The D Word
Deciding to end a relationship is, quite simply, one of the most taxing charges a human can undertake. Among all of the other considerations – including the current health of the relationship and whether or not it has a future – a person must account for his or her partner’s feelings. This in and of itself can require super human abilities that frankly many of us don’t have or cannot muster in the wake of ruined love.
And yet most of us, either by choice or necessity, have survived the anguish of a broken heart and even managed to talk about it at a later time. Is there, then, a survival mechanism that kicks into gear when love is no more? Are we programmed to love to the core of our souls but still retain the essence of ourselves after parting from our chosen mates?
Divorce is a Lot Like Surgery
While I don’t have the answers to these questions, I can tell you this: at its most basic level, divorce is akin to surgery in that it cannot help but leave a scar. After a great deal of recent internal debate, trying to predict the future and fretting over the past, I have decided to end my marriage. The reasons for this are numerous, and probably biased as one-sided stories tend to be. So, before I delve into the specifics of this saga, I need to first say that I don’t believe my husband is a bad person; rather, I believe he was a bad choice for me, which is sad but also true.
I married him after a rapid courtship that in and of itself should have sounded some alarms. We met in October 2007, went on our first date 30 days later and moved in together four weeks after that. Our wedding, which turned out to be a ridiculously rushed affair, was in May 2008. Most of you at this point are probably asking why on earth we moved so quickly, but the truth is that I wanted to be with him. He was kind, funny and smart, all the things that women dream of finding. But these characteristics were only skin-deep, so to speak, and I didn’t bother to learn who he really was until it was too late.
The First Sign of Trouble
After our wedding, I started to see personality traits that unsettled me to my core. For instance, we went shopping once at our local mall to find one of the stores inside was closing. Signs in the store’s windows promised “Up to 70% off All Merchandise”. Eager to find the deals waiting inside, we proceeded to select any number of shirts and pants for ourselves. At the checkout desk, however, our total was much more than expected, and when prompted, the sales clerk explained only select merchandise was 70 percent off; everything else was between 20 and 40 percent off. I didn’t have a problem with this, because I still wanted my clothing. But, red-faced with anger, my husband informed the clerk her store was guilty of false advertising and left our entire pile of clothing on the counter.
The people behind us stared like we had just flown an airplane into the building.
I was mortified.
You Know, It Really IS the Little Things...
In the grand scheme of things, this incident was minor but would continue to serve as a point of reference in the four years to come. I never forgot it, and on future occasions when he overreacted to minor situations, I learned to put my head down and walk away as quickly as possible. I eventually began to shop by myself, which at least afforded me the knowledge that he would not explode in front of an innocent bystander. I also, however, slowly began to feel quite lonely until my marriage was no longer a refuge but instead a confinement.
He also had a wandering eye that many times made me feel inadequate. When I say “wandering eye”, I mean he would peer at attractive or well-dressed women until I felt absolutely invisible. The same question often repeated itself in my mind whenever I witnessed him ogling someone: what’s wrong with me that he has to stare at her in such obvious pleasure?
In time, this also contributed to us leaving the house together very little.
Of course, these problems of which I speak sparked many arguments. Sometimes I approached him in anger when trying to discuss his behavior, and other times he became defensive until both of us tore at each other with bitter words. He couldn’t understand why his sometimes poor treatment of others and ongoing lady-watching upset me, and I couldn’t understand why he continued to do both when he knew my feelings.
Don't Get Me Wrong - It Wasn't All Bad
This is not to say, however, my entire marriage was bad. He and I shared some tender moments, traveled to a variety of beautiful places and helped each other in our current careers. But there was never that crucial element all relationships need: romance. Looking back, I can clearly see he is not a romantic person to begin with, and I tend to respond to people rather than simply be who I am. So the two of us together created a situation in which love did not thrive. We paid the bills, talked about the economy and watched the nightly news, but we didn’t make time for our marriage.
