My ex-husband and I were married for eight years, and lived together for seven of them. I know that doesn’t seem like a long time compared to couples who have weathered the trials and joys of twenty years or more. My own grandparents were married for over forty, until death closed a heavy coffin door on their marriage, leaving my grandmother alone and confused about how that could be possible. For forty years she had woken up at six to make his breakfast. She sat across from him every night at dinner, and fell asleep to the sound of his gentle snoring. When he got sick, she made a habit of checking and double checking that he took every pill, drank enough water, and didn’t exhaust himself. They hadn’t spent more than a night apart since he had returned from war all those years ago. Then, one day, he was gone.
When my grandfather died, my grandmother lost more than the man she loved. It wasn’t just the loss of him, but the familiarity of him. The routine and the comfort that had been her daily life for all those years was gone forever. Divorce can feel the same way. After my ex moved out, I missed him, but I also missed the life I had known so well after it was suddenly gone from me. I think that’s most of the reason we stayed together so long. We put off our separation for years, despite all the years of barely hanging in there, just hoping things would somehow, one day get better. The fear of losing the life you have, even if it’s a life you don’t like, is easier to deal with than the great dark abyss of the unknown. I used to lie awake at night, with him sleeping - or perhaps not - in bed beside me, imagining what life would be like if we divorced. I didn’t like what I imagined.
I imagined that once my husband left, I would become a lonely, miserly woman with few friends and many cats. I pictured myself alone at friends’ dinner parties, smiling cordially while people around me held cocktail glasses and whispered hushed tales about my sad situation. More importantly, I saw myself at night at home alone, with his empty chair hovering gloomily at the other end of the dinner table. I didn’t want to face that kind of emptiness. And so, I held on.
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For weeks and months and years, I existed in a state of purgatory. During this time, we were not always fighting, but we were not happy with each other as life partners. I had difficulty showing physical affection, and he didn’t know how to relate to me, not even as friends. In the daytime we had our own tasks, and at night after uneventful dinners we drowned out the rest of the evenings with television shows. It is easy to lose yourself in this routine. It is a safe one, but it is also a long, lonely existence. It is its own kind of hell. But a hell you know is better than the one you don’t, so we accepted our fate. And while eight years is just a blip when compared to marriages like my grandparents’ marriage, to me it felt like I had been with my husband forever, and always would be. He was my person. Looking back, I guess we both wanted it to work, and we both held onto the hope that our distance was just a phase. After all, there is no perfect marriage. There is also no such thing as eternal purgatory, at least not here on earth. Most of the time, whether we want them to or not, circumstances change.
When divorce is the Door to the Unknown
Purgatory was shaken when we began to have financial woes. Our struggle to stay afloat after the economy changed was the catalyst that finally purged us out of inertia and into action. We resented each other for who we were and what we were not, and when those feelings bubbled to the surface, it became clear that we would either make peace or go our separate ways. The long silence was broken. It was my husband who chose to leave.
Divorce is a painful process, and no one would deny that. But it is far worse to live a life you don’t want to be living just because you’re afraid of change. Sometimes action is the only cure for fear, which I learned after my ex moved out. Yes, that empty chair across from me at night was hard. Waking up alone was hard. Missing him was hard. But in time, I learned things about myself and what I really wanted from life and from a life partner. I discovered after my divorce that I am capable of far more than I imagined, and I’ve yet to become that miserly, lonely woman with many cats. One seems to work just fine.