Since officially embarking on the dissolution of my marriage, I have (as have so many before me) read think pieces about others’ experiences, trying to find some hook to hang my feelings on and declare them normal. I honestly thought I would be sadder. I still haven’t told some people at work yet because I don’t want to see their concerned faces as they put a hand on my shoulder and look me in the eye and be so genuinely sorry. I’m not sorry. I am so relieved. And to say that sounds horrible.
Look, I like my spouse as a person; we’re going to stay friends because that’s what we can manage. We don’t hate each other, no one committed some egregious sin. But being with him was killing me. He said it best: we have a perfect storm of pathology and it was making us both miserable. Of course I had to do all the emotional labor to realize it and do something about it, but this time it was worth it.
I had been mourning our relationship as we went. I had cried so much over what I didn’t have that I was already well into the valley of resigned apathy.
I had been mourning our relationship as we went. I had cried so much over what I didn’t have that I was already well into the valley of resigned apathy. Before this year, I had fully resigned myself to never having romance, sensuality, shared joy, or an actual partner who had my back. It was part of that perfect storm: I had never felt I deserved such a thing, and his inability to provide it cemented the inevitability of my fate to never have it. I enviously observed friends’ marriages and how they seemed to simply look out for each other. They’d refill an empty drink without being asked, or clear a path for their burdened partner. They’d toast each other’s accomplishments and try to outdo each other in affection. They casually referenced their sexy time as a fun, positive thing in their lives. I had mourned his anti-sensuality over many years. I certainly don’t shed a tear for separating from that, now that there is an open door through which a man might someday stride ready to just stroke my skin for the sheer pleasure it would bring us both.
Some described divorce as losing a limb without anesthesia, with attendant yearning and bargaining and crying. I thought that seemed a reasonable response: This person was part of my life longer than any other romantic partner, sure, I’m pretty sure I’ll be sad about that. But then…no. My spouse was not a partner to me. He never operated from a place of we, he never thought about how his actions would negatively impact me, he wasn’t proactive, and I did all the emotional labor big and small and I protected him from the harsh truths of my disappointment. I chose not to have children, and yet I ended up marrying one who, unlike an actual child, has all the tools to take care of his shit, but didn’t care enough to do so. He was an extraneous limb whose amputation only served to free my movement.
No, not a limb. Our relationship was more akin to a heavy, pendulous tumor I was carrying around; it hurt all the time, it impeded my ability to do basic functions, and it’s finally been diagnosed and the surgery is underway. Would I cry as that tumor was tossed into the biohazard waste bin? No. Is the cutting away of it painful? From a practical standpoint, somewhat, but not as much as it would have been if left alone to further metastasize and destroy more of me. I am more inconvenienced by the prep and process than the actual incision.
Some say I would mourn the death of the life we had planned. Sure, I won’t get to do some of the more expensive things I had hoped to do, buoyed by the benefits of a two-income household, like get an electric car or see Paris. But I probably wasn’t going to get to do those things anyway — there was always something more important to him that needed doing, and he made all the money, so that’s how our household spent it. They say I would mourn the stuff like sitting on the porch in my dotage with someone who knows me so well from years of a shared life. We didn’t have much of a shared life, and we didn’t even meet until I was 41, so my dotage reminiscences were already going to be limited. Will I ever have a 10th anniversary with anyone? I’ll likely never reach any big romantic number that will keep me on the dance floor the longest at someone’s wedding reception. I’d mourned that already, too; my spouse would never dance with me, at a wedding or otherwise, unless it were rigid, formal dance steps.
After I’d succumbed to the loss of hope and chosen to accept what appeared to be my destiny — unloved, deprioritized, unsexed, unheard, yet in charge of all the administrative details and therefore indispensable — my ambitions had shrunk to “maybe I can get him to at least stop doing that one behavior.” You can’t change a person, I knew, so I had what I had with him, but surely I could train him to hang the dish towel back up so it doesn’t get musty? Nope, not if he’s not partner-minded. Not if he’s passive and doesn’t care how much something bothers me, if it doesn’t bother him it doesn’t matter. I’d already mourned that he wouldn’t learn a love language that is not his own. I had already mourned being a couple who doesn’t say “I love you” to each other.
Mourning is for losses.
Mourning is for losses. The death of a loved one. The end of an era. The loss of a beloved treasure. What am I losing? Well, I won’t have that piece of art any more. Or the good skillet. Sure, it’s been nice to have someone tall around to fetch things, who knows my jokes and food preferences, who can pick me up at the hospital after foot surgery (and then leave me to hobble around painfully turning off all the lights in the house after he selfishly flopped into bed asleep). I’m not losing a beautiful imagined future. I knew my future was going to be more of this. I just hadn’t realized until this year that I could change it.
