Thursday, August 19, 2010

not the worst thing

we were in paris, on holiday with the in-laws, when i first said the words, whispering in the dark across to the other uncomfortable sofa where he lay.

"i think we might need to get a divorce."

he got up without a word, got his pack of cigarettes, went out onto the balcony. i joined him, watched the red glow of the cigarette as we gazed down together at the boulevard below. suddenly the will to stand drained out of my legs, and i collapsed, weeping so hard i felt i might turn inside out. all the disappointment and frustration and anger i'd been storing for months and years, rushing out of me in wracking, violent sobs. and below, people laughing, cars passing. and me thinking, how is it possible the world hasn't come to a screeching, crashing halt? surely that would be appropriate.

nearly seventy percent of second marriages end in divorce. i think i must've read that before, but i never allowed the reality of it to penetrate my consciousness. naivete. denial.

i don't know yet, if my husband and i will split. but in the weeks that have passed since that night in paris that ended with the two of us desperately clutching each other on the balcony, trying not to drown in the waves of sorrow, i've come to know why that 70% figure is so true.

even a "good divorce", an amicable divorce for all the right reasons that makes you both better, happier people, as mine was, leaves you scarred. even a "good divorce" is hell. it rips any sense of security out from under you, makes you confront the possibility of being completely and utterly alone, drains every ounce of foolish fairytale right out of your head. a divorce, even a "good divorce", is the death of your shared dreams for home, family, and future. it's a death, and you mourn it, and carry guilt and shame over it for a long while.

but as time passes and you begin to emerge from the blast-shadow the explosion left behind, the world begins to right itself. time moves on, and you tuck away the lessons learned, and you stand a little straighter knowing that you have survived the worst that love can throw at you. you think yourself stronger and wiser, as hemingway would say, "strong at the broken places".

it's dangerous knowledge.

it is dangerous knowing that divorce is not, in fact, the end of the world. that however painful the experience of a shattered marriage was, that however much it hurt to walk through those shards and pick up the pieces, that *you were okay*. dangerous how that "d" word, that word you thought you could never bring yourself to utter, that word that choked you for so long before you could finally, actually say it (because to say "divorce" out loud was to admit that it was really fucking happening)... it's dangerous how close that word sits to the tip of your tongue after that.

divorce, which was once the very worst thing that had ever happened to you, is now no longer the worst thing that can happen to you.

more to the point, it's not the worst thing that can happen to me. even with all the tears, even when to untangle my life from his would feel like flaying off my own skin, i know this much is true: it is not the worst thing that can happen to me. however bad it gets, i'll be okay.

and somehow, that just makes it worse - the knowledge that the world will keep turning, people will keep laughing on the boulevards below. i will once again face the fears and learn the lessons, adding one more statistical failure to the punchline of life, but emerge and walk on stronger and wiser,

i know what i'm in for, and i know how unthinkably excruciating the dissolution of love can be. i know all this, and still i know it will be a hundred times worse - because i loved him more.


  1. That exact knowledge is what helped my 2nd marriage last all of 7 months.
    Love to you. Sorry you're going through it.

  2. I had this whole big, long, really really long comment typed out, but I deleted it on purpose because it sounded angry and nasty. This is a sign I am growing.

    I hate that you have to go through this, it must be awful and hard and ridiculously disappointing. On the bright side, I like your writing.

  3. Though I have never been divorced, I totally get how it might be easier the second time.

    Have you already made a decision? Have you tried therapy?

    It's not that I unequivocally think people should stay married just because, but is your marriage now, worth saving?

    When my husband and I got married, there was no death do us part. I didn't want our vows to reflect anything that I did not 100% believe. I did, however, commit to him that if I wasn't happy, or I thought our differences were irreconcilable, or anything else barring major things like abuse, adultery, that I would do at least a year of marital therapy before I jumped ship. Even if I thought it was hopeless. I figure even if the marriage is unsalvagable, at least the therapy could help us traverse divorce.

    I don't say this with judgment because only you know what the problems are and what you are capable of, but I think so many marriage problems can be fixed but people get so resentful, so angry that they can't get there.

    When I get contemplate divorce in the aftermath of a seething rage, I remember that(at least in my marriage)I am half the problem and will bring my own set of shit to any relationship I enter into.

    I also get that sometimes, through the fighting or hurt, people can wear each other down to the point that you just can't get back to that place where you can be with that person.

    It's a tough one, and I wish you only happiness and peace, whatever that looks like. On a different note, you expressed yourself beautifully, raw and eloquent.

    August 20, 2010 9:18 AM

  4. @mg - thank you

    @rassles - thank you as well. it really sucks to be back in the same place, after going through so much learning previously. you think you're avoiding all the same traps, and to find yourself back in the hole is so dispiriting

    @rtsw - yeah, we've spent 6 months in therapy. (i did 2 yrs with my first marriage) things got better for a while. we might go back.

    i haven't made a decision, and it's not all about me. he's unhappy as well, though he attributes that to external stuff (being stuck in London long past our move on date). ultimately, i don't know if he can give me what i need, and i don't know if i want to keep making him miserable by measuring him as falling short.

    i'd fight tooth and nail to save it if i thought it would make a difference. i'm just not sure it wouldn't be prolonging the inevitable.

    le sigh.

  5. I sat with a group of women last night, interviewing them for a book project on relationships and divorce. They ranged from happily married women to twice divorced to never married at all. I gathered up a lot of wisdom from these women.

    One woman stayed with an abusive alcoholic for 10 years because she was raised Catholic (that was her excuse). One woman believes if you take a closer look at all the happy marriages out there you would see they are all "one bad day" away from being alone.

    Yes, we were all raised to believe in the fairytale and God, does it ever hurt to let go of what you thought your marriage would be.

    Feel the fall, move with it and push yourself out of your own way - if that makes sense. I am sorry for you to go through this. Remember, shedding the skin, surviving a dark period - all brings new growth.

  6. Jen--I think that any married person who says the word "divorce" has never crossed their mind is a liar. It's a roller coaster for sure. In my deep self I am sorry for your pain and have come closer than I'd like to admit to walking in your shoes. In my shallow self, I'm so sorry that this story takes place on a balcony in Paris because I love that city sooooo much.

  7. Jen--will you email me please?

  8. Jen, this was so incredible and heartbreaking and painfully beautiful.

    "it's a death, and you mourn it, and carry guilt and shame over it for a long while." It's funny, that when I started my divorce, I kept trying to make it smaller, make it better, by telling myself that at least no one had died. But there had been a death, you're right.

    I wish you all kinds of strength and hope as you go through this.

  9. Jen, stuck in a big fat crisis with my not-first partner right now, this was a helpful insight. Wishing you well.

  10. I don't know what to say, Jen. I'm sorry you're going through this. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  11. I've read this post several times over the last few days, it's really stuck with me. I guess because I can totally see how easily I could be where you are and it makes me uncomfortable. Marriage is the hardest thing I've ever done. Some days I wonder if we'll make it, other days I know we will, and other days I'm a crumpled weeping mess on the floor too.