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Writer Hillary Ring tries to keep an open mind about life after divorce. But ask her to sum up the divorce process itself and she'll offer up a decidedly dark comparison: divorce, she says, is not unlike being trapped in a spiderweb at the very moment the creepy crawler is closing in for the kill.
Below, Ring, who blogs at Happiness and Its Constituents, unpacks that bone-chilling analogy and explains why ending her marriage was both the most risky and hope-filled decision she's ever made.
Divorce is a bit like being trapped in a spiderweb. You know when you walk through a spider web and then freak out, start swatting your hair, spinning in circles, stomping your feet and screaming, and then try to shake it off because you're irrationally afraid that spider is going to trap you? Divorce feels like that. It has been incredibly difficult to untangle my life from this other person, even if I emotionally untangled years ago. Somehow, that was easy. I never entered into a contract about my feelings. I didn’t have to consult with a lawyer to stop loving him. It just happened.
I knew I wanted to leave. I was unhappy. In our king-size bed, I could sleep with my arms stretched straight out to the side and still never touch him. We slept like this for at least six years. The sex was at its best, non-existent. I would lay awake at night in a panic as I imagined myself, not yet forty, with no other sexual partners. Ever. That was terrifying, but could I justify leaving my husband, chopping down our family tree, just because I needed a better sex life? We have two kids together. I felt selfish and immature.
I had to tell my husband that I wanted a divorce during a counseling session. I tried to tell him on my own, but he just didn’t hear me. That was one of our issues -- he thought I just said things that I didn’t really mean. When I said “I don’t love you" or “I don’t like having sex with you" he thought I was just being cruel, but I was being brutally honest -- if there's a difference. The counselor had to convince him that I was sincere, “You are just not listening to her.” I burst into tears. I didn’t know how badly I just needed to heard.
He asked me to wait to file for the divorce. He wanted more time, but that was my time and every moment I waited felt like a subtraction from my life. He sent me a text message and said not to file the papers and added, “No further discussion.” I went straight out to the car and drove to the attorney’s office, paid the retainer, and the paperwork was filed by that afternoon. When I pulled out of the parking lot on that hot sunny July morning, I felt the exuberance of rebirth.
Since then I have made some progress toward getting out, but I am still frantically swatting at the webs. I can handle sorting out the details, like returning calls to the lawyers or talking to people at the bank. I can even handle the stress of figuring out where my kids and I are going to live and how I am going to support us. Tending to the details keeps my mind off the terrifying fact that I am all alone. I didn’t get divorced because I did not want to be in a relationship, I got divorced because I want to be in a better one. My lawyer can‘t help me with that.
What I have been able to do is open myself up to opportunities. Being alone suddenly becomes a bonus at that precise moment when you look into someone’s eyes and realize that maybe later you will be straddling them on a couch. There is something uniquely hopeful about being single. Who knows who I could end up with? That hope just comes with the risk of being perpetually alone and a lifetime of nights spent crying into my pint glass while binge-watching episodes of "Louie" on Netflix.
Before I got married, I wasn’t exactly excellent at dating, and back then I was younger and much less divorced-ish with two kids. How could it possibly be better this time? I might be even less able to handle rejection now than I was then. Having kids has given me an inflated ego. If my kids are good all week, their reward is they get to sleep with me. It gets confusing when I go into the world and discover that not everyone is so desperate for my attention. Perhaps the protective wall of being married for nine years also gave me thin skin. I never had to test anyone’s apparent attraction. There was tremendous safety in the fact that I no longer loved him. If he told me he met someone else and he wanted to leave, I would have been relieved.
I am like the fresh skin you'd find under a week-old band aid. Even the air feels new and awkward. I am incredibly vulnerable, but every experience seems positively amplified. I am just excited to get a second chance. My first sexual experience after my divorce was uplifting, even though we didn’t actually have sex, but it didn’t really matter. I had fun, and I woke up the next morning with someone wrapped around me and a tremendous amount of hope for my future. I had no intention of entering into a relationship with him, but there was chemistry, and I was glad that I even remembered how to close that kind of deal. It wasn’t that hard. I was at his house, and we were already naked in his pool. All I had to do was swim over.
My marriage made me sad. It was strange to be so tightly bound to another person while simultaneously feeling so incredibly alone. For years, I desperately wanted someone to ask me how I felt about my marriage so I could scream out the word “trapped!” People don’t ask that kind of question, though, maybe because they are afraid of the answer. I am just trying to get out. I have to stay hopeful for myself and my kids. I can’t fall to my knees and surrender -- I have to keep swatting the web.