By Hans Ebert
The problem with marriage is getting married. The love might be there, but, somehow, the romance leaves. There’s also almost a need to act “married” for everyone else, which can cause many seasons of discontent between a couple that are sometimes never resolved. They’re left hanging until those grapes of wrath sour forever and open warfare begins.
Though Trina and I were very much in love and enjoying being parents to Taryn, things were changing. Call it a shift in priorities, but these changes signalled moving in different directions without us even realising it and never trying to heal those wounds that were surfacing. Internal wounds are the most difficult to heal as they’re the enemy within. But we seldom address this problem. We wait until it’s too late and think counselling with some stranger will help. It never does. It just puts a band aid on a problem that continues to fester, or if dismissing this as psychobabble, one plays the game to keep everyone happy with pat answers. This should not be allowed to happen. But we stupidly let it. Of course, everyone’s different…
As for marriage, it’s this ancient concept of being together legally, but too often not being one together emotionally. It’s about being parents and what society expects parenthood to be. Some are better at adapting to this life than others who fight not to live their lives just to conform and please others. Non conformists rebel against conformity. It’s selling out and living a lie.
This always bothered me- how to be a tight family unit without compromises, never losing that honesty and becoming what and who we were not. I was seeing enough of this in other outwardly “happy marriages” which had broken down years earlier.
Hell, I had seen it with my own relatives many times over. But comparisons were not the answer. It should have been about two people looking at themselves and asking if they were happy with where they were and how to get to that happy place. But this really important need to talk things through is seldom practiced. It’s allowed to just continue when there’s a daily battle- that search for complete honesty in what is often a dishonest world with many wearing masks with eyes wide shut.
Trina embraced motherhood and was brilliant in this role. I was trying to balance work, and being the head of creative services in an ad agency, trying to cope with the pressures that accompanied this role along with being a provider and father. Did one role take priority over the other? Probably, but they morphed into one. It didn’t work.
With Trina making the time to be a mother, my work and fierce ambition to be successful took over. With success comes power. Power corrupts and also attracts those who wish to be part of the lifestyle that accompanies it. And when giddy with power and having easy access to everything behind the velvet rope, one’s world changes and a double life takes over. It’s very Jeckyl and Hyde where light and dark become fifty shades of grey. You’re not quite sure where you belong, but you enjoy the attention. Words come easily. Words lose all honesty. They’re just, well, words.
Substance abuse doesn’t help. It just makes one comfortably numb. And dumb. Somewhere over the rainbow, there’s nothing. There can be sexual highs, but they’re never high enough. Why? Because you’re a romantic and still in love with the only woman who mattered then and matters now, but one could land in this weird place where this is forgotten and replaced with trying not to hurt anyone. This often means shunning the one who matters and trying to find what you already have. These side trips always take one down some very dark and twisted alley ways.
Taryn grew up fast. She had the usual and unusual problems of growing up. She went from being painfully shy and introverted to being the lead dancer in ballet, had her fair share of boyfriends, spoke French, left for university in the UK, returned with a tattoo on her ankle, and fell in with university life. It was all part of growing up, but what never changed was her sensitivity and being a good person.
Did she and I have a strong bond? It blew hot and cold though we had our very good moments. She was her mother’s daughter. Maybe somewhere along the way, I gave up trying to win her love/affection and whatever. It becomes too much hard work when, rightly or wrongly, one believes nothing will change, and constantly running up the hill seeking approval gets you nowhere.
Our pets Kitty and Minnie gave in to old age, which I took very badly, but suppressed the sadness. Despite telling myself I would never have another pet, Trina persuaded me to “just see” a puppy she had spotted in a pet shop. The moment I saw this Llahsa Apso, we knew she had to belong to us. Nipper became part of the family. She was the glue that held us together for as long as she was alive.
We absolutely loved that dog and she moved with us from apartment to apartment, one being a fabulous triplex I was sure had an evil spirit living there. Whenever on the balcony, there was the feeling of being pushed over the edge. The son of the family who moved in after us took that step beyond and fell to his death.
After putting her career on hold for seven years to be with Taryn, Trina entered the workforce again- the hotel business. My career in advertising was going through ups and downs and highs and lows with me associating with many who weren’t exactly good role models. Most cheated on their partners and it seemed the thing to do as long as you were never found out.
