Dissolving my marriage was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Deciding to do it? Not so hard.
The months-long process of separation disrupted not only my husband and I as a couple, but our children as well, and in ways that I only could’ve imagined until actually being thrust into the situation, headfirst. Being a parent is so often a selfless job. We put our children’s needs before our own, feed our children from our own mouths if need be, and gladly give our children the clothes off our backs should we have to. But to what end? At what point do we draw the line between our children’s wants and needs, and our own?
When I first discovered my husband was involved in an extramarital affair, I immediately requested he stop seeing his mistress in order to give our marriage a real chance. He adamantly refused, caught up in a whirlwind romance, and left our home without a second thought. Calls from myself and from my children went unanswered for days, and he didn’t seem to care the children were devastated by his sudden departure.
A couple of months later, when there were problems in my husband’s new relationship, he temporarily returned to our home and agreed, begrudgingly, to see a marriage counselor. We went to one two-hour session together, where it became readily evident he was unwilling to take any responsibility for the problems that led to our marriage’s fracture. It was when he refused to attend our second meeting that I conceded defeat, and officially called it quits.
Doing so was, surprisingly, a quick and easy decision.
My husband had just spent the week in our marital home, celebrating Passover with our family, as a family, and “acting” as though we were the poster children for marital accord. We went to the movies together as a couple, and slept in our master bedroom as husband and wife. I could hear my children giddily whispering about our comings and goings as they carefully assessed our behavior. That they were happy gave me satisfaction fixing things, and swallowing my pride, was, in fact, the right choice. I would give them, even sacrifice, my life in exchange for the façade of a happy childhood home.
But for those who have ever been trapped in, or opted to stay in, a bad marriage, know that keeping the peace is an all-consuming and draining process. As we know, it is possible to redirect groundwater but, ultimately, water always percolates to the surface, and flooding becomes inevitable. During that pivotal week, it didn’t take me long to realize that after too many years of living vicariously through others, and for others, I needed to opt for change and the possibility, however uncertain, of something better.
Not everyone reaches that same decision.
One month ago, a separated forty-something year-old man who I met online, and subsequently spoke to, asked me to dinner, via text. I accepted, and requested he call to confirm the details of our upcoming date whenever he was able. He never called. Four days later, on the afternoon of our scheduled date, I received another text, this time requesting I instead come to Manhattan because he had just driven home from a family vacation and the weather was bad. I politely suggested rescheduling, but never received a response.
That is, until late last night, one month later.
“Hi. I am back…and going back to NJ to my family at the end of the month,” he abruptly announced. “My only regret is I never had the opportunity to meet u…too much traveling for me. Let me know if u would like to have dinner and dessert before I leave NYC. Ur voice was hard to forget.”
“I don’t understand,” I questioned. “You’re going back to your wife?”
“Yes,” he confirmed. “My son needs me. He is the most important person I have in my world. I will run out the lease March 1.”
“Why are you contacting me?” I questioned, scratching my head in disbelief.
After a very pregnant pause, “I am sorry. Wrong [my name],” he corrected. “Sweet dreams.”
At first I was angry. I immediately began typing my text in response. Was I supposed to be flattered? Better question, was he the dessert? But then I thought about it. He had made a choice I was unwilling to because I knew it was one I couldn’t live with. The thought of staying in a loveless marriage so my children could one day recall their Cleaver-like childhood petrified me. That I would wake up one day, my children all grown and I emotionally alone, was not a gamble I was willing to take.
But what if I had made that choice? How, I wondered as I went to sleep last night, could I live with it? Would I need one last hurrah as a separated person? Would I try and arrange someone to keep on the side? Doubtful, but who knows.
As my own marriage neared its end, I knew that if I committed to recommitting, I needed to do it for me, because it was what I wanted, or else my efforts would be destined for failure anyway. Looking back, walking away from my marriage was the best choice I ever made. I am free, happier, and have hope. I am a better mother because of it. It is here my children’s wants and needs seamlessly converge with my own.
When children are involved, separating is similar to filing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It’s a time for reorganization, a time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. No decision is categorically the right one. Separation is a learning process, and people and situations can and do change over time. Through my own trial and error, I now decide what is right for me, right now, and congruently, right for my children.
I am confident this man will find his own way. In due time. Whatever his way may be.
So, although we had a promising conversation six weeks ago, I gently put down my cell phone and walked away, and walked one step closer to the new life I want.