I know what she will say before she even opens her mouth. Her face crumples inward toward her nose – first the forehead scrunches down and her lips purse together upward in a concerned, lop-sided line.
“I’m so sorry to hear that.”
She thinks I must be devastated. Maybe she assumes it wasn’t my idea. Unsure of how to respond I say, “Thank you,” and try to muster up a glum expression, but it’s forced.
One minute ago I told this new coworker I’m divorced. This was about thirty seconds after she found out I have four kids. No one, it turns out, can understand that a woman with four kids would choose to file for divorce. They almost always assume it was something HE chose, and I must have been blindsided with grief. Not this time.
* * *
Marriages end for as many reasons as they begin, I suppose. Some are taken down by wrecking ball moments like drunken infidelity (legend has it the woman half of a couple I barely know was cheating on her husband. When the man she was cheating with thought this woman was too clingy, he called up her totally-unaware husband and told him everything) or learning the other told an insurmountable lie. Others are chiseled down over years and years until both parties look at what’s left and can barely remember what the original shape of the relationship looked like. In my case, the tiny chisel did us in. Moments of cruelty, negatively, passive-aggression and controlling sprung from my ex from the beginning, and then, over time, those moments turned into days and the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months of put-downs and belittling and a glaring absence of effort on his part. I tried to change myself more than once to appease him and he didn’t notice. I tried to get him to go to counseling and he went, grudgingly, once – and then chastised me for telling the therapist such intimate details of our life together. After that he refused. His method of coping with our problems was to ignore them and then ignore me unless he was telling me I couldn’t do something.
I don’t mean to sound faultless. It takes two to get married and, in most cases, it takes two to divorce. When I realized his dark moods and mean-spirited ways were dragging me down to the bottom of his gloomy ravine, I pulled away. I craved time away from him the more he wanted to be with me. When I was home I worked on everything but spending time with him because if he wanted to pretend nothing was wrong, if he wanted to swear at me and storm out of the house every time I wanted to talk about our marriage, then fine, I was going to ignore him, too. Unless the kids were with us, we got to a point where we barely spoke about anything. He did nothing but complain about work and he was resentful of the time I took for myself outside of the house. I’ve never been so lonely in my life.
The day I realized I felt great when he was at work and tensed up when he came home I knew something had to change. I gave myself a deadline of five months to seriously consider the repercussions and to actively try to change my expectations and behaviors, telling myself that if, after that time, nothing had improved, I’d ask for a separation.
Nothing improved. Everything got worse. I promise you I made incredible efforts and just watched them go unnoticed or criticized.
I’ll spare you the sordid details, but during the separation I realized what I’d already felt for years – my husband not only did not love me, he didn’t like me. He barely tolerated me. Every day I spent away from him I recognized that I didn’t miss him. Not once. I felt better than I had since the honeymoon stage of our marriage. Anxiety that had plagued me for half a decade evaporated to the smallest amount. I looked back on how he’d treated me and couldn’t understand why I’d not left earlier. 20/20 hindsight and all of that.
The divorce process has not been easy (<—- painfully obvious understatement). Hopes of us remaining amicable were dashed almost immediately. The financial costs were devastating. The kids, of course, are the tiny and innocent sufferers and my heart only breaks over the divorce when I think about how it’s impacted them, but I truly believe they will grow up happier without the stressful environment of two parents who don’t love each other living together and pretending for fifty years. What horrible role models we were. I want my kids to believe parents are kind and caring and loving friends with each other.
So you don’t have to say you’re sorry to hear I’m divorced. If you do, you might catch me trying to hide a grin. I feel better than I have in ages. Now, I’m not whooping it up with a special celebratory cake or girls night out, I don’t consider my divorce to be a happy milestone, but the divorce has lifted the oppression I felt during my marriage and even if I am poor and single for the rest of my life, I will know this was the best decision for me and my kids.
Don’t cry for me – just smile and say, “I wish you all the best.”
(If you want to offer me some cake or wine at some point, though, I probably wouldn’t turn it down.)