A good friend of mine was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer a few years ago. She wasn't sure her marriage was working, but when her husband showed up for her in ways that she never imagined he would, she realized how deeply she loved him and was connected to him. Another friend, around the same time, was diagnosed with Toxic Shock syndrome and when she called her husband to ask him to meet her at the emergency room, he said he was too busy. She took off her wedding band, threw it out the window of the cab, and that was the end of that.
I've heard all kinds of stories about how marriages ended, but I've been thinking lately about Jennifer Gauvain's research that suggests that 30 percent of divorced women knew they were marrying the wrong guy on their wedding day. She lists the five most common reasons they married him anyway:
1. We've dated for so long I don't want to waste all the time we have invested in the relationship.
2. I don't want to be alone.
3. He'll change after we get married.
4. It is too late, too embarrassing and/or too expensive to call off the wedding.
5. He is a really nice guy; I don't want to hurt his feelings.
I'll cop to number 2. And this should also be on the list: I wanted to have a baby. I certainly didn't think number 3; my ex was great until we got married.
I think he liked marriage; I was his third wife after all. To him, being married meant you don't have to work as hard anymore. He's not alone; most people extend themselves while dating, then settle into who they really are thereafter. Turns out I married a paradox: a guy who wanted to be married but remain a solitary man. I recently read a great line that Elaine May said in one of her old comedy routines with Mike Nichols that sums it up: "Oh, we had proximity... but no relating."
Finally, something clicked in me and I said, "I think that the patient (our marriage) is on life support and someone should pull the plug." And he didn't want to until a few months later, when he rethought his position and he said, "Okay, I'm pulling the plug."
That moment, when I said I didn't think our relationship was working, was a huge step for me. We'd been in couples counseling for five years, but ultimately something woke up in me -- a desire for living a fuller life that didn't seem possible in our marriage. No matter how much we talked about it, nothing seemed to change. We both felt trapped and hopeless. I loved the security of being in a marriage and having a family, but inside I felt dead.
After we separated, eventually I found my footing. I was blessed with a horribly contentious divorce. No one won and it was a bloody war that lasted almost two years, but it taught me to stand up for myself, and that lesson was priceless.
The loneliness I feel now, on occasion, is no where near the loneliness I felt in my marriage.
I have a "When Harry Met Sally"-type close friend who's available to go to movies and parties and hang out and I love him, but unlike in the movies, I don't think we are destined to fall in love. We met in a care giving/grief group. I don't know what I would have done without him. Recently he started dating someone and I feel both relieved and a little jealous, but also happy for him.
I have several close male friends who are wise, kind and generous. When I was complaining to one of them that I couldn't talk to my ex about our daughter, he said, "So what? You have me!" And to my ex's credit, he's become a fantastic dad to our daughter, especially since our divorce. They have a wonderful relationship.
I have girlfriends who came to every court appearance to support me. How do I thank them?
And I have a flat mate, Abigail, who is like Jerry Seinfeld to my Larry David. Or I'm Jerry and she's Larry, although she's a WASP from Texas and neither of us are quite as neurotic as Larry, or as rich as Jerry. If anybody sees some of the crazy things we do they'd swear we are Lucy and Ethel. We laugh a lot and write together (she's editing me now) and honestly, I am happier now than I have been in years. I dance a couple of nights a week with lovely men and that has totally changed my life. I'm down from a size 12 to a size 6; I love that I lost unnecessary pounds, of course, but also big chunks of my past life that were weighing me down.
I miss the family I thought I would have, but I've created my new family out of genuinely lovely friends. I would do anything for them and they have done so much for me.
One year ago I signed my divorce papers and I wouldn't say I felt joy -- mainly, I felt relief and sadness. I know how hard life can get. I know the power of tears and I am no longer afraid to express my sadness, either alone or out in the world.
But out of the sadness came joy. Gratitude. In many ways, I feel as if I've been reborn. Who knew that after such heartbreak, I could grow a new, happier heart?