Exit, Stage Right

Not a day goes by that I don’t spend time trying to make sense of the past three years of my life.  I mull over the events, ruminating all the gory details, and pick apart the moments when I could have made better choices.

It began about about six years ago as a little voice in the back of my mind saying, “REALLY? THIS is all there is in life? And you are content with THIS?”  At this point I’d been married to the father of my children for fifteen years and our children were ten, seven and five years old.  I pushed the thoughts from my mind with new hobbies, this blog and more time with girlfriends complaining about my frustrating marriage.   Occasionally my thoughts would wander to fantasies of being a single mom and making decisions on my own, closets all to myself and sprawling in my own bed alone every night.  I even let myself wonder if I could survive on my income plus child support.    I decided that after this many years of marriage and three kids, surely I’d get enough child support to make a decent home for us.   Then I’d push the thoughts to the corner of my mind again and go back to being a supportive wife and mother, part-time tutor of learning disabled college kids, and avid reader and knitter.  This continued for about three years until March 2013 our fourteen year old son got arrested at school for selling four Concerta prescription pills prescribed by his doctor for ADD.  I felt everything spinning out of control.  I watched helpless as my son was handcuffed and put in a police car.  Because it was a Friday afternoon and no judge could sign off on the paperwork to release him to our custody after a one night stay, our son spent three nights in juvenile detention.  He was devastated as well, and although he needed to learn a lesson, three nights was terribly excessive.  He cried, prayed and watched trains on the nearby train tracks from his small cell he later told us.  My heart was broken for him and our family.  I felt like a failure as a mother.  Surely, if I’d done my job right this wouldn’t have happened.  My husband said I was being selfish.  “This isn’t about YOU.” He blurted out to me one day after I shared my feelings with him for the umpteenth time.  He didn’t understand me.  Maybe he never had.

I stop short of saying that our son’s arrest caused me to want a divorce, but in a way it did.  It just as easily could have been a car accident, serious illness, death of a loved one, a job loss, or a natural disaster.  I used to tell my girlfriends that our marriage didn’t feel like it could weather any serious storms.  It felt like we were one catastrophic event away from marital disaster. And indeed, we were.  About three weeks after the arrest I started talking to my doctor about antidepressants. I tried thr over a three month period and none gave me the relief I needed. I did; however, get hives that lasted almost a year.  I asked husband for marriage counseling one day in the car.  He said nothing and changed the subject.  This was probably the fifth or sixth time in our marriage that I told him I thought counseling would help us.  I tried to weather the storm.  I truly did.  I said the right things.  I did the right things.  But I couldn’t do it alone. And then I got very tired.

I didn’t realize it until late in our marriage, but this man had very little capacity for empathy.  He had the mind of a scientist and saw the world in black and white.  He reacted to events and situations from a place of analytical reason and could not understand displays of emotion, especially mine.  I learned to save my emotional side for my girlfriends’ coffee dates and just keep things mainly on the surface with him.  We talked about the kids, upcoming events, holidays, work, and car and home repair projects.  I suppose I did vent my frustrations about some relationships with friends and relatives with him, but he only listened and never offered any support or suggestions.  I accepted this as normal and thought if he doesn’t need to be intimate with me and show his true self, then I guess I don’t need that either, so I began to share less and less with him.  He had a sweet side and was very cuddly and affectionate, but there was no emotion behind it.  It felt empty and I began to resent his need for it.  For me, our marriage began to feel like a watered down lemonade.  Slightly tart, slightly sweet, enough liquid to quench my thirst, but not truly satisfying.

I began trying in earnest to get him to connect with me in the months after our son’s arrest.  I was testing him to see if there was any hope left for us. We felt worlds apart and I could not get him to put down his walls to talk to me from his heart.  One day on a walk in the park near our home I asked about his past before I met him and we got into an argument because once again he refused to share anything with me.  I felt shut out and frustrated.  He couldn’t understand why it was important to me, and I couldn’t understand why he resisted so much.   That was the first watershed moment for me.  This is truly all he was capable of and I realized that I had to accept it or leave the marriage. In the weeks that fo I began slipping away and it felt there was nothing to be done about it.

One evening around we were in the yard at dusk cleaning up the yard of garden hoses, kids abandoned balls, bicycles, and yard tools and found ourself arguing over nothing.  The unspoken root of the argument was that we had drifted apart and were becoming strangers and neither of us knew what to do about it.  He was about two hundred yards away when his annoyance at me turned into action. He picked up a baseball from the yard and hurled it toward me.  I was standing in the doorway of the garage when I saw it coming toward me.  I was stunned.  I quickly hopped out of the way as the ball sunk to the ground and bounced at my feet.  Had he meant to hit me?  Months later he claimed he did not truly mean to hit me, and that he had let his frustration get the best of him.  But of course, we didn’t discuss it in the moment.  He went his way and I went mine.  We acted like it had never happened as we did most confrontations in our marriage.

