I don’t talk about my first marriage much. My starter marriage. The marriage that took me five years to get out of, even after I’d decided it should leave. The marriage that, thankfully, produced no kids. The marriage I’ve left behind. But the setting and timing of my initial, “Holy shit, what have I done?” is so astounding I thought I’d best tell the tale. Then I’ll look at my real-marriage-with-children that could’ve had a quick stop at the initial RED FLAG, but I was too far gone when I discovered that she had been living with someone the two months of our courtship. OUCH.
But let’s start with the storybook wedding, big dress, big church, big party, big send off and honeymoon flight to Paris and cruise across Greece and Turkey. Let’s start there. We were 27 and on our way to great things as artist’s in the world. I had some money she had a father who was a divorce attorney. But of course this didn’t register as a problem.
It was during the first week of our magical mystery tour heading to Santorini when my new bride got sick. It was ironic that I was reading Celine’s Death In The Afternoon at the time. If you don’t know the book, it’s one of the most dark and cynical books ever written. And it’s beautiful about describing the general unrest and anger the main character has with the world and how he feels he’s been mistreated. And I’m reading this angry and poetic book and my new wife begins to transform before my eyes into some feral animal. She was bitter, spitting, and unconsolable. She just wanted me OUT OF THE CABIN. She didn’t want to be around anyone. She didn’t want anything. And while some of that is understandable, the feeling I began to develop was an overwhelming sense of, “I’ve made a terrible mistake.”
It took me seven years to really get out of that one. I gave it the spirited try. I tried to be better. I tried to be more creative, to earn more money, to be more charming. She recoiled frequently into passions of rage and vitriol. I didn’t have any compass for this behavior, at least not from a small and very attractive Basque woman. I had seen this kind of blind anger from my dad when he drank sometimes, but she was stone cold sober, and even more dangerous.
The two times I attempted termination she agreed to enter counselling and to work on her stuff. We went together and we both went alone. Me to figure out what my part in her madness was, and her… Well, who knows. But things got worse and not better. They never got better. And finally, even though we’d talked about a peaceful separation, if it wasn’t going to work, she filed for divorce while I was out-of-town on a business trip. We were having a tough time, but I assured her that we could end as friends. And I begged her not to engage lawyers, if we did decide to part. Someone else was whispering in her ear by this time. And my first day back at work, I was served by the Sheriff and given a restraining order that prevented me from going within 500 yards of my house, my cats, all of my worldly possessions.
And even after all of that, the moment I took off my wedding ring I broke down in tears. I was so disappointed, even with all of the struggle and mess, to give up the dream of that long white dress and the promises we made at the altar. Strike one.
In my second marriage, I had a lot more invested. We had a family together, two kids, and a house, and a significant number of hopes and dreams that we had joined together with our marriage. And while we had ups and downs, I walked pretty strongly in this relationship. I wasn’t really very concerned about the future of our marriage. The happiness and stress could fluctuate up and down and I had the belief that we’d be okay. I think we both did.
We went through a lot. 9-11 took out my entire business at the time. And we floundered for our bearings together. Always together. And we had a very difficult pregnancy of our second child and we took another round of despair and struggles and turned it into strength and bonding. We survived. And we struggled on over the next several years.
Even when I discovered an online tryst with one of her coworkers, a younger man who she had gone to lunch and coffee with, I worked in therapy to regain my trust. She apologized with all the heart she could muster at the time, but we were fragile and shaken by the “affair.” (see: Cheating Hearts, Cheating Minds)
The blow came much later, when I was certain, even in the face of growing unrest and antagonism, that we were still safe in the marriage. We just needed some work in the relationship. In the communication. In the trust. And I was certain we were both trying at our full capacity to keep the marriage together. The friendship and passion would surely follow.
It was in a marriage counseling session when she said something that caught me off guard. I don’t recall what she said but suddenly I had a very deep feeling of dread.
“Have you been to see a lawyer?” I asked, angry, scared, and curious all at the same second. (See: Giving Up On Me)
When she admitted she had been seeking advice from a divorce attorney I was thrown. And the buck off the horse was unrecoverable. Within a month I had capitulated to giving her a divorce. And though I went down swinging to keep the relationship together, she had seen some other light of promise outside our life together. Strike two.
The idea of getting married still appeals to me. But what would the conditions need to be? I am not planning on courting a third ex-wife.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff
- Waiting for the Other Person to Change
- Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody
- Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight
- Getting Angry, Reaching Forgiveness, and Moving On After Divorce
image: marriage trouble, chris lau, creative commons usage
My posts/poems about desire are really about hoping and striving towards “what’s next.”
