Not scary amounts. Nothing dangerous. But I was using alcohol medicinally for the first time and that’s probably bad.
But when you feel jacked up on the inside and everything hurts no matter what, and you’re so scared about tomorrow because for the first time you don’t have any sense of what the future might look like, you only have so many options.
I didn’t want to die, even though that’s the one thing I stopped fearing.
I tried to have fun, but when the brokenness is inside you, it comes with you to parties and friends’ houses and holiday gatherings even when it’s not invited.
Sleeping sounds good. But when every night your subconscious delivers a highlight reel of your wife with someone else, even falling asleep starts to scare you.
So I drank a little. Two or three vodka drinks in an ice-filled tumbler. Feeling sorry for myself. Binge-watching Netflix, but not digesting the escapist fare not doing its job.
I missed them so much—my wife and son. And the only relief seemed to be the nights my little boy was home with me. But when he was home, it meant she was with him. More unwanted highlight reels—my mind concocting vivid X-rated scenes I didn’t find arousing.
I puked a lot.
I finally knew what it meant to be a broken person.
Two things happened when I started blogging in late June 2013.
The first was that writing stuff down helped me feel better. Tangibly. Like a miracle, even though the psych community had been touting the merits of doing so for as long as I could remember. I don’t always believe things until they happen to me.
The second was that a bunch of people started writing me telling me they felt the same way. Men would write me to say they’ve been where I am, or that they were going through it also. And when you find someone who really understands you, you heal even more. Even if they’re faceless strangers on the internet. Women would write me because they were married to, or dating, men who were behaving in ways I identified as the likely cause of my divorce.
And every one of those women still emotionally invested in their relationship had one obvious question: “How did you figure this out, and what can I do to help my husband understand what you now seem to?”
Divorce is the Worst and I Can’t Be the Only One Who Thinks So
I didn’t think: Hey, I know! I’ll write about divorce stuff!
I actually thought: Maybe it will be interesting to write about being freshly divorced and single with a young child and trying to build a new life. There will probably be some hilarious dating stories!
My ill-conceived attempt to journal my dating experiences quickly turned into something else. It turned into a written journey of self-reflection while I tried to find an answer to the questions: What did I do to cause this? What could I have done differently? What will it take to make sure it never happens again?
And as the comments continued to pour in from damaged spouses (mostly wives struggling to connect with their husbands while feeling emotionally abandoned), this seemingly inconsequential slice of the internet developed a meaningful purpose.
To make people realize they weren’t alone. Husbands. Wives. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. Straight. Gay. Everyone has their own tragic love story.
Everyone wants to love and be loved.
And everyone wants to know the secret: How do I find that Happily-Ever-After kind of love?
The kind where it always feels good.
The kind where it always feels safe.
The kind that lasts forever.
Whether your soul has been infected by the worst kind of marital fuckness, or your heart simply aches for someone who is always just out of reach, love—the kind attached to marriage and dating and sex—hurts. Badly.
It’s the kind of pain you have to numb or tough out until time heals you because there are no simple fixes.
And no one makes a scar cream capable of erasing this kind.
It’s the Pain
That’s what makes us change.
When we’re kids, we learn not to touch hot surfaces or play with sharp knives or avoid hard impacts, because when we are burnt, cut or struck, we feel pain and learn to try and avoid it.
I lived my life having exclusively positive relationships with girls. I was nice. I didn’t toy with people emotionally. And pretty much everyone I’ve dated has liked me after we stopped.
I think it might be that simple.
Hey wife! Everyone likes me! I’m friends with everyone I used to date! No one else EVER complains about me! So tell me why I should believe you’re not the one with the problem?
It’s not illogical. It’s damn near the scientific method—a systematic and logical approach to forming the (incorrect) conclusion that you are NEVER responsible for anything bad, and that you’re always a victim! Because you didn’t MEAN to do anything wrong!
I think most women think most men are: Selfish, dense, lazy (about activities that don’t interest them), and insensitive.
I think most men think most women are: Emotionally volatile, illogical, unfair, inconsistent, and ungrateful (because his flaws are constantly under scrutiny, while he never hears praise—which he craves—for all of his positive contributions).
