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The end of an era

The end of an era

Now that the divorce is final, and I'm free to choose my own path, to love who I choose, I thought I'd consolidate my thoughts over the past year and a half--because the journey of divorce is not a quick one. It takes time.

It takes time, a period of months or even years of dissatisfaction, before you make the decision to yourself to get divorced. If your relationship is already strained, it can take months (as it did for me) to get around to breaking the news to your spouse that you want a divorce. Then it takes months of mediation or litigation before you can submit the final document to the court, and the gavel comes down.

And it may even take months or years after that before it finally hits you that it's really done.

All of which suggests to me, quite strongly, that no decision to get married should ever be forced, should ever be rushed. No one has the right to demand it of you, or expect you to say yes to the proposal. It's a serious legal and emotional entanglement.

I got into it so easily. My marriage was done purely at the courthouse. It took less than an hour from the time we entered the courthouse, and cost about $250.

But once you've woven your life so tightly with someone else, and especially once you've had kids, you are going to be so much more coupled (pun intended) with another person than if the two of you just lived together (and made some sort of plan for birth control).

But how do I feel about it?

Kind of like this.

There is a lot of truth in this. Since the day we both got real with each other, I was immediately happier. The day I separated, and moved out on my own, I was even happier still. When I met the woman who I believe to be the great love of my life (about two weeks before moving out) I finally felt that sense of wholeness and completion I'd yearned for, and somehow knew existed, even if it had seemed like an increasingly distant dream while I was in my unhappy marriage.

Don't get me wrong. My ex-wife is not a bad person. She just wasn't for me.

And in retrospect, from the very earliest days of our relationship, the warning signs were there. Every relationship is different, but to put it in general terms, one of the most important things I could say to anyone is that you should pay very close attention to the things that are issues between you, early on. Those tiny little annoyances are going to turn into rage-inducing frustrations after a decade or two of living with someone.

They are going to hurt more and more over time.

I have not told her all the ways that she hurt me. I don't think it would help matters. Also, because I'm not so egotistical as to think that there weren't probably a multitude of ways I hurt her, too.

I ended up becoming very distant. I kept up a pleasant facade for my friends, and also for myself, but in the process I just kept burying everything. Feeling like the same old battles and the same old issues were cropping up over and over again. So why bother to bring it up yet again? Why bother to fight over it?

And I was dead inside. I didn't realize that until I felt true joy one day. The contrast was shocking, and once the glass broke, I could never put it back together again.

And the dissatisfaction grew, knowing that I could have a different life, feeling trapped in the one I was in.

My ex-wife has pointed out that this would have been a really good time to point that out, so that we could maybe work things out.

Maybe she was right. But I don't think so.

Because my realization was that we were not right for each other. I could not be happy with her. Not truly. It wasn't really her fault. It was shared blame. The warning signs were there, and we ignored them, thinking that love could solve all problems.

But sometimes love is not, to be cliché, enough. Especially when one person's love towards another does not feel reciprocal.

And thus the resentment continues to build. The depression. The sense of mounting worthlessness. Of holding on, day by day, passing the time, seeking escape wherever we could find it. One day the love dies, and you don't even notice it. A lot of self-delusion follows.

We were together, but each of us completely alone.

Once I dug myself out of my own self-pity and self-absorption, I had an epiphany one day that truly cinched the situation for me.

I had spent almost the entirety of our relationship wanting her to be someone else. Wanting her to act a different way, wanting her to change into someone that would give me what I needed to make me truly happy.

And that was cruelly unfair to her. And my getting frustrated, feeling resentful and upset that she was not who I wanted her to be, that was a sign I should have seen years ago.

But I overlooked it, because love is blind, and because love is supposed to be enough to overcome anything.

But what is love? One modern definition is that love includes accepting someone for all that they are, and all that they are not.

She asked me why, she wanted reasons. But my reasons why were all my resentments, my bitter feelings, hateful things that had been sharpened in my mind to the point where they would wound her. They would tear down any bridges that remained between us, set fire to the whole thing...

