When I was 19 years old, my father and mother separated for good, after years of going back and forth, trying to make their marriage work.
Having married at the tender ages of 20 and just 21, a week after graduating from college, it's not all that surprising that their relationship couldn't be sustained for the long haul. Practically children themselves when I was born -- they were both 22 -- they were thrust into adulthood while still, in many ways, playing house.
Though 40 may be on the young side for a male midlife crisis, in my father's case it was a perfect storm of circumstances that finally pushed him out the door. Financial difficulties, a wife finding her purpose after her children are grown, a nest empty of the distraction of his daughter and (especially) son, my father did what nearly every man who finally decides to leave his wife does.
He found another woman.
Because, it seems, men don't leave unless there's another woman. According to the 2001 census, 55% of divorced men 50 or older are remarried, vs. just 40% of women the same age. Men, in my unscientific observations, don't adapt to being alone the way women do.
As shocking as it was to me, my father's on-the-verge of adulthood daughter, to see him with another (14-years-younger) woman, part of me was relieved, too. Because in the brief period when he was alone -- if memory serves me correctly, it was about 3 months -- my father turned to me for help with all things domestic, including setting up his new apartment and shopping for small appliances. It felt weird and awkward and I didn't like it.
Though I wasn't crazy about his new (former secretary... of course) girlfriend, who would eventually become his second (there was a third...) wife, I was glad I didn't have to be my father's plus-one on shopping trips to Target anymore. I was angry at him, putting the blame squarely on him for the end of my parents marriage, which wasn't completely true, as there are always two sides to a story -- my mother would agree.
So I always ask, when a marriage ends, "was there someone else?"
And usually there was -- if the man is the one who leaves. If the woman leaves, it's rarely for another man. But give the jilted husband a few months, and he'll find someone else, because that's just what men do.
Despite the pain and heartbreak, financial stress and loneliness of divorce, women tend to rise up and make things work. If their nest is empty, they often find joy in being single, unencumbered and able to pursue their individual goals. Men will try to make things work on their own, but they crave the companionship and care that a woman gives them.
It's unfortunate that so many marriages end in divorce -- but it's downright depressing how many women are in relationships with married men, giving them the impetus and opportunity to leave a marriage that may just need some attention and work to make it strong again.
I don't blame men for all divorces -- not by a long shot. There are some horrible women out there, married to men who deserve better. But at midlife, when a man is feeling (as are many women) "is this it?" another woman can be the perfect antidote to the humdrum everyday-ness of married life.
That is a crisis.
Previously published on Empty House Full Mind