I recently received a comment on my article, Finding Clarity: The Importance of Documenting Your Relationships from a guy named Chris, which we continued via email. His comments were supportive of point-of-view.
He acknowledged the differences in our backstories but offered up his perspective on mine, which I love to hear. I especially love getting perspectives from men.
So I asked Chris to write a guest post, as I believe he offers up a very different way of taking in a failed relationship.
Recently there were some heated discussions on social media about how best to respond to an abusive ex’s texts and emails. (I always suggest total silence—bullies love to victimize and if we finally stop allowing it to happen, they almost always show their true colors—they are cowards and the behavior stops.) As luck would have it, this is the topic Chris chose to write about. Silence.
In way of introducing Chris… it’s been many years since he and his ex-wife found a peaceful silence between them. Chris says that are no open loops, no unresolved conflicts, no ill will. About two years after their divorce was final, that peaceful silence just came to both of them, busy with their own new separate lives. Here’s that part of his story… Oh, to be so lucky to have a decent man for an ex! And either way, I think his story is an important one to ponder—moving on, being silent, making peace.
Beautiful, peaceful, necessary silence
“There’s a time for departure, even when there’s no certain place to go.” (Tennessee Williams)
The most obvious time for departure came for my then-wife, “Emily”, after she’d made plans to leave. She had started planning long before, cutting threads, giving signals. She probably wanted me to leave, but I had no intention of leaving. I didn’t want her to leave, and didn’t think she actually would. We were both unhappy, but happiness and mutual respect meant more to her than it did to me.
Emily told me shortly before we married that if we weren’t happy together, she would divorce. I was shocked, but I expected that happiness in marriage was something we would work for and earn. It didn’t happen. We didn’t do what was necessary to make it happen. We failed at marriage. It wasn’t a matter of substance abuse, addiction, infidelity, over-spending, or domestic violence – we didn’t make any of that unpleasantness for ourselves. We made other unpleasantness. We were young and immature, too immature to realize just how immature we both were, how unprepared we were for the challenges of a life together. Even that wasn’t decisive. People grow together. We didn’t.
We were badly matched as people from the start. We were mismatched when it came to how we faced issues, and we didn’t manage to resolve many of them. They festered and just kept accumulating in number. We were bad in bed together. Even our physical parts were mismatched. Driving anywhere together in the same car led to conflict about driving, who would drive and how to drive. Consequently, we never arrived anywhere, including back at home, in a good mood. One of us wanted children. The other did not. We were a mess of a couple, married but really not a couple at all.
Why would two people so mismatched marry in the first place? Emily wanted something that was important to her. I wanted something else that was important to me. It was a fool’s bargain, not the basis for lifelong union, and we knew at the time that our primary wants were two different things, but they seemed compatible with the idea of marriage. We hoped that we would have good things in common, or at least delight in our differences. We didn’t.
So it’s over
We were at home together, something that didn’t happen very often anymore. There were no more subtle signals, no more fraying threads. It was over.
Emily informed me that she rented an apartment for herself, and that she was moving out of our house and into her new apartment effective immediately. I tried to process this. I couldn’t afford the house by myself, didn’t want her to leave but couldn’t stop her. Was it really over?
She obviously thought about her words. They were direct and decisive. As I stood thinking, with only a short pause, Emily continued to tell me that we were divorcing. Another brief pause. She said that I could never come close to meeting her sexual needs. Pause. Emily said that she didn’t plan to take anything with her. We didn’t have much anyway. Yes, it was over. She broke eye contact, walked out the front door, got into one of our two cars, and drove away.
After the first year of our marriage, she had probably decided that our marriage wasn’t going to work. If I was surprised now at the end, after four years of this marriage, I shouldn’t have been. She had been preparing me, and herself, for a departure. I didn’t think she’d pull the plug, but she did. I wasn’t happy or sad, just numb. The words of Tennessee Williams at the beginning of this post came to my mind. For her the time had come and she didn’t need a certain place to be forever. All she needed was a next stop. She had one. She had made one.
In Hollywood, that might be an ending, cue the music and film credits. In life, there was no peaceful silence between us, not yet. Living in common was over, but we still had to work out living separately.
I said we didn’t have much, and neither of us wanted to fight over what little we had. We had a house we purchased a year earlier, with a mortgage and little equity, and both of our cars were financed. Without children, and in the early years of our careers and earning about the same amount of money, we made the financial decisions easy. Emily had been a dynamic shopper (‘stylish dresser’ she might say) and there was nothing much in the bank to split. We had no reason to spend any more than we had to on the legal aspect of divorce, and we hired one attorney, an inexperienced young lawyer and contemporary of ours, who, most importantly to us, was inexpensive. He couldn’t officially represent us both, but effectively that’s what we had him do.
There was some tension between us, but not much, and mostly it involved Emily’s need to get the divorce finalized quickly. I didn’t understand her urgency, and she didn’t understand that a huge court system wasn’t going to change its ways to suit her.
Over the two years that followed her announcement that it was over, we got the divorce finalized; she remarried and bought a house with her new husband; I sold our house and gave her her share of the proceeds as agreed; and she took some outdoor furniture and other things from the house that I would either have to give away or sell before I moved to another city 700 miles away for another job (the reason I sold the house).
We had little contact and it was all polite and pleasant. She said during one of our meetings that she felt bad because she had ruined my life. I knew it wasn’t so. I was only 28, and she’d given us both the chance to start over, to find a better way. If my life would be ruined, it hadn’t happened yet, and it was certainly up to me, and not because of anything she had done.
The silences between us were peaceful, broken as we needed to break that silence. A detail here or there that needed to be addressed, a signature on a form, acknowledgments of designations of new beneficiaries– things like that.
Drawing to a close
As it turns out, our last contact, now more than 25 years ago, came shortly after she told me about the birth of her twins. I’d priced double strollers at a store that I knew she liked, sent her a gift certificate, and she called to say “thank you.” I didn’t know that was it, but there was nothing more that needed to be said, and we moved completely on with our own separate lives. We didn’t agree not to talk again. It just happened naturally, and with events guiding us.
I think of Emily often, and wish her good things in life. I expect that she wishes me well also. We live in the same county again, in towns not far apart and very near the two towns we lived in when we were married. I hear from an old mutual friend who is more in Emily’s life than mine that she’s doing well. That’s enough for me.