Monday 30 December 2013

Divorce: I am never getting married again

Back in September, I wrote to a business acquaintance a few days before his second marriage.

Good luck on Sunday. Despite my divorce, I will tell you that getting married was a joy and being married was a wonderful experience. There is a certain feeling which comes from being connected to another human being. I felt a little stronger, a little more rooted, and a little happier knowing there was a place to go home to which wasn't empty. Home was alive. All the best to you (two) in your world.

After such a testimonial about the union of two human beings, I'm sure you would wonder why I'm saying I will never do it again. I suppose I could answer with something flippant, such as, "Been there; done that." Or I could say something about how you can only fit so much into one lifetime despite people like Elizabeth Taylor having been married eight times, twice to the same man.

My Story
One of my fellow bloggers privately asked me the following:

Something I've realized about you, you never share your story...marriage and divorce. Why is that?

I responded:

I do share my story, but indirectly, in snippets. Divorce is a traumatic experience and I am sure everyone involved isn't at their best. I wasn't. My ex-wife is a good woman. I am sorry this happened and I regret we were unable to deal with it. But she still is a good woman.

Back in 2010, I discovered blogging: oh wow the perfect outlet for a narcissistic self-absorbed egotist with an inferiority complex.

"A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem".

Admittedly, in the beginning of the divorce process, I got the idea of writing my story. I read other bloggers (mostly women) and a Kindle book (a woman) where the authors detailed their journey through the emotional, financial, and legal trials and tribulations of disentangling two lives. We seem to look for similar stories to validate our own experience. We will now hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

But I hesitated. I talked with a therapist and therefore had an outlet, a professional outlet I might add, for whatever idle thoughts I had during the process. I had promised myself to never discuss any details with family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, or the girl behind the counter at Starbucks. Over the years, I had heard stories of people becoming obsessed with their big D to the point of alienating people around them and I didn't want to fall into the same trap. Yes, it is one of the most momentous events in anyone's life but that doesn't mean everybody within earshot wants to hear about it... for the twentieth time.

But more importantly, there was one person on this planet who could make the connection between this nom de plume and the real me. (I blog anonymously.) My lawyer warned me to not communicate with anybody and jeopardise the negotiations. Along with this legal opinion, I wondered what risks I ran by being outed to my job. I had written about a number of bloggers who remain anonymous to avoid conflict in their real lives and a number of bloggers who were fired from their jobs when their literary activities became public knowledge. Put all this together and you have some compelling reasons to keep quiet. (my blog: On-line, oh so not private and busted)

But there is more.

I wrote about a couple of high profile divorce cases which transpired in part on the Internet. The pettiness, the bickering, and the attempts at public humiliation struck me as quite embarrassing and completely lacking in maturity. The authors, while attempting to vilify the target of their hatred, portrayed themselves as something of an out of control, childish lunatic. I didn't think that was representative of myself and I certainly didn't think anybody else involved in the big D deserved such treatment. Let's agree to disagree and remain calm as we rationally and objectively go through the process. (my blog: The Psycho Ex Wife: ex bashing taken to the next level; my blog: Tricia Walsh: Let's divorce on YouTube!)

Man up
I have written in this blog about the idea that we are products of our society. "Women are emotional and men are logical." "Women want a prince and men want a porn star." "Women are taught to suppress their sexuality and men are taught to suppress their sensuality." We all come to the table with expectations and yet we have no idea where those expectations come from and if those expectations are valid. I am convinced more and more that we have no idea this is going on or just what it means. Somehow, we have ingrained in all of us this ideal of a suburban home with a white picket fence, two point five children, and a blissful monogamous picture-perfect marriage in the style of Ward and June Cleaver from the 1950s black and white television series Leave It To Beaver. I don't think we are consciously aware of it. Does a goldfish know it's living in a fishbowl?

The other day, I ran across a video clip taken from the 2001 movie Training Day starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. Washington the experienced cop wants Hawke the rookie to do something, to change his approach to conducting business and succinctly tells his partner to "man the f**k up." I'm not mentioning this movie because I think there's a connection to divorce; I am bringing it up as to how one man would advise another about any critical issue, including divorce.

I'm not going to cry over spilt milk. I'm not going to whine over my losses. I'm not going to emotionally blubber on about the past. I get my hand caught in a woodchipper and have my entire arm ripped off. I will be an amputee for the rest of my life. With Zen-like wisdom, I am going accept my fate and not be bitter. I'm not saying that is always an easy thing to do; I'm just saying I recognise it's the correct course of action. I am going to man up. I am going to move forward. Look behind you and you turn into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26) Look forward and there is hope. At least, there's the anticipation of what's around the next corner. You may now recite the Serenity Prayer; blah, blah, blah.