And most importantly, it would provide her a welcome distraction: The ability to focus on my shitty behavior, instead of considering the reality of the situation.

Because if accepting someone for who they are, and who they are not is the definition of love--I could not love her, because I did not accept her. I wanted her to be someone else. I had an idea in my head of what my ideal relationship would be, and though I never expected perfection, there was a certain baseline of behaviors I required in order to be truly happy. I wanted her to be that, and we'd spent years "working on it," but inevitably she returned to being mostly who she was, and I returned to being mostly who I was.

And I realized that out there was probably someone for whom all of her personality quirks and behaviors--which had so frustrated me--would occur as a welcome and refreshing thing, would occur to them as a blessing. Exactly what they were looking for.

I did not actually know who that person would be, but it was unfair for me to waste her time, never being able to fully love her, keeping her trapped in her life (and me in mine), when there could be someone out there who was perfect for her.

Just as I'd come to think that somewhere out there, was someone perfect for me.

I dared to dream of a better life. I dared to end it all, or at least to toss everything overboard, and start again, rather than continuing down a path that would just continue to depress the two of us.

We'd both have died early, we acknowledge that now. It was killing us, and both of us said that, and both of us meant it literally. Whether through indulgent overeating (which is a form of comfort, especially when your life is sad), our unhealthy habits, or constant feeling of stress and unhappiness eating at us until we had a heart attack, it would have killed us.

And at the very least, our children would have grown up with a memory of their parents being two very unhappy people, who aged and grew even more bitter with each other, even less affectionate, through time.

We would have continued to model the behavior of a dysfunctional marriage to our children.

Divorce is often looked at as a sad thing. As a failure.

But in our case, it was a triumph. The two of us breaking off of a track and into something completely new. A second chance, for both of us, and for our kids.

The kids took the divorce news in stride, a lot better than I expected, and I agonized over that conversation for months and months. I was dreading that conversation with them, but when the time came they seemed to get it.

This was another lesson. The thing you're dreading to say, dreading to do, because the consequences you imagine are so dire--it's almost never that bad.

Sometimes I think we imagine the worst because when the time finally comes, we can be pleasantly surprised (and thus more prepared) for the more positive outcome.

I lived with my wife for six months after we'd agreed to divorce, before we separated. But from the instant we got real with each other, when both of us admitted we didn't love each other anymore, it was like a seven ton weight was lifted from our shoulders.

I bought a car of my own. I went out at night when I felt like it. We didn't say goodnight to each other all the time, and we stopped giving empty and passionless (obligatory) kisses to each other.

We were grateful to drop the pretense, not realizing until it happened that it had been a pretense. Well, I was the dick who knew I was going to divorce about three months before it happened, but continued to pretend everything was normal. I was waiting for her birthday, for the holidays to pass. But I suppose I was also grateful for the delay, not having to have the conversation I dreaded having.

I didn't know how she'd feel. I was bracing myself for breaking her heart, and possibly destroying my children in the process.

We told ourselves that our love was real. We convinced ourselves that the mute, passionless marriage we had was normal, that it was okay.

But if there's a lesson I've learned from all this, it's that honesty really is the best policy. And you have to get honest, brutally honest with yourself.

Or else one day you'll wake up, find out a decade or two has passed, and you're no closer to feeling happy and fulfilled in the presence of someone else.

There is no greater loneliness in the world to feel alone while you're with someone, the person who is supposed to be the love of your life.

And there is no greater liberation than to look into the eyes of someone else and say, "It's time to move on," and, once their shock and anger has passed, see the look of gratitude in their eyes. Watch them start speaking aloud epiphanies that echo your own. Realizing that you're both on the same page, and that no one's heart has been broken--it is only two hearts being set free.

I may not have had a fairy-tale marriage, but I did have a fairy-tale divorce.

And now my life is unrecognizable, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

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