Thinking back, it was strange that none of Taryn’s tight group of girlfriends enjoyed being part of happy marriages. Most of the fathers were having affairs and the parents eventually divorced whereas Trina and I were keeping up false pretences. When she would ask why I couldn’t be more like this one and that one, I just kept quiet about the secret affairs I knew they were having. In a small city like Hong Kong, there were always open secrets- at least in the exclusive expat boys club. It was like the unwritten rules of The Fight Club.
Work was going well until a terrible mistake was made. This was when a shady and superficial Australian from Sydney with a very dubious past I knew about conned those at head office in New York into becoming Managing Director at the ad agency for which I worked. Let’s call him Brownie.
Brownie was a devious slime ball who was finally found out for what he was when he was reported to head office by a greasy little Account Director he had hired to be his Boy Wonder, but who had his own ambitions and agenda. Let’s call him Aaron. Aaron was only about Aaron and formed his own internal power group. Aaron eventually took over from Brownie, but not before this opportunistic Australian and his much younger wife had feathered their nests, and lived the painfully superficial expatriate Hong Kong lifestyle.
Knowing I saw right through him and his dodgy business deals and corporate lies to the advertising media about the “successes” of our new business wins and inflating the numbers- and which I refuted to publications- it was obvious that with this open warfare, my days with DDB were numbered. What I had in my hand, however, were hundreds of secrets, and the lucrative McDonald’s account. I had the backing of the Chairman of the business in Hong Kong- Daniel Ng, a brilliant man and very good judge of character. Daniel saw right through The Brownie and Aaron Show and wanted me work with him as his personal Adviser. It was putting the cat amongst the pigeons. Daniel, despite no longer with us, remains one of my favourite human beings.
Brownie did everything possible to make me resign, but I wasn’t going anywhere without a darn good payout. With this in the bank and him having to deal with me as his McDonald’s client was at least some form of satisfaction. So was firing the ad agency and having the person he hired to replace me last less than a year. He also saw through the superficiality of Brownie and bailed.
While all this was going on, to alleviate the stress, the nights out became more frequent. The women, they would come and they would go, the weekend trips to Macau for the horse racing and the alcohol fuelled boys nights out over there became more frequent.
Those attending those tribal gatherings became more and more strange led by crooked horse trainers and jockeys, nights out accompanying acquaintances who wished to check out the girlie clubs like Darling and China City, which left me cold, and partying with fat cat Chinese gentlemen who had connections everywhere. It was fascinating stuff- hanging out with these people, owning horses and living la vida loca.
Going to church with Trina and receiving communion was my way of being forgiven for my sins. God might have been forgiving me, Trina might have been forgiving me while fighting to keep our marriage together, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I just pushed her away and went looking for happiness elsewhere. But knowing real happiness is something I never knew. Probably never will. Happiness is a warm gun, bang bang, shoot shoot.
There was also resentment building between Trina and myself. I felt she was now married to her work and dinners together at home became solitary affairs. She was always working late. Staying home with Nipper and our domestic helper and Taryn away at university meant needing company. This led to starting to go clubbing with bachelor male colleagues in advertising and far more experienced in taking walks on the wild side. I was a virgin to all this- bars, clubs, hostess clubs and what went on at karaoke sessions.
The marriage with Trina was unraveling and I just didn’t feel I belonged in any of our homes. Whatever I bought for our apartments was never “right” and I felt like a stranger in a strange land. Sure, we had some good times, but the pressures and politics of work and my personal life full of various insecurities made me lose my way. I wanted to lose my way.
I was blaming Trina for everything when I was actually blaming myself, but needed a scapegoat. I was looking for a reason to be angry so that I could do everything I wasn’t supposed to do. And the women came and went and meant nothing to me though being the eternal romantic, I thought they did. They were only diversions to feed the ego. Something had to give. For us both.
After leaving advertising when approached by the leading music company at the time to become a senior executive, the candy store became much bigger. This new playground for adults tasted much sweeter… The only priority was to have fun and survive the world’s longest cocktail party.
To be continued…
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