Once in a while somebody says that cliché, "You're such a pessimist," to which I reply, "No, I am a realist." Sometimes life sucks and you have to accept that. But in accepting life as is, in accepting my life as is, I have to look down once in a while. Looking down gives me a truer picture of my own circumstances.

In 2012, I suffered the worst sports injury of my entire life having traumatised the upper left quadrant of my body, stopping just short of tearing my rotator cuff and leaving me with a slightly herniated C6 cervical disc. I spent almost five months locked up in my apartment in pain twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I had only about 15% use of my left arm. I couldn't walk more than 30 feet without pain. All of my waking moments were dedicated to pain management and in a nutshell, my quality of life had gone from a hundred percent to about twenty. Life sucked and I mean royally.

It's eighteen months later. That's eighteen months of doctors, x-rays, MRI's, therapy, countless sessions in my apartment doing isometric exercises and resistance band training, and visits to a gym. Am I back one hundred percent? Not quite. I realise I am going to be dealing with certain discomforts and physical limitations for the rest of my life.

But, I look down. I've talked with other people.

Years after their original injury, some people are still taking pain medication. I only had to take it for four months and a bit. People have required surgery to correct their problem. I didn't need it. Some people have had to have one or more vertebrae fused. While the option was brought up in my case, it turns out my body managed to heal itself.

How tough was my divorce? I have listened to the stories of others. "There but for the grace of God..." If ever I start rambling on to myself about what happened I force myself to stop and think carefully about what could have happened. Think about that: what happened versus what could have happened. I remember watching a video of the 2011 Japanese tsunami in which a couple point into a valley where their home used to be. Everything, absolutely everything in their lives was gone, swept out to sea. Was it fair? Was it just? The man turns to the camera and says, "We are lucky to be alive."

"The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."
-Thucydides (460–395 BC), Greek historian, general (The Peloponnesian War)

What are you going to do about it? A tsunami washes away your life. "The weak suffer what they must." It would seem that all of us at one point or another are weak. Who can stand up to a tsunami or a tornado or lightning? But, of course, the point is to apply that concept to other issues such as employment, health, or divorce. Sometimes sh*t happens. There may not be one specific person who can be held accountable; issues can arise out of circumstances. And even if there is a specific person, that doesn't necessarily mean that person can or will be held accountable. It may very well be that they "should not" be held accountable. A tsunami "is". We can't stop it; we can't change its course; we can only try to stay out of its way. Afterwards, we must figure out what we're going to do about it.

Getting married was a joy. Being married was wonderful. Getting a divorce sucks. Despite the negotiations, despite the battles both emotional and legal, there is no winner in the process. Everybody loses. Yes, you heard me. Nobody, absolutely nobody wins. Everybody involved is going to be carrying around a little souvenir for the rest of their lives, an emotional scar.

But aphorisms abound. What's fair isn't always equal. For every door that closes, another opens. Ad infinitum. Or ad nauseum. You come out the other side and like the victim of the Japanese tsunami, you're alive. Sh*t happens.

Never Again
I'll never get married again. Why? Am I angry? Am I bitter? Am I making a silly promise out of spite? Admittedly, sometimes yes, I still have my moments, but the real answer is far more practical.

I can only afford one divorce in my life. I no longer have the financial resources to pay for another one. Pessimism? Or realism? The aphorism about gambling is that you only bet what you can afford to lose. I can't afford to lose a second time; therefore I've decided not to bet again. Yes, yes, if you don't buy a ticket, you can't win, but let's not forget that for every millionaire, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine people lost.

"If you want to be happy, never get married or never get divorced."

Now anybody could smile slyly and say to me, "Never say never." I will smile back and counter with, "I am a man of my word."

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
-Rita Mae Brown, author (misattributed to Albert Einstein)

As an aside, I am not writing about you; I am writing about me. This isn't your story; this is my story. If there is one thing I have learned out of all of this, everyone is different and everyone's story is particular to them and their circumstances. Yes, there may be general rules; yes, there may be commonalities, but every situation is slightly different if for no other reason than it's our situation and we all are, at one point or another, caught up in the need to tell it to the world. And all this in spite of the fact that there is nothing new under the sun.

"Divorce: You don't get over it, you get used to it."

