It makes you feel weak.
It makes you feel like a chump.
In manspeak, it makes you feel like a pussy.
Stage one is when your wife completely disengages and treats you, not just like a stranger—but maybe less than that, because you’ve seen her smile at strangers before. Like nothing. Like the most-inconsequential thing she’s ever known.
During stage one, your initial reaction is anger and a little bit of misplaced cockiness. She’s got the problem, not me. It doesn’t take long for the self-reflection to begin. You start to remember that you married her on purpose. That you love her above all things. So you start choosing responsibility. What did I do to cause this?
The answers hurt. When you don’t lie to yourself.
Stage two is when she leaves. Maybe you’re like me and foolishly believe she’ll be back soon. She totally vowed forever. In church! In front of all our friends and family! She’ll be back!
Surprise, dipshit! She’s serious.
Stage two is horrible. But you still have tangible hope. And hope is a critical component to living the optimal human experience.
Stage three is when you find out she’s with someone else and loves him. And she thinks you’re shit. Worthless. Pathetic.
You learn where you really stand with the person who replaced your parents as the most-important thing in your life.
Stage three is when you feel a soul-crushing rejection you didn’t know was possible.
Stage three is when you fluctuate wildly and uncontrollably between a sadness you didn’t know was possible and a rage that scares you because now even the guy in the mirror is a frightening stranger.
In stage three, you taste bile and self-loathing with every breath you take.
In stage three, you hate yourself just a little bit more than you deserve.
In stage three, you find out just how much self-respect matters to functioning as a human being.
You cannot prepare mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually for when the person you trust the most causes you the most pain you’ve ever felt.
It makes you doubt everything you have ever believed.
You die a little. You do. On the inside.
Hope becomes something you just talk about with a fake smile on your face. But you don’t really feel that way. You just know it’s the right thing to say. Fake it ’til you make it.
But when you wake up each morning and realize that thing you feared most actually happened?
You feel lost. Forsaken.
And you feel sorry for yourself.
And then you cry some more.
And then you lose even more self-respect.
Where’s your pride?, you think as you look in the mirror.
What the hell’s the matter with you?
What a pussy.
How Does It Feel When It’s Love?
Van Halen asked that in 1988 on their OU812 album.
I can’t tell you but it lasts forever.
It’s not possible, right? Not forever. I can’t tell you. It’s been a year and a month—389 days, if my math skills aren’t failing me.
Maybe it’s like maternal imprinting. Like on those occasions where an animal mother adopts a youngling from another species. Maybe I imprinted a part of me onto her that I’ll never quite be rid of.
I don’t know.
I just know that the inconvenient truth of divorce 13 months later is that I still very much love someone I don’t want to love.
I just know that when I saw her a year ago, I wanted to die, and when I see her now, I smile.
I just know that when she texted me a year ago, I wanted to vomit, and when she texts me now, it’s nice to hear from her.
I just know that I was with her and my son at our 1-year-old goddaughter’s birthday party last weekend. A large room full of people. People I only know through my ex-wife.
And there we were together, for the first time, really. The three of us.
Me. Her. Our young, kindergarten-aged son. The family that isn’t.
I just know that I liked talking to her.
I just know that when the sun hits her blonde hair just right, she looks like poetry.
I just know that I have never chose someone in my entire life other than her, and I haven’t found a way to shut that off. The anger masked it before. The fury.
But I don’t know how to stay angry. I don’t know how to maintain fury.
I just know that when she and my son drove away for Easter weekend, part of me wanted to be making that trip with them.
I just know that I almost did something I haven’t done in a long time.
I wanted to cry.
“Oh my God, Matt. You want her back!”
One year ago, the girl of my dreams boxed up a non-verbal “Go fuck yourself” care package and left it on my doorstep along with an imaginary photo album and highlight reel of some new guy touching my wife.
I didn’t even fight it back then.
I’d just let the scenes play out over and over and over and over and over and over again in my head.
Scenes so real, that it doesn’t matter that I didn’t actually see them.
I saw them.
I felt them.
I’m forgetful. I forget many things. But I don’t forget that.
And now I see them all the time. When I drive by that hospital. Every time. When I lay down in our bed that is no longer our bed. My own private video reel that starts playing whenever it wants.
And now maybe I never get to be me again because of it.
But back in stage one, you learned how to choose responsibility.
What did I do to cause this?
And you come full circle. Maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe you’re not entirely responsible. Maybe you didn’t deserve it.
She used to sleep next to you every night. She used to ask you to come to bed with her.
Sometimes you said no.
You live with that.
She wanted the happy, sustainable marriage BEFORE you wanted the happy, sustainable marriage.
You live with that.
You totally vowed forever. In front of your friends and family. You could have prevented this.
And you live with that.
From Church Bells to Wish You Wells
Your brain is the most-important part of your physical body. It’s smart. Even the dumb and damaged ones like mine. Totally smart.
You can never reclaim what’s been lost. You can’t go back in time. There are no do-overs. She doesn’t want you. You are now strangers.
But your body revolts.
Maybe it’s habit. Maybe it’s psychological imprinting like we see in the animal kingdom. Maybe it’s some kind of supernatural bond I can never break.
Maybe I made that vow, and even though I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, maybe that meant more than I could ever understand.
Maybe forever is forever even when it’s not forever.
Maybe when you get the love part right, but the marriage part wrong, you have to live in this prison after it all breaks.
Maybe that’s just part of the deal you don’t find out about until you’re living there.
Maybe you spend the rest of your life in a one-man band playing songs meant for two and wondering why they always sound so shitty.
Maybe this is the curse of being a bad husband. The consequences of not doing enough. The results of falling short.
Maybe when the stakes are that high, the punishment is this steep.
A prison sentence where you involuntarily love someone you don’t want to love. Where you love someone who doesn’t love you back. Where every day your brain fights your heart. A bloody fight.
But a pointless, inconsequential struggle. Because the results are the same no matter what wins.
Maybe love—real love—is forever.
And maybe taking action today—not tomorrow—can bring you joy.
Maybe it’s time to tell her “I love you.” And mean it. And choose it.
You can stop there if you want. Maybe you’ll make it. Some people do.
Or you can take it one step further.
The part I didn’t do until it was too late.
You can live it.