Rob Young, a young man who has attended my Divorce Support Group, sent me an extraordinary email which included this piece below. He’d written it as a way to process through his thoughts and feelings about his divorce. I asked him if I could share it here, as it so powerfully captures the experience and illuminates the path for others sharing a similar journey.
This is a beautiful example of a man wrestling with reconciling his conflicting feelings of sadness, regret, and anger with the emerging (and more enduring) knowledge that, not matter what may be going on, he still feels love and compassion for the woman he is divorcing.
It takes courage and great heart to write like this. It’s a love letter, for sure, especially written to himself from his own heart. It’s a letter designed to create acceptance and peace in a time when his world has crashed around him. Read it and see how his grieving heart chooses to Love.
Observations From My Divorce (She Has a Name)
I never thought I would be divorced. Marriage was for life. Or so I thought. Or so we thought. It was a holy expectation, a deep commitment to the lifelong. Through better and worse. Through the drama and mundane of life. We made vows before God and family and friends. We uttered them meaningfully.
Can I pinpoint an exact moment or day or year when things changed? What happened? What did I become that I had not been? What did she become that she had not been? What did I fail to become that I should have become?
My perception is that at some point I simply became unimportant to her. I was not enough. I was not enough for her to do or be the things I needed her to do or be. I did not ask her to change who she was; I simply asked her to take me into consideration when she made her decisions, her life choices. I think she did the same of me, and I was unable to hear, unable to look beyond my own unmet needs and desires. Perhaps I was engulfed in my own pride and self-centeredness and was simply unwilling to hear. Or I was callous. I honestly don’t know.
It was a shock to me when I was able to apply a label to the feeling that had engulfed me for years in my marriage: Loneliness. I was lonely. For years. I was married, so loneliness was out of place. I was married, so I could not, by definition, be lonely, could I? But I was. Deeply and silently alone. Profoundly alone. Rejected. Unimportant. I was bitterly lonely. For a long time.
Putting a label on it and realizing that it was an accurate label was a cold and bitter shock. It took my breath away. I still shudder when I think about the moment I was able to give it a name. But it was true. It was accurate. I was alone in my marriage; I was lonely in my marriage. I suspect she was too. We went through the motions. We were kind, but we were no longer true companions. We were no longer teammates. We did not have meaningful conversation. We did not connect at a deep level.
What happened to us? What happened to our little family, our beautiful little family? What happened to the universe? What happened in my heart and mind? In her heart and mind? I don’t know. But now I feel some regret. Not at the divorce – the divorce was necessary – but that the marriage is over, that what was supposed to last forever became little more than a whimper until the sound of a gavel’s falling silenced it forever. That there has been a ripping apart of something that was – or should have been – sacred and beautiful and timeless. That identities have been forever changed. That ground that should have been firm has shifted and crumbled.
When I am sitting alone in my little house, during the hours when it seems especially cold, during the hours when I long for the presence of someone who cares about me, during the hours when I realize that my dog is a poor substitute for a meaningful connection – and I am hardwired for connection - I have found myself whispering to myself, “What have I done?” I did not take marriage lightly – at least I don’t think I did. And I did not take divorce lightly either. It was necessary.
It’s not that the decision to divorce was wrong; it had to happen. Honestly, I don’t think I would have survived much longer if I had stayed in the marriage. The best parts of myself had been stifled for decades in my marriage. As I aged, those parts began asserting themselves, demanding attention, demanding expression and voice, demanding resurrection.
On a much larger, deeper, and more profound scale, completing the divorce felt similar to putting a beloved pet to sleep. Every time I put down a pet I wonder if I was too rash. I always wonder if I acted too soon, should have done one last thing to try to save it. I felt those same uncertainties with my divorce. That voice asks, “What have I done?” Did I act too rashly? Should I have tried one more thing to save the marriage? But I know that is just my grief talking.
Nothing could have saved the marriage. There was no miracle. There was just a choice. A choice to continue plodding on, half-alive, under the weight of a stifled marriage, a slave to the past. Or a choice to be brave, to choose to move on, to choose to put the past behind me, to choose something scary and uncomfortable in search of something that could ultimately be fulfilling and good. To choose to honor my hardwired need for a true connection.
And for her. The divorce was necessary for her and her, too. I had wise counsel from several people that told me that if she had any chance to recapture her true self, if she were ever to thrive again, she needed to be on her own. She needed to stop letting me do everything for her, to stop relying on me as her strength. Is that true, or was that a convenient excuse to assuage my guilt?
While I know that the divorce was necessary, it was still painful. I still care about her. Deeply. We have children together. We spent three decades together. We had inside jokes and history and rituals together. I find myself wanting to check on her, to make sure she’s okay. But I can’t.
While the attorneys were plying their esoteric craft to end the marriage, assuring that all the bits and pieces were put in the right places, I was copied on email exchanges between them. They kept referring to my wife as “client.” As in, “Your client should…“ Or “my client will insist…” Seeing her referred to as “client” brought me to tears. It seemed to dehumanize her, to demean her. With tears streaming down my face, I yelled at my computer, “She has a fucking name. Call her by her name, damn it. Call her by her name.” I typed that response to the email. But I never hit Send. She was, after all, a client. In a divorce case.
I did not expect to feel such a strong need to advocate for her.
The courthouse experience was worse. We ended up walking into the building together. She seemed small and shaken and uncertain, as if the ground were moving beneath her. As if north and south and east and west could no longer be determined, as if they no longer existed as anything but concept. Did I cause that?
She is the one who initially wanted the divorce. She is the one who planned to leave. But still that voice persisted, “What have I done?”
As we walked into the courthouse, I awkwardly attempted to make small talk. I didn’t know what to say. More than 30 years together and I couldn’t think of a thing to say to her. In the waiting area, she deliberately sat far from me. I guess I understand that, but I did not expect it. It caught me off guard. I realized that that was our new reality. Sitting far apart from each other. Not chatting. Not making eye contact. Almost strangers. Ignoring years of history and inside jokes and ritual and shared identity. We had sat next to each other for more than 30 years, for all our adult lives. And there she was, sitting far away. Miles away, it seemed.
In the courtroom, I sat with my attorney, but her attorney was not there. I wanted to sit at her table with her, to assure her, to comfort her, to tell her that she would be okay, to show her that she was not alone. But she was alone. I wanted to touch her shoulder to comfort her when she cried. But I could not. We were both alone in a strange new way. As distant from each other as stars.
How do I reconcile – with her or myself – that in spite of ending the marriage, I still care about her, that I still want her to be safe and well, that I still want her to find someone she can love (unlike me, whom she could not love). She deserves to be treated well and to be loved. She is a good person.
The whole court proceeding was surreal. Its brevity and efficiency and sterility made it more so. Beyond the surreal nature that 32 years together ended with a whimper and the too-sharp sound of a gavel. That those 32 years ended at all. How is that possible?
She has a name, damn it. But a name is no longer something we share.
Rob Young, January, 2019