Hope springs eternal. It is probably the biggest foible of the human animal and its biggest motivator.

my blog: Optimism: we are hardwired to ignore defeat
[Tali Sharot (University College London) points out that] this tendency towards optimism is both good and bad. Good in the sense it helps us to continue. Bad in that we tend to overlook the obvious signals of failure. She amusingly points out that we can hear a success story like Mark Zuckerberg's of Facebook and imagine ourselves being rich one day and yet, upon hearing that the odds of divorce are almost 1 in 2, we can't imagine our own marriages ever failing.

People in successful relationships love to tell everybody else about how they are successful all without considering how many factors go into success like having the right partner. Yes, let me repeat that: having the "right" partner. If you like to dance the waltz and know how to do it and you find a partner who likes to dance the waltz and knows how to do it, I would say there is an excellent chance the two of you are going to dance the waltz and have a good time doing so. Open and honest? Planned romantic moments? Following a ten step plan to a successful relationship? Pshaw. When you're on the same wavelength, everything clicks and your relationship works. Period. Your focus is on the other person; your focus is on the relationship. There is nothing magical there. I now see that it's when you're not on the same wavelength that you have the true test of your mettle.

How you react says a lot about you. Let me repeat that statement. Yes, we may face a bad situation, maybe a really really bad situation but how we react to the situation is reflective of the true us. How we deal with the situation shows just who we are and what we're made of. In my experience, happy people are kind, generous, and sympathetic if not empathetic. Unhappy people are angry, mean spirited, and critical of anybody other than themselves. Yes, divorce may be the biggest freak-out of our lives but how are you going to deal with it?

Where to go from here
It's been three years. No dates, no dinners, not even a coffee. Certainly no sex. Why? I'm busy. And maybe being busy with my stuff makes me a narcissist. I hear the word bandied about so much, I can no longer tell the difference between narcissism and self-interest.

"The definition of an egoist: Somebody who doesn't think of me."

I am trying to put my life back together. I am trying to deal with post-divorce financial matters. (At the age of 61, I spend more time than most people wondering about how I'm going to deal with retirement.) I am trying to redefine myself as an individual. In other words, I'm not ready. I'm so busy right now dealing with "me", I'm not sure I would have the necessary focus to deal with an "us".

Leaving it behind
Somebody asked if I would be willing to commit to writing two articles a month about divorce from a man's perspective. It was nice that she would think of me, but I politely declined. I am too busy elsewhere to make such a commitment.

However, there was a second reason I didn't mention. (She may read this. Sorry.) I don't want to dwell on my divorce. I don't want to think about divorce. I want to move on. I want to get on with the rest of my life. I want to focus on the future and I don't want to rehash the past.

my blog: Divorced: It's over. Or is it?
I'm browsing around the Net. One link leads to another and I end up at a blog posting about divorce written by a woman. She offers some interesting perspectives, some good tips, some personal stories and some painful memories. I look at the About to find out a little more about the author and discover that she has been divorced for over 12 years. I look back at the posting. As I was reading it, I had the impression the woman had only recently been divorced. 12 years? She was writing like it was yesterday.

Look behind you and you turn into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26)

To all those who continue to fight the good fight, I salute you. To those who are about to jump into the deep end of the pool, I wish you the best of luck. But personally, I would like look ahead to the future. It may be a stupid idea, maybe not, but I've heard say that for every door that closes another opens. Everything supposedly happens for a reason so while getting my arm ripped off in a woodchipper is an extremely painful experience, there is a reason why I'm an amputee. Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Corny, clichéd, but there's something in that saying.

I am 61 years old. Statistically speaking, my life expectancy is 80 years. That means I have another nineteen years. A comedian said, "If you hang in there long enough, you'll grow old and die." Ha, ha.

It's been a few years now, but I remember the last thing I wrote to my now divorced family.

This whole mess is regrettable. I hope that everybody involved will be able to get on with the rest of their lives without suffering any lasting trauma. Believe it or not, I would like to see everyone happy, successful and at peace with themselves and the rest of the world.

My prediction about the future
So if I'm not going to remarry, just what am I going to do? Date? Maybe. But admittedly, I don't consider it to be a priority. If I do at some point, I see it as two people who are financially (and emotionally) independent sharing some time together. I found this to be an interesting assessment of the situation.