And so, starved of love, our relationship withered like a plant deprived of water. Our problems, which we couldn’t discuss, were brushed under the rug to be ignored but not forgotten. This proverbial pile eventually became too big to ignore, and coupled with closed lines of communication gave way to the demise of our marriage.
Could we have fixed these problems before they got out of hand? I’m not sure. That feeling of loneliness I mentioned earlier settled over me like a veil, and with it came a sense of estrangement from him. I found myself struggling to relate to him and wondering whether or not we could be happy together. In short, I began to question the integrity of our marriage at a pretty early date, well before we actually separated.
The other factor in this equation is his infidelity. I don’t know the specifics, and I likely never will, but he had an affair that started before our first anniversary. I instinctively knew of his infidelity without actually being told and frequently questioned him about it. And despite obvious occurrences – he suddenly needed to attend overnight classes for work, stopped answering my calls at night and frequently came home in post-dawn hours – he dismissed my questions and told me everything was fine.
His affair lasted for at least six months, and the day finally came when his mistress called my mobile phone to tell me what had happened. At that point, I curiously didn’t feel my heart break but instead felt my confidence slip completely away from me. For me, the affair wasn’t a question of what was wrong with he or what had gone wrong in our relationship to bring this about, but rather what was wrong with me that my husband had cheated.
WHY Did I Put Up With It?!
Why, then, with all of this going on did I stay for four years? The answer is a complex combination of duty, love and desire. I felt a sense of obligation to make the marriage work, especially as a newlywed; I loved him for what we had started to build together before his affair; and I wanted the marriage to work because, quite simply, I wasn’t ready to be alone. And so we lumped along together, pushing hurts to the side and glossing over the marriage with feigned happiness.
Living a lie can only go on for so long, though, and I woke one morning to find I had slipped into a black hole of unhappiness. My professional career was satisfying because I had substituted work for love, but still my loneliness clung to me like a monkey on my back. And there were other events that shook the foundation of our relationship until it had crumbled to pieces, but they aren’t worth mentioning here.
The simple truth is that we both turned our backs on the marriage because a union requires constant work, something we didn’t see until it was too late.
On February 17, 2012, I left him to start a life of my own. I continuously debated whether or not this was the right decision for more than one month. It was not, after all, my intention to hurt him or even end a relationship that could still be salvaged. But how can a person ever really know if his or her relationship deserves a second or even third chance? For I would have been on my third attempt at making the marriage work had I stayed; the first occurred when I said my vows and the second when I remained after his affair. To be honest, a third go-round didn’t feel right.
So, armed with nothing more than my books, collectibles and clothes, I moved all in one day from a three-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment. It’s been only a few days, so I am still questioning whether or not I made the right decision. And while it’s scary to be on my own, it’s also liberating in a way, too. Now my worries are completely different from when I was married. Whereas before I worried about his thoughts and feelings, now I worry about finances and whether or not I have enough money to survive. And where once I fretted every time he walked out the door, asking myself if he had started another affair or was being honest about his whereabouts, now I fret only about meeting deadlines and washing my clothes in the Laundromat.
Finally Free... Alone, But Free
In addition to shifting my perspective, the decision to leave my marriage has also brought me to a realization, which is this: the loneliness a person feels when in a difficult marriage is completely different from the loneliness experienced when actually alone. It’s hard to put these differences into words, but the truth is I no longer have to worry if the person beside me is thinking of someone or something else. I don’t have to censor my thoughts or words, and I can eat potato chips at 2 in the morning without explaining my craving to anyone.
On the flip side, of course, I am alone. I sleep alone, eat alone and listen to the radio by myself. This is not how I thought my marriage would end, but it’s too late now to undo my decision. And maybe, just maybe, I will eventually stop being afraid of a solitary life and even embrace it at some point. With time, I may also find somebody else who shares my thoughts and feelings and sees me for me. If I’m lucky, I may find that unconditional love along my journey of self discovery that seems to have eluded me for so long. But still my past will come with me, and I can never forget that I chose to end a relationship based on the state of the marriage itself, nothing more and nothing less. Some may see this as bravery, others may see it as folly, but I see it as just another part of life.