I had a friend ping me on Facebook yesterday after reading one of my poems. She said, “They make me so sad for you.” I was surprised. But I can understand how things might come off that way, especially if you are entering The Off Parent from one of the more emotional posts. But I want to be clear, this is a process, and this blog is large enough to contain the anger, the depression, the joy, the thrill of new relationships, and the frustration at dealing with a woman who no longer thinks I’m hot shit. (That’s okay, it’s mutual.) Overall, the picture I am hoping to paint… WAIT. That’s not the idea. I’m not trying to put a bow around the process of divorce. Let’s try again.
I would not want Divorce for ANYONE. That said, my divorce, has become one of the defining and re-defining moments of my life. I would not say I wanted the divorce, or that it was MY idea… BUT… I was starting to stand up for a situation that had become unbearable for me.
The difference between my ex-wife’s perspective and mine was minor. Critical, but minor. In the large scheme of things, I was also demanding a change.
MY PERSPECTIVE: this demand was the only way I had to effect change from within my marriage. I was arguing and demanding answers to some dark questions from the perspective that I WANTED THE MARRIAGE TO CONTINUE.
HER PERSPECTIVE: (somewhat paraphrased, but we went over it a number of times in therapy, so I’m not putting words into her mouth) she was unhappy with the marriage and saw no signs of things changing or getting better, thus it was better for her to move to something different.
The points of leverage changed dramatically when she let me know, in therapy, that she HAD consulted an attorney. I was crushed and panicked, but unsurprised. The anger she had been demonstrating in action and words over the previous 12 months had all but wrecked my positive outlook. And this admission, only revealed by my direct ask, “Have you already been to see a lawyer?” When she said yes, I just about hit the eject button right there. I did the sober thing, and expressed my dismay in a rational manner and left the session feeling absolutely lost about what to do next.
In the process of the next few days, primarily via email, I ranted and demanded she make a decision. She demurred and deflected for a couple of days. But in the end I was asked to leave the house and give her some space, so relief from the stress and tension she and the kids were experiencing. Um, what?
In the end, I refused. It was March. My line, “The process of divorce takes time. There is no hurry. And I’m not going to throw my kid’s lives into this hell before the school year is up. We’ve been living as roommates for a year, we can do it for another two months. We can split sleeping on the couch.”
Somewhere in the back of my mind, in my rapidly crashing heart, I was certain she would see the error of her ways and come back. I knew, however, in my rational mind, that this was not going to happen.
A few sessions before the hammer fell the therapist had asked a pivotal question, “How do you feel about the marriage and this process at this point.”
I went first. “Hopeful.”
Her word, and I knew more than I wanted to admit actually how hopeless I was feeling, was “Cynical.”
I think that was the beginning of my revelation into the darkness that now separated the two of us. It was different for each of us. But the pain, sadness, and anger was just a potent for each of us. I like to think I was on the optimist-side of the whole deal, but I was pretty disheartened.
All that said… as water under the bridge…
Today, three years later, I am happy. Alone. But happy. And I won’t pass judgement on her and the boyfriend who has given her strength and steadiness. My daughter likes him. That’s enough for me.
As I cursed, raged, pleaded, and cried at my wife trying to get her to come back to the marriage, I was also certain that I could not do it alone. Two people have to be IN for a marriage to work. So she exited before me. Probably, maybe, that whole year of blinding anger, was really her way of trying to help ME exit. But I’m projecting now.
When the agreement was made to divorce I also demanded the right to stay in the house until the kids were out of school. A shitty-hard decision, but I did not want to reenact the gross and bitter divorce struggle of my parents. And it was my argument, even against the therapist, that remaining in the house while the kids finished their 1st and 4th grade years at elementary school was much better than me leaving the house immediately.
Take heart. It gets better.
And today, I would assure you that my kids are thriving. And while the ex-y and I don’t communicate much, we have kids who love both of us and are seeing how we can still care about each other while moving in new directions with our lives.
So as I write poems about being “a poet rather than a player” I mean to be happy about it. This journey has taken some amazingly wonderful turns. And the next one is coming right up.
The Off Parent
- The Divorce Whisperer
- On the Turning Away: Fighting with Your Ex About Money
- Re-finding My Dick After Divorce
- The Light At the End of the Tunnel, It’s Yours
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)
image: broken dreams, brandon satterwhite, creative commons usage