"The Kids Are Gone and We're Strangers"

After empty nest syndrome sets in, can this marriage be saved?
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She Says

A Hollow Feeling

"I've been unhappy for a long time, but never allowed myself to acknowledge it," said a wistful Kate, 45. "But now that it's just the two of us, this emptiness won't go away."

"Phil and I have been together for 23 years. Our son, Ben, is a junior in college, and Meg graduated from high school in June. She's less independent than Ben, and I'm worried about how she'll manage at college. I'm upset enough about having them both gone; the fact that I feel as if I'm living with a stranger makes it worse. My husband and I occupy the same house, but we're emotionally alienated. We used to have such rich conversations -- about plays, books, current events -- but there are days now when we barely speak to each other."

"Frankly, I'm scared. Everyone keeps telling me how free I should feel, but I don't see it that way. I was very good at being a mom. Now, a period in my life that I loved is over. I'm just so sad: I'll be someplace like the supermarket, and the tears will start.

"Being a great wife and mother was my lifelong dream. Even as a girl I vowed never to get divorced because I knew the pain of a broken home. My parents split up when I was 3, and I moved with my father from Delaware to North Carolina. I gathered that Mom had had an affair, but Dad refused to talk about it. I didn't see her until I was 12, when she stopped briefly on her way to Miami. Over the years, I tried to have a relationship with her, but it was hopeless. I've finally given up. It all happened long ago, but I still feel this intense anger -- at my dad for taking me away from my mother and at her for letting him do it.

The Beginning of a Family

"I met Phil the summer after I graduated from college. I was working at the local library. Phil came in -- he was from Boston and visiting his grandmother in North Carolina -- and I felt an instant spark. He was charming, funny, and cute in an all-American way. He invited me to dinner and, a week later, asked me to marry him. I accepted, but knew my dad and stepmother would flip out. So we had a long-distance romance for six months before breaking the news. When we did, my folks were delighted. Phil had just completed his engineering degree and had a job in New York. I moved up north, and we found a small house in the suburbs. Ben was born the following year, and we agreed I'd stay home. Meg was born three years later.

"I threw myself into motherhood. I sewed the kids' Halloween costumes myself -- no store-bought masks for my children -- baked cookies, decorated the house for every holiday. But it was hard to be both Mom and Wife. Phil is a great dad, but we'd quarrel because he'd want us to go away together for a weekend, and I felt uncomfortable leaving the kids with someone. On weekends, he wanted peace and quiet, but I loved the hubbub of having our kids' friends running in and out.  

Continued on page 2:  She Says, continued


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