Sweaters last. Marriages don’t. At least that’s my experience. There is, in the world of knitting, a widespread superstition – the curse of the boyfriend sweater. Knit a sweater for your boyfriend, and sure as the wool on your needles, the relationship will end. Badly.
My boyfriend, a recent and directionless college grad, moved in with me on the second day I knew him. That wasn’t as racy as it sounds. He moved his two cardboard boxes of belongings into my spare bedroom – a room I offered when he told me he was sleeping on the roof of the local hardware store. When he began waiting for me outside my classes and following me home for lunch, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. But we got along, and he loved my four month old puppy. That fall, I decided to knit him a sweater. Since his wardrobe consisted of dirty jeans, threadbare t-shirts, and his older brother’s old army jacket, I thought a warm wooly sweater might be appreciated. I knit it during the week when I was teaching on the other side of the state. It was a beautiful heathery green wool and I knew it would fit him because the math teacher in the next classroom let me try it on him many times. They shared a similar slim six foot frame and when Stu declared the sweater a perfect fit, I knew it would work on my boyfriend.
I gave him the sweater the next weekend when we met up back at my apartment. He was thrilled with gift and amazed that I had made it for him secretly. The fit was flawless.
We didn’t break up. In fact we married a couple of years later. We moved from New Hampshire to New Jersey to Connecticut to California and the sweater moved with us. So did the puppy he swore he had fallen in love with first. We had the perfect family – a son, and then four years later, a daughter. I continued to teach, raised my kids, walked the dog, and looked forward to knitting in what little spare time I had. Endless baby garments, kids sweaters and mittens, blankets, the occasional sweater for me, but I never knit another sweater for my husband.
He meanwhile loyally supported my hobby bringing back skeins of yarn from his work trips. Gorgeous shetland wool from the Shetland Islands in Scotland, yarn from London, Paris, Austria – wherever he went, he found a yarn shop and brought me back a skein or two of local wool. One Christmas his gift to me was a knitting retreat. I left two kids recovering from the flu to drive to a tiny town in Massachusetts and knit all weekend with other women. I was giddy from the indulgence. Delicious meals were prepared for us three times a day. We had a barn full of sheep and alpaca to visit a few yards away, and lovely heathery wool available to buy. It was the perfect weekend, and the perfect gift.
When we moved to Los Angeles a few years later my knitting life required an adjustment. It was too hot to knit the warm cozy sweaters I had favored in New England. I tried silk, cotton, linen yarn and discovered a whole new world. Knitting was trendy and there were yarn shops all over. I explored them all.
Meanwhile my husband was working hard at a real job after spending his previous career as a freelancer. I loved the steady paycheck. He, not so much. I looked forward to our traditional Friday night dinner out, but he stayed at work later and later on Fridays and by the time he got home at 7:30 or 8:00, I was angry and hungry. One night I decided to buy some yarn instead of sitting around fuming. At the yarn shop I came upon a group of women knitting, drinking wine, eating cheese. They invited me to join them, and I was hooked. No more angry Friday nights at home. My date night had moved to the local yarn shop.
As my husband’s unhappiness increased and our marriage crumbled, knitting became my refuge. In fact the heartbreaking day it all came to a head, I spent hours sobbing on the couch. Only the sight of my new yarn winder – a Christmas gift from my son inspired me to get off the couch. As I started to wind the skein of yarn I felt the fiber slipping through my fingers work its magic. I could breathe. I could think. I could maybe move on.
After twenty-six years of marriage my husband left. The sweater stayed. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a blessing and a curse.