It was Christmas Day, 2008, and I was headed to a courthouse in a major Arabia Gulf city to seek some obscure paperwork that would get me out of the country and back to the States. Christmas was just another day in this Muslim country where I had lived for five years, but I had spent three of them mustering the courage and money to divorce my husband. My son had just opened his Christmas presents in our rented house and I was headed to the Ministry of Justice.
I was plotting my long-distance escape. No, I wasn’t married to a foreigner; this was not a Not Without My Daughter Scenario. We are both American and he was working as a military contractor. I lived in a comfortable expatriate bubble of coffee mornings, designer fashions, a fully-funded education for our son, a free car and free housing.
Yet I worked two jobs. What brought me to this point?
Why Aren’t You Married?
I got married for one simple reason. I lived an unexamined life, and I caved to pressures that were still palpable in 1992 but which thankfully are on the wane today. I was 31, never married, and heard every inquiry of “Why aren’t you married?” as a snarky “What’s wrong with you?” I had a great career as a television reporter, my own house, decent looks and a quick wit.
So why wasn’t I married? It was what I lacked on the inside, but I wouldn’t learn that for 14 more years.
Growing up in an alcoholic home in which I learned to trust no one and equated vulnerability with weakness. It left me with issues that torpedoed other relationships. With no personal frame of reference, I template a list of qualities I wanted in a spouse: good income, stable, bring future, nondrinker, good teeth, jeans-to-tuxes versatility. Sadly, that was about it.
The Personal Ad
In those pre-internet days, I put a personal ad in one of those hipster weeklies. His was the first letter I opened. Pleasant face, young executive, divorced with two children, good handwriting. We met, he moved in a month later, and a ring followed three months after that.
I was so thrilled to finally be engaged, to be able to proclaim that someone wanted me after all, that I gleefully ignored the red flags: he never stayed with a job for long, he was cold, and he had two exes leave him suddenly.
But, Oh my God, I was going to be a bride at last! Have a diamond ring! Financial security! Someone who I could call my husband!
A Lack of Connection
The next 14 years were a blur of his job changes that whipsawed us around the country. I quit my news career and followed dutifully. Thankfully, my ability to write always got me a good job wherever we went: have pen, will travel.
Over the years, various family members lived with us. He traveled, I traveled, we ate out a lot, and saw movies on the weekends. Like roommates. It was all livable until we had a child after a single in vitro round. I was 41 when I had my son.
And Baby Makes Two
Although he had not been deeply involved in his other kids’ lives (another red flag), my husband promised me things would be different with this baby. I quickly realized this wasn’t true. I had a C-section on a Saturday, came home on a Monday and he was back at work by Wednesday.
We had just moved to a new state and I knew no one. I was alone with a colicky baby, a husband who stayed late at work, no family, and nothing but What to Expect When You’re Expecting to keep me company.
A Life-changing Move
I agreed to move to the Middle East because it promised to better our finances. It turned out to be the best – and most eye-opening – move of my life. I could finally be a stay-at-home-mom and enjoy the comfortable, secure life I’d always craved.
It was here that I saw the situation for what it was. He worked the same long hours, and took to playing computer solitaire for hours on weekends, tuning out our son and me.
The boy noticed. Teaching him to ride a bike entailed holding the bike while my son pedaled a single lap around our house. Birthdays involved dad’s appearance for the last half-hour. My son stopped asking for dad, so we made family out of friends.
If he’d been a good father, I would have sucked it up forever. But he was not. That was my defining moment.
Professionally, I blossomed, able to work freelance and teaching jobs only during school hours so I could be there for my son. Exposed to different cultures and new kinds of people, I finally figured out who I was, what I was good at, and that I probably could navigate my own ship.
The Escape Plan
I began socking away my earnings in a secret bank account in the US. When had enough to pay for a divorce and a year’s worth of living expenses, I planned my exit: surreptitious meetings with lawyers in my host country and Skype meetings with lawyers in the US occupied my last year as an expatriate, and as a wife. I contemplated telling him, but wasn’t sure if he could force me to stay.
When I got to the courthouse, a half hour before it closed, I was told I needed a translator to witness and co-sign the paperwork that would allow me to leave the country. I called a Jordanian friend, whose father careened in with minutes to spare before the courthouse closed. It was a movie climax come to life, after which I cried for hours out of mental exhaustion.
In contrast, the end of the marriage was devoid of drama. When I told him (the truth) that our son needed educational services unavailable in our host country and wanted to return to the US, he shrugged and said, “Go ahead.”
As we got ready to move, my son never once said he would miss his father. He still rarely does, although my ex has since moved back to the States.
Did I Make a Mistake?
I question my decision constantly. He was selfish. I was selfish. He was the wrong person for me, but I didn’t know enough about myself to choose a partner. I let the insecurities of the past, and to a lesser extent, society, lead me down a path that was wrong for me.
Of course, I can’t call it a mistake because I was blessed with a wonderful child. He is 14, happy and sees his father as infrequently as he did when we lived in the same house.
I will not remarry until my boy is out of the house. I’m taking time to parent him, to parent myself, and to do what I should have done when I was 31 and facing the question, “Why aren’t you married.” My answer today is that I need to learn first who I am.
More from DivoredMoms:
- Your Dirty Little Secret: You Married The Wrong Person
- How I Married The Wrong Person
- 5 Things Divorce Taught Me About Marriage
- 4 Signs The Man You Are With Isn’t Right For You