Divorce: The Death of Hope and Romantic Illusion


 

Divorce is a death experience, a sundering of far more than a relationship. It is a preview of some aspects of that final walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in that it strips artifice from you and forces you to face dark and unwelcome truths. It is a severance, a wound, a move from one state to another, very different, one – analogous, in many respects, to that final move into an entirely new, and mysterious, realm.

‘Reader, I married him!’ I noted, in stunned joy, on July 28th 1997 as, five months pregnant and garlanded with freesias, I sat down to complete my diary account of the wedding. Did I entertain hopes? Of course I did! What bride doesn’t? Was I labouring under the romantic illusion of perfect love and soul-mate togetherness? Of course I was! How else was I to ignore the dark streaks already edging their way onto the canvas of the relationship? I was not the first woman to think that marriage and a child would fill in the gaps with love’s cement, nor will I be the last.

Unlike many, however, I kept hope alive and some semblance of romantic illusion simmering far longer than was healthy, constantly casting myself in the role of mad, dysfunctional, nasty witch in order to preserve the specious perfection, to believe in the wounded innocence, to empathise with the damaged soul, of the man I had married. I needed to see him as Mr. Rochester, blinded and hurt by a previous marital fire and scorching, because I did not want to admit that there was far more – and, ironically, far less! – to it than that.

Now, nine months after the Decree Absolute, I am numb, mourning, dulled, yet sparking – at some very deep level – with a strange form of grief. I do not miss the man himself, but I do miss the foolish, girlish hope and excitement (for it was, in its own way, addictive); I do miss the romantic-novel-inspired illusions; I do miss what could have been – even though I now know that it couldn’t.

But also I am saddened by a sense of failure – because I went into that marriage thinking it was for life, determined to make it work, committed to this man and, for reasons I won’t go into now, absolutely determined that I would never be unfaithful to him. It wasn’t for life. I could not, ultimately, make it work. My commitment to him wavered as a result of repeated emotional and mental abuse. And yet, and yet, for all that I could have taken other men as lovers, I never did. I couldn’t bring myself to cross that particular line, never even came close to it.

I do blame myself, though I am not quite sure why – except that the habit of self-blame goes so deep and is so pervasive that it has become like a default setting. I suppose I blame myself for not being the right kind of woman for him; for allowing behaviour which he claims I provoked; for being half of a situation which our child had to grow up in; for not being perfect, good enough, able to stand up for myself.

I had, in the end, to go No Contact – as the saying goes. It was the only way. And this I have adhered to: In the three months since I moved here, I have had no dealings with this man.

Perhaps the death of innocence has been the most wounding aspect of this whole sorry affair – and the knowledge that I read someone close to me so disastrously wrong; that I allowed good looks and charm to hypnotise me to such an extent.

But still it hurts. Still I feel that I have failed – as a woman, as a wife, as a sister, an in-law, a mother – because those fairy-tale words, ‘And they lived happily ever after…’ still have such sway over the silly, sweet, sugary imaginations of young girls, don’t they? And, as girls, I think we do feel that we have to be the cement that keeps the marital edifice in one strong piece: That it is up to us to make sure that our men do not stray, or get bored, or get angry or find anything to distract them from that which they promised as rings were exchanged and Holy Wedlock celebrated. And, as girls, I think too many of us are still brought up to believe that any crack in a relationship is our fault for being too wilful, insufficiently obedient and submissive; that we bring disaster upon ourselves by aping, at whatever level, the masculine role.

So: I mourn. I question myself. I ask whether I was too lively and loud, too fiery and frantic, too this, too that to be pleasing to a man. And I wonder, privately (as, I am sure, all abused women do at some point), whether I deserved to have my wings clipped; whether some defect in my character meant that I merited emotional punishment and constant control.

Parts of me are now fluttering uncertainly back to life. Other parts remain in deep hibernation, a kind of wintry faux-death. The tombstone of the marriage, with its dates of birth and death etched raw in the grey surface, taunts me. Its sad ghost haunts. I weep.

Marital Cynicism versus Open-Hearted Love!