Also during this time his parents moved from our town to their dream retirement spot, Estes Park,Colorado, fourteen hours away.  They had put my husband in charge of last minute details in selling their home, the home which has been his childhood home.  As I often did during our marriage, I gave him opportunity to open up to me to discuss how he felt. I said, “How do you feel about your parents moving to Colorado?”  He bristled a bit and replied, “I DON’T feel about it.”  And there it was.  I. Don’t. Feel.   I was shocked he actually put into words what I had long suspected.  This was the moment that I knew there was no hope.  I felt sick.  I was not okay living like this and this was probably as good as it would ever be.   I was exhausted from the struggle.  I was tired of wishing he would change.  It was over and I was horrified and scared of what I knew I had to do.

In the following two months I cried in the shower and in the middle of the night when no one would hear,  I talked to friends, I confided in my mother, I researched divorce online, I mourned the loss of my husband as if he was dead.  After all, he was dead.  He was not capable of any emotional connection with me, so he really was dead to me and probably had been all along, but I was too busy raising children and taking care of a home and working to notice. I did not discuss any of this with him. Why?  What purpose would it served?  I couldn’t move out, he couldn’t change, and now that the veil was torn away from our sham marriage I couldn’t put it back.  And so I moved on.  Looking back now, what I did was unconscionable, but I could not live in this dead, lonely marriage any longer.  Our debt was a looming mountain and I knew divorce was a financial impossibility  and he would not let me go easily.  Besides, he was content.

I always joked with my friends how easy it is to keep most men happy: occasional sex, good meals, someone to cuddle and do their laundry and a little effort spent on perfume, clothes and make up, be agreeable and happy around him.  Smile and flirt and make him feel wanted.  Easy peasy.  It’s much harder for a man to keep a woman happy.  We have emotional needs and are complicated creatures and have high expectations.  Did you shave today? Are you wearing that to the party? You should read more. I think that shirt has a stain. You need to trim your nails. Have you called your mother this week?  Hard stuff, indeed.

I found dating sites.  That’s the stupid truth.  I was lost and didn’t know what to do next, but I knew I couldn’t live the rest of my life alone in this marriage and not being heard. I knew I deserved more than the dead existence I’d been living for years.  He was the last person I could talk to about it, so I found others online who would listen, and some were going through the same thing I was.  I found that the world is full of lonely miserable married men and a staggering number of them are on dating sites. I was honest from the beginning that I was married.  And then to my shock, I still had many men interested in me.  There were many times along the way I should have been horrified by my actions, like the time I nearly met a man from Chicago at a hotel room, or a cop from L.A. who nearly flew to a town a hundred miles to meet me.   I forged ahead, hoping that happiness lay in a secret relationship hidden behind screens and keyboards with someone I may or may not ever meet in person.  Maybe THAT could make me happy enough to stay in a  lonely marriage. Maybe I would grow old with a secret life and a happy marriage. But is that happiness? I tried to find out.

Day by day I felt myself slipping away from our life together.  I avoided him.  I did what I needed to do for the children, but I was dying inside.  I did not want to be divorced, I really only want change; I wanted a different kind of marriage he wasn’t able to be a part of- a compassionate, caring, intimate marriage where we let each other in to our hopes and dreams and secrets.  I began reading books about marriage. I read a book about monogamy and for a brief time believed that I could stay married if only I could get my emotional needs met elsewhere.  I tried  foolishly to discuss this with husband.  He decided then that I had indeed lost my mind.  He was against anything untraditional, even if it might save our marriage or give us a starting point.  I continued talking to men online and ultimately decided that I probably would have an actual affair.  And it felt like I was saving myself.

When I look back at those bleak days I remember feeling like I had no idea what I was doing, but that connecting with those men and having real emotional discussions about our lives made me feel good.  I felt alive.  I know I should have been having those discussions with husband, but he was a closed up mess.  It just wasn’t possible. In the end we had lived together for eighteen and a half years and I wasn’t any closer to reaching him then than I had been earlier on.  He was emotionally unavailable and always would be, at least with me.

One day in mid August I was home alone folding towels – the worn, sad towels we had received as a wedding gift.  The realization set in that I did not want this life anymore:  not these towels, not this house, not this man, not this disappointment over and over again. I had to tell him. It was becoming unbearable.

It was the end of August 2013 when we were alone in the car after dropping our son off at cross country practice.  I said, “I don’t know if I want to be married anymore.”  I don’t remember any of the conversation except that later that night he cried and wanted to hold me and could not look at him.  I was already gone.  I didn’t care about our marriage anymore.  I left to drive around and get some air.  I texted one of the men I had met online about what was happening and about what I would do about it.  I ignored husband’s calls.  There was nothing that would change my mind. I had seen enough, been through enough. After about an hour or so I drove home.  About a month later he found out I spent time out of town with a man I met online.  And then a funny thing happened.  He wanted to go to marriage counseling with me.

From fairly early in our marriage we had some rocky times.  I had felt all along that we could benefit from counseling in order to learn to work better together and listen to each other.   He wanted no part of counseling and had refused repeatedly until this day he agreed, but now it was too late for me.  I was done.

There is no sadder thing than a failed marriage. It is the death of dreams. And yet, it is also the birth of dreams. I cried on my divorce papers the day I signed them. The following day I took a bakery cake and flowers to work to celebrate my independence. It was sweet relief to have the eighteen month custody battle over. I was free.


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