I think women think this because it’s really hard for her to imagine how his brain works. She assumes his brain functions like hers, thus he must be mean and stupid.
I think men think this because it’s really hard for him to imagine how her mind and body work. He assumes she thinks and feels—mechanically—in a way that’s similar to him. Thus, she must be hormonal and crazy.
She says something to him that makes perfect sense, but he doesn’t get it.
He fires back with a perfectly valid point of his own, but she doesn’t get it.
The two translators are INCAPABLE of comprehending what the other is saying. Even more importantly, the man is befuddled by her reaction because what he just said would result in a way different reaction from him. The woman is totally confused about him not getting it because she’s speaking very clearly about this thing she KNOWS she is experiencing and he’s not validating it. He’s not admitting it’s true.
She feels a combination of rage and heartbrokenness and fear.
He feels a combination of shame and confusion and frustration.
Often he will feel better soon if he just gets some time alone to think about something else. He’ll come back later ready to hug, apologize and have make-up sex.
But she WILL NOT feel better if she’s left alone. She won’t think about something else. She’ll think about this and the 50 previous fights that were just like this one. She’s afraid he doesn’t love her anymore, and she’s questioning the long-term stability of the relationship which makes her feel afraid, and she feels totally disrespected and invalidated. So the hugs and apologies start to feel empty and meaningless after a while.
And she doesn’t want to have sex because he doesn’t make her feel safe, loved or wanted anymore.
It’s happening all over the world. Right now.
It’s happening to one of you. Right now.
And it ends in piles of shit and misery. Always. You either split up. One of you has an affair. Or you spend years feeling resentful toward the person you’re supposed to love, and like a prisoner in your own life.
And You Have to Want More Than That
You have two other options.
One is stay single. And it does seem easier and less complicated. But we get lonely and we crave companionship and most of us like orgasms. Preferably with other people. So, almost inevitably it seems, we seek partnership.
And for that to work, there’s only one option: Learning best practices for marriage or long-term relationships that last a lifetime.
It’s not so different than learning skills in a particular sport or hobby or profession.
The problem is, most people think they have it all figured out like I did. They’re “smart.” Everything will be totally fine!
And they take for granted that it won’t always be fine. And once it starts to get really hard because one of you lost your job, or because your house is financially underwater, or because of health problems and medical bills, or because someone really close to you dies—most people lack the knowledge and skills and emotional resolve to get through it.
More fighting. More affairs. More divorce.
More guys who don’t figure out what happened. More women wondering how they’re ever going to trust another man, because they all seem the same. More children who bury pain and put on a happy face around mom and dad who they secretly wish were still together.
It’s really hard to do what it takes to love another person more than yourself.
It’s really hard to put your spouse’s needs ahead of your own, and statistically challenging to find a partner willing to do the same in return.
It’s really hard to admit you’re part of the problem. Perhaps the biggest part.
Even the most unselfish of us still feel What’s in it for me? from time to time.
“Hey Matt! How did you figure this out? How can I get my husband to figure out what you did?”
I think there’s probably an effective way on the front end of marital problems. A way for men and women to proactively bolster their marriage so that the foundation is unshakable when the hits eventually come.
And I’m still trying to figure out what that is.
In the meantime, the answer to your question is: The pain.
Waking up every day and asking: What can I do to help my wife have the best day possible and know that I love her? (along with seeing your children every day) is the OBVIOUS choice over the gargantuan pile of shit divorce dumps on your life. You’re ashamed. You lose confidence. You have less money. You miss your children. You miss companionship. You miss the person who was your best friend, even though you can barely remember what that version of them was really like. You miss having a sexual partner. You miss holidays feeling special. You miss in-law family events you’re no longer invited to. You miss your friends who you always spent time with as a couple.
And you miss yourself.
The person you used to know when you looked in the mirror.
The one who didn’t feel as if they failed at the most important thing that ever happened to them.
I don’t know how to make men feel and respond as I did. As I do.
I only know how to write these things down.
Maybe for someone, that can be enough.
Even if that someone is just me.
And even if I no longer need the vodka.