In January I went from “I have too much shit and what if I have to move to a small apartment” inklings and a Marie Kondo whirlwind to a deep, debilitating depression and weight gain to a month of fevered writing which led to a panicked oh my god I am so unhappy I can’t live like this one more second! And then I had to pull what I was thinking into full consciousness, and then figure out how to tell him. Then we had some unexpected house chaos so I couldn’t do it then; we couldn’t sit anywhere and face each other, much less pack to move if the whole house was piled up in the garage because our living room got flooded. And then we were going to visit my father for his birthday, with my mother in law, I couldn’t do it until after that. And then we had Comic-Con tickets and then his mom came to visit… there were legitimate reasons to delay but every fencepost we passed drove me deeper and deeper into despair, especially as every day, with the scales removed from my eyes, it was more and more clear that I was making the right decision. It was so obvious! How could I have been so stupid as not to realize it? How can I chew through these chains faster?
During this struggle to finally release my secret escape plan, I mourned the time I wasted futilely trying to make it work, trying to sift crumbs of happiness out of the dense sand ballast of my mournful life. I was certainly very sad then, but then I was sad because I knew what needed doing, and I couldn’t do it yet. I was sad for me, enduring further when I could be fleeing. I was sad because I knew I would hurt him. I was also sad because this same well-intentioned impulse to protect his feelings was part of how we got so far down the path of me being so unhappy. But I was not sad to make the move to end the marriage.
I was sad for me, enduring further when I could be fleeing. I was sad because I knew I would hurt him. I was also sad because this same well-intentioned impulse to protect his feelings was part of how we got so far down the path of me being so unhappy. But I was not sad to make the move to end the marriage.
When I finally told him, I cried. I felt guilty. His lack of response, however, dried those tears quickly. He said he’d been sad for a while too, which was news to me. So it seemed a done deal. And then he wanted to talk about it. Correction: he wanted to bargain and talk me out of it. There was no talking me out of it. I knew it needed doing for three months, and had been holding it in as it swelled inside me, suffocating me. He wanted me to be so sad that I would change my mind. He still wanted me to go through the emotional wringer to maintain the status quo. He wanted me to be afraid of the point of no return like he was.
I did take responsibility for my part in everything. I acknowledged first and foremost that it was my fault for convincing him we were a good couple. That I forgave too many things is my own crime to atone for. But I was the one gifted with emotional intelligence and I should have realized what was wrong, why this wasn’t smooth, why I was sadder and sadder. I fell out of love with him abruptly in 2015 — no, I fell out of hope. I fell out of “maybe this will be better” and into “this is all I deserve.” Yes, I needed to love myself so I wouldn’t need him to do it. But I didn’t, and I don’t, and I am trying to learn how to now. But it still sucked.
I should have realized what was wrong, why this wasn’t smooth, why I was sadder and sadder.
I should have realized it then. I hoped and tried and cried and then I gave up. All wishes that he would overtly express that he wanted me, valued me, were abandoned. Only six months later he proposed, which was the first (and last) indication that I was a thing he chose to have in his life because I was important to him. “Yes I’ll marry you,” I said after confirming that that was actually what he meant to say. That one isolated demonstration of his commitment and implied declaration of love was enough to propel us into an entirely unexamined marriage.
We plunged through the ice hole (via a legitimately awesome wedding I will never regret having) into a lonely, frustrating, and suddenly very permanent-feeling sadness. This was my life now, and I chose it and I didn’t diagnose the problem and that was my fault. Except I had — reading my diaries back to the first month we were dating, something was missing, and I noted it in those pages and still willfully ignored it. I mourn the time I wasted being in denial of my needs, but that started years before I met him. He’s just the latest and the only one to put a ring on it. I appreciated his misdirected faith in me being right.
There was always a crisis, an external distraction, a stressor, so much noise. I couldn’t hear myself think until this year, when everything finally quieted down. I had abandoned all my creative outlets, we bought a house, the chaos finally subsided enough for me to finally hear my subconscious scraping a tin cup against the bars of her cage, exhausted. Here we were, four years later, and I finally noticed the file that had been slipped into my cell.
I could mourn past fun times, just as he was indulging himself during the limbo of detangling our living situation, but those trips, those shared TV shows, those adventures are in the past regardless. We don’t have that moment from 2013 any more whether we’re together or apart. I could mourn the loss of the idea of us growing old together, except more of the same sounds so painful I cannot attach any form of sadness to losing it. I cannot mourn the setting down of a painful burden. I celebrate the potentiality of possibly having a sensual, fulfilling encounter with someone again. I welcome the potentiality of figuring out how to love myself without a constant reminder that my needs are secondary if even visible at all. I already had to do the work of two people — how could I mourn all the extra energy I can redirect to my creative outlets again?
I still feel guilty about not feeling at all bad about this decision, and while he is sad I can’t tell him I am not. I mean, I could, but that would just be mean. So if you, like me, aren’t sad about your divorce, and hear yourself above, congratulations. Isn’t it invigorating to free oneself?