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At present, having recently got divorced, I am feeling somewhat cynical, even world-weary, about marriage…

…though not, interestingly enough, about love.

I have kept my bright optimism concerning love, I think because I can see it outside the narrow context of marriage and recognise that it can burn as fiercely for a parent, a child, a sibling, a close friend as it does for a spouse.

Mine was not a marriage which included the diamond. I had no engagement ring to jettison at the end of the process because we did not actually get engaged. Nor did I get married in flowing white. Nor in a church.

My wedding band has now gone. I assume our wedding certificate, from Weston-super-Mare’s Registry Office, lurks in the house somewhere. Neither of us, in the gradual de-cluttering of the place, has either mentioned or claimed this document. Our nineteenth anniversary, which would have happened two days ago, passed with as little comment as the previous eighteen had done.

I am, currently, in limbo; so, to be fair, is my ex. We continue to share the same house, though not the same bed or room. It is an uneasy truce, an uneasy time. We try our hardest to keep things as civil as we can, both for our own emotional well-being and, more importantly, for our son.

We have very different ideas when it comes to de-junking. This has not given rise to any overt conflict – though there is a kind of passive-aggressive simmering, a Summer of Discontent – but, for me, the symbolic chain it creates drags the boat perilously close to capsizing.

You see, and to continue my boat metaphor started yesterday, the shared vessel has to be cleared of all baggage – all those shipping containers full of goods from countries all over the world which make the boat so heavy – before the passengers can disembark, take their own coracles and paddle up a new stretch of the river or explore a previously unknown part of the ocean.

I seem to have floated far from marital cynicism, don’t I? But, perhaps, the distance is less than it appears; perhaps it is, in fact, a mirage!

The reason we did not get married in a church was because my ex already was, and had, an ex! He now has two ex-wives! Bags battered from Marriage One took up residence in Marriage Two. They will now accompany him, along with the baggage from Marriage Two, into whatever emotional ties he takes on in the future. Marriage Three? Who knows! Not my business! But Wife Three conforms with the trio motif which so litters our fairy stories and folk tales. Third Time Lucky and all that!

Me? Once was more than enough, frankly. I have unlimited capacity for love; but my desire for, and patience with, the formal State of Marriage, is very limited, and I very much doubt that I will be collecting Husband Two (no matter how much I may come to love any man I get involved with in the future!)…

It could be argued – and probably has been by those who have chosen to take my ex’s side – that he was very unlucky to pick two rotten apples from the Uxorial Barrel, and from two different countries/decades to boot. Poor chap!

I am also not going to claim that I was the perfect wife. I wasn’t. Who is? I’ve never met her myself – other than within the pages of fiction, that is! – have you? But I was not, and am not, a rotten apple. A bit bruised, maybe, and withered from age – but not worm-infested or purulent within!

But, for all my faults – and they are many and, by and large, recognised by Yours Truly! – I am now filling sacks with rubbish as fast and efficiently as I can and bunging it overboard at a rate of knots. My rule of thumb: If I had no idea it still lurked within the corners of the garage/hadn’t played with it for decades/had forgotten I had ever bought it, why keep it?! If it wasn’t important enough to remember, it certainly is not important enough to take up valuable space in a down-sizing exercise!

Was I ever tempted to get out the club, give my ex a terminal bang on the occiput and then use the spade to lob him under the patio? No, of course not! I’d never have got the bloodstains out, for starters, and the smell would have precluded any hope of a successful sale of the house. More seriously, for all that he and I have parted, he remains our son’s loving father – and I would venture to suggest that a Kit- Form/Soggy Dad is neither use nor ornament.

Besides, for all that I can be a cynical and sarcastic old trout, I do not have that much hatred or violence within me – and I did love the bugger once upon a long time ago!

Oddly enough, I wish my ex well in his new phase. I hope he will be happy and successful, that his life will be the way he wants it to be.

Revenge is corrosive and pointless. I would far rather tip vengeful thoughts over the side with all the rest of the unwanted baggage – and only keep small cases containing forgiveness, creativity, love and light.