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If I Still Love You, How Can I Leave

Posted: 08/10/11 10:50 PM ET

I met my second husband when I was teaching an Extension course on writing at a local college. It was my first day teaching at night, and I was worried about walking back to my car alone in the dark. He offered to walk with me; it was only when we were on our way that I wondered if he was the campus rapist, and this was his modus operandi. He wasn't. We went out for coffee, and saw each other every day thereafter. I felt as if he was looking into my soul as he stared into my blue eyes with his brown ones. We couldn't stop talking. He had gone to the same high school in New York City as my ex-husband. We had both worked in 'creative' fields our entire adult lives. We were both divorced. We both had teen-age daughters, though I had two, and he only one. I had dated a little bit, but no one worth a second date. To fall in love again was totally unexpected, and kind of scary. It was also marvelous, exciting, and something I hadn't even let myself think was possible for me. When he met me he was seeing several women, but knew if he asked me out he would have to give them all up. Still, he asked. As he told me months later: he was ready to be known.

I slept with him more quickly than I had ever slept with anyone in my life, and worried the entire night that he would tell the woman who ran the Extension program and I would lose my job. He thought that was hilarious. Within six months we were talking about marriage, both of us shocked that we were using that word. One divorce had been plenty: why court danger? I suppose we were old-fashioned and both believed that if you felt the way we did, you made that life-long commitment. His daughter was delighted he had someone to fill his life, and told me he seemed happier and more content than he had in years. My daughters were both crazy about him - he attended all their soccer games - and were happy as well.

Our life together went swimmingly for over four years. Then I began to notice his behavior in the evenings, after he had had a drink or two, along with half a bottle or more of wine. In the beginning, I would hesitatingly tell him that he was drinking more, and he would cut back; over time he became annoyed when I said anything. He yelled at me more, and often reeked of booze when we went to bed. A friend of his suggested he might have a 'drinking problem'. We saw a therapist who told me to go to Alanon, although she refused to let us discuss the drinking. The twelve-step program and the folks I met there saved my life. I worked very hard at setting boundaries; i.e., if you smell at night, I'll sleep in the guest room. This was way harder to do than it may sound. We even tried a geographic, moving to a different state. It didn't help.

When our new doctor in our new city told me that my blood pressure was through the roof, I told her what was going on. Instead of blood pressure medication, she put me on an anti-anxiety drug. The blood pressure became normal, though I clearly was not. I still loved him, though I often found his behavior despicable. I knew I could not continue to live this way. Though both my daughters were in college, they still needed me. If not for my own health, I realized I had to leave him for their sake. My friends were wonderfully supportive. They had found it harder and harder to spend time with us, since he became looped earlier and earlier. They hated seeing me so anxious, even with the pills. I rarely talked about anything else.

Looking back, I know that love is often not enough. That still makes me sad. But I had learned to love myself. My health mattered. How I spent my days mattered. Being present for my kids mattered. And so I left. It was the most difficult choice I've ever made. The grieving went on for over five years. But it lessened, and in time I began to feel a spark of happiness. These days life is good. Love has returned, but I have done a lot of personal work, so it is calmer, with a 'you,' a 'me' and an 'us.' I wish the lessons had come easier.