I was married for 11 years, and with that man for almost 20. Barrelling into midlife was predictably tumultuous for me, but I felt that, by 40, at least my marriage was ready to hit a healthy stride. I was married to my best friend, after all — the guy I happily spent all my time with, the one who made me strive to be a better person, the guy who supported all my crazy ideas, worked hard to support his family, made me laugh uncontrollably, and with whom I shared interests and passions. I thought, hey, at least this was something I could count on for stability.
I was wrong, of course, because as we all know (thanks to Jack Black’s portrayal of R.L. Stine in that surprisingly entertaining 2015 flick), there are always three parts to a story: the beginning, the middle, and the twist. My twist was a gut-wrenchingly sad dissolution of my marriage.
I’ll never really have closure on the end of my marriage, I guess. I mean, I have a general sense of what went wrong, but I still can’t wrap my head around why it wasn’t worth working on. We coulda had it all, we coulda been contenders, ya know? I don’t know what more there is to marriage than what we had, and I don’t say that in a resigned way, I really mean it. We had a great foundation of friendship to build on… but I’m only 50% of the equation, and you can’t fix a partnership with only one person wanting it.
I strongly believe, though, that we only get one life to live, and it’s worth making some selfish decisions to try and find our happiness. So I don’t feel resentment towards my former partner. I’ve come to see his decision to leave as brave, actually. It takes guts to leave. I may not understand it, I may not have wanted it, but if it leads to more fulfilled life, the pain will have been worth it all.
I still often wonder, if we couldn’t make something that good work, what hope is there for other relationships I have? Maybe it’s not something better we seek, just something different. Either way, here I am, chasing down 43, a single mom in suburbia, sans career and without partner, doing her best to find herself and figure out her next plot direction. And yes, to many outside, I may seem a little reckless, because figuring out who I am at this age after spending half my life in a single role can look a little strange from the outside. . . Tattoos! Selfish days spent shopping for me! Redecorating my home to make it truly my own! Cocktails midweek! I must be losing my mind. . . isn’t that how we often paint the newly-single middle-aged woman?
She dresses too young for her age. She’s too focussed on her appearance. She’s making wild decisions. She’s having too much fun. She’s overcompensating. She’s a cougar. She’s crazy.
I met a woman at a bar who was single and in her fifties. She was vivacious and unfettered — she danced and sang and if I was even two years younger, I’d have negatively judged her, I’m sure of it. She drunkenly walked up to me and chatted with my friend and me… “I’m selling crazy at a premium these days. Most men can’t handle my personality, but you know what? I don’t give a fuck. I am who I am, I’m so tired of pretending.” Although I laughed, the truth of that resonated with me.
I’m tired, too.
I was tired of always coming in last in my family. I adore them, of course, but I martyred myself for so long, I forgot how to love myself. That’s my own fault, but it’s still a fact. I supported them emotionally, and physically. I focussed on their health and wellbeing. I was responsible for most of the domestic duties, and washed my hands of financial responsibilities. I planned every magical holiday, I baked and cooked, I made appointments, I took care of the pets, and by the end of each day, I’d look in the mirror and see someone I didn’t recognize. I felt beat down by life, but accepted the fact that this is just life with young kids. One day it would change. Ooooh boy, change happened, all right.
When my marriage fell apart, so did many friendships. Looking back, I realize that this happened to many of my friends whose marriages broke up, too. I admit I walked away when people seemed to become unhinged — how could I fit them into my picture-perfect life?
People seem to think divorce is contagious — I guess it is, in a way. When friends’ marriages dissolve, we suddenly examine our own partnerships, and often realize we’re not trapped, we’re just scared, and it’s totally reasonable to want more out of life than what we’ve been living.
I make people face those truths. I am the poster girl for Happier After Marriage. I’m the bad influence. . . the siren luring people out of marriage to a life of freedom and hedonistic enjoyment. We’re so much more comfortable with middle-aged women in flats and yoga pants, hair tossed in a messy bun, running to the grocery store than we are with women in red lips and 4″ heels, posting selfies at social functions. I’m not sorry for how uncomfortable I make you. But I am not a threat.
I have become a pariah.
Nobody wants the single, middle-aged woman at the dinner party. Or, they do, and we don’t want to go, because holy shit, awkward. Nobody wants the third wheel at the movies. Everyone’s partnered up and I’m left making new friends who have time to go out, and who really get the emotional trauma of separation. Nobody checks in to see how we’re really doing. Nobody wants to talk about the problems that got us here, in case they’re faced with some hard truths themselves.
Bluntly, it sucks.
We see these woman exiting marriages, focussing on themselves, and we lay guilt and judgment on them. They must be having breakdowns. That’s so sad. Except it’s really not. What we’re trying to do is remember who we were before we became Wives, Mothers, Other Halves. We’re trying to find empowerment in this storm, trying to figure out how to navigate new waters alone.
I had to wade through the guilt over having “failed” at my marriage. I had to rise from the ashes something new. My therapist told me, “You need to stop asking why he would leave, and just focus on yourself. Focus on your own happiness, and one day it won’t hurt anymore.” And she was right, even though at the time I laughed in her face and blew snot into a tear-soaked tissue, I can honestly say that 11 months later, I’m in a much better place. Focusing on myself has made me happier, and more confident. I stand taller, I laugh louder, I shrink away from nothing. . . but it’s also left me very alone in many ways. I don’t want an easy replacement partner, I don’t want to rush into a new relationship. I want to understand my part in the breakdown of my marriage, and work on myself so I don’t repeat negative patterns. I want to be fulfilled alone before someone else takes up space in my life. All this self-reflection is painful, and lonely, but it’s also the best thing I’ll ever do for myself.
I do miss having a consistent partner for movies and dinners. I miss inside jokes, and snuggles. I miss Netflix and chill. I miss someone who knows what I like to eat, and how I take my coffee. I miss holding hands. I miss familiarity.
And I miss you, my married friends.
I do not, however, miss marriage.