Wikipedia: Remarriage: Differences in desire to repartner
The most frequent reasons older adults give for remaining without a partner after losing a spouse are gender-specific. While the common myth is "women grieve, men replace," research does not support this pattern. Rather, widows are more likely to report that they are reluctant to give up newfound freedom and independence. Many widows perceive a sense of liberation no longer having to take care of another person, and value this more than additional companionship. Widowers, on the other hand, tend to report that they have not repartnered because they are concerned about being undesirable partners due to older age and ill health.

On the one hand, when I think of last year's sports injury, I see the part about widowers: "undesirable due to older age and ill health." On the other hand, I can see the part about widows: "reluctant to give up newfound freedom and independence."

I want to be clear about one thing.

"Never regret anything because at one time it was exactly what you wanted."

I do not regret getting married. It was a wonderful experience. On the other hand, getting a divorce is not an experience I have any intention of ever repeating. How to reconcile those two ideas?

When I was 10 years old, my parents packed up the family for a 7,000 kilometres (4,500 mile) car trip. It was the epic of all journeys: the prairies, the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, and a myriad of unknown places and far-flung relatives. I'm no longer 10 years old. My parents have been dead for years. In other words, the circumstances of that journey are now impossible to recreate. Sure I can hop in my car but it will never be the same. I have my memories and even those memories have faded and possibly morphed into more of a fantasy journey than the real thing. In other words, what was can never be repeated. Things change. My circumstances change. I have my memories but I must remember that things change irrevocably.

I must be careful to not romanticise the past. Yes, there is the good, but there is also reality. Spending monotonous days of driving and driving and driving? Getting overtired? Getting cranky? Having to go pee but unable to find a rest stop? Things change. Let's not do that again. But to those of you who have never taken an epic car journey and are getting ready to embark on that once in a lifetime experience, I wish you the best of luck. For me, there are other mountains to climb.

Final Word
I have been mulling this article over for a couple of months. What do I say? What do I not say? Based on what I've read in the comments on other articles, both mine and others', I'm sure some people are going to do their best amateur psycho-analysis and jump to all sorts of conclusions. Good luck with that. Others are going to be looking for advice, looking for common points in my story, and certainly looking for a glimmer of hope that things will eventually get better. Things will but I would advise those people to work on accepting their loss of a limb.

"We all go through life once. We can go through it kicking and screaming, but we're going to go through it once."

Life has been an adventure. Sometimes I've tripped and skinned my knee. Sometimes I've slipped and cut myself. But I'm still here and I am still able to continue the adventure. (I survived the tsunami and all I got was this t-shirt.) What that adventure will be exactly, I don't know, but I'm curious enough to go around the next corner and see what I'm going to see. Life is precious. Let us all value our time here as it will all be over far too quickly. I'm going to do my best to make this a good one.

All the best to all of you in your worlds.


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Anonymous said...

Loved this and appreciated your perspective. I'm still in the weeds of divorce, and the thing that keeps coming to my mind is "I'm never doing this again." I won't remarry, therefore I won't divorce again. Period. I can't regret the marriage, or my children. I've certainly grown and gained wisdom. But I'll never marry again.

I hope to get to the place where you're standing someday.

PollyAnna said...

You're right: I have no idea of where I'm going, or what it means. It's liberating to admit that!

Unlike you, I remain an eternal optimist about love and romance and sex and the way they can tangle up together; I enjoy dating (sometimes), and hold out hope that what I'm seeking is out there for me somewhere...but I would never suggest that I have the answers, or that my way is the right way. I think if we do a good job listening to our internal voices, we'll end up on the right path, and of course our paths may differ.

Thank you for sharing your story, at least this much of it. I wish you every happiness, in whatever form that takes for you.

Walker Thornton said...

A well thought out and honest article. I admire you for not going down 'that' road. I don't really talk about my divorce, nor do I share some of the issues--it's irrelevant and like you I've seen too many bitter angry people fueled by their own anger in a cyclical fashion.

i hear what you're saying about remarrying--it's a topic I ponder, in the abstract as I'm not dating. And, I'm not sure I'll remarry...though I worry sometimes about being all alone when I get old! Marriage seems unnecessary for people our age (I'm 59) and complicated. But, we'll see.

Thank you for writing this, I think it's helpful for people to hear a sane, logical voice about divorce.

Anonymous said...

Married to 57, me - 39. 2nd marriage for me, 1st for him. Only marriage for him. I lived as married to him since 2005. Now I want a divorce and only been married 45 days. Was forced into it and just feel soooo incredibly disrespected its not even funny. Don't get married it is an excuse for someone older to give you their "hard-earned" social security income. BS