Marriage Breakdown After 30 Years

I never expected a marriage breakdown after 30 years of being together. I took my marriage for granted, thought it would be there forever, never doubted the strength and resilience of our union. My brain was so locked into the routine of everyday life that I didn’t see my husband’s patterns of behavior changing until he had already drifted far from me. Now that situation is in my rearview mirror and I have a fresh perspective on why it happened. With perfect hindsight I can see our marriage breakdown after 30 years was bound to happen because our careers were going in opposite directions. In midlife our goals changed, and we wanted different things.

Billie Best writes on her marriage breakdown after 30 years

Anything can become routine if you do it for 30 years, even great sex. We became accustomed to the rhythm of our lives and we didn’t notice subtle changes until they added up to something big. My husband and I had an arrangement that I would be the breadwinner and he would be the home caretaker because he was an artist without the chops to bring home a big paycheck, and I had an instinct for business that gave me a competitive edge at the office. We always lived in beautiful places. He had the skills to build it. I paid for it. Then when I was 47, I changed my mind about work.

Like millions of other middle-aged people, after 9/11 I had an epiphany about how I was spending my time. If the world was to end in a heartbeat, would I be pleased to look back at my bank balance, or did I want a more meaningful legacy? That’s when I became infected with farming and it took over my life. At the same time my husband had taken his first straight job with a weekly paycheck, full healthcare benefits, a retirement plan and paid vacation. He was like a kid who just discovered sugar at the same time I was going on a diet.

The big change in the way we spent our time every day was a paradigm shift for both of us. Our heads were spinning in opposite directions. The first fights were about money. I had decided I didn’t care about it anymore while he was getting high on bringing home the bacon. After a while money was all we ever talked about. The problem as he saw it was that I was spending his paycheck to buy cows. The problem as I saw it was all I wanted to do was become a farmer. I had paid his way as an artist and I wanted him to pay my way as a farmer. Maybe that would have been a fair trade in our 20s, but we were in our 50s. He thought it was too late in our lives to follow farm dreams. And me, well, I’m a dreamer.

Our marriage breakdown after 30 years was ignited by the issue of money. Our ambitions changed and we lost sight of each other. It’s an issue we never resolved. Within a few years he was a very sick man, I was his caregiver, and we reunited to prepare for his death. Thankfully for both of us, we didn’t split up when things fell apart, we stayed in the marriage, and that gave us the opportunity to evolve back to being in love again just in time to say goodbye.

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Why Long-Married Couples Split

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5 thoughts on “Marriage Breakdown After 30 Years

  1. It’s a nice story Billie. and that is a wonderful photo of you and Chet.

    As you know so well, time changes many things including the way we view ourselves and what we do and why we do those things. As our view of ourselves changes, so does our view of the people who are close to us, even though we love them, albeit differently.

    So glad that you seem to be having a wonderful time with your new life.

  2. Wild reading this, Bil. Particularly cuz just the other day (yeah, doing it again…I’m writing…I’m writing again…) I put this down (unedited at this point):

    GENTLEMAN SONGSTER?

    Billie Best (Berlin Airlift, OL2 manager) and Chet Cahill (bassist in many of my bands) always had The Iconic Relationship. Love, art, a parallel parking of two oddball souls spliced seamlessly together.

    But at one point, well along, they split up. Or Billie did. Took a break. I’ll never forget the call from Chet. The sound of his voice. ‘Billie’s leaving me,’ he said. A blow to all of us who believed in what had seemed indestructible. The details I won’t go into. Not my place. Blood under the bridge. What is awesome is what happened next. Billie (who had to keep an eye out for Phlebitis – a blood clot crises that if untreated can be fatal – I think Nixon had it) wound up in the hospital. Critical. If the clot wriggled up to her heart, case closed. The first person she called, duh. was Chet. And then, lo and behold, he came down with the first case of Scarlet Fever in decades. At Mass General. They wound up in the same room. Side by side beds. Back together. When they got out, they eloped. Ladder to window (no Marriage Industrial Complex for these two). And they made a choice: no kids. Nada. Disappointing grandparents, but opting for art, career and just-the-two-of-them over rug rats. (They did wind up buying an animal farm and big dogs.)

    ‘I know that if Chet ever dies, I’ll have the dog,’ Billie laughs.

    They were smart, cutting edged and rode their own rodeo of establishment horses, playing the ironic money game, making a decent income and spending it in cool ways. Ever the 5 year plan. They collaborated on projects (Chet’s death design being the pinnacle) and worked solo (Chet – music production, Billie – author, green biz lady). What I admired most was how they set up house. The stuff they collected and pinned on walls, laid out on floors, rarified objects d’art. My fav: a pale turquoise ceramic ‘bass?’. Full curvaceous sized with glowing white light marbles studded like chubby translucent moles all over its body. They lit up when plugged in, a muted silvery glow which, like Blanche Dubois, I favor. I always wanted the thing. The fish. Wanted them to give it to me. I never shut up about it, but, after Chet died, I lost out. Went to another friend.

    But on my birthday I got the above. The Whiffenpoof Art Viinyl. ‘To the tables down at Morey’s…’

    Whiffenpoof: ‘a sock filled with toothpaste used as a weapon’). Singing groups were a big deal at Yale. I got in there in part because of all the singing I’d logged in high school. Big loud baritone. Over the top nasal Broadway. Singing groups at Yale were a safe house for man-to-man romance. An ajar homo closet. You didn’t talk about it, but you ‘knew’. Platonic or otherwise. Rushing underclassmen (meeting up to ‘persuade’ them to join your group) was like dating. Long ‘meaningful’ looks, deep confessional conversation. Borderline flirtations. I was deep in the dark closet back then. Hiding the truth of my ‘persuasion’ even from myself. I refused advances even as I had crushes on many of my friends. Not atypical for the early 60’s.

    Have to say, however, that I loved the singing. The intricate arrangements. The boisterous acapella punch filling hall, dorm, dining hall. I felt the odd man out. Most of the guys in my groups came from prep school. We were compatriots, but not real friends. Not sure who were my real friends back then. One or two intense interactions, but un-realized. In a lotta ways I didn’t know who the fuck I was. Booze numbing the truth. Yale was all dudes in my day, so, like English boarding schools, homosexuality permeated the ivy air.

    Getting the Whiff record from BIl and Chet walked me back to those years. The songs, the trips to Bermuda, Puerto Rico, recording in a CBS big room studio, the green cup at Morey’s, the white tie tuxedos, the rehearsals – all came roaring back when I stare this vinyl perched on my wall. Has me remembering Chet. How he knew the artist I was or wanted to be. The song writer. How he cared about my being true to myself. I miss his raised eyebrow hearing new work.

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