’d never really considered it in that light, but you’ve done a great job articulating the strangeness of it.

  5. I can feel a lot of anger in this and for good reason. This is my favorite line: And I feel weird and gross and slightly like a piece of produce at the grocery store, measured and handled and evaluated when I wasn’t expecting it.
    lisa recently posted…The Not So Silent NightMy Profile

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