Divorce is bad.
I wish it wasn’t a thing. I don’t mean Let’s ban divorce! I mean, I wish we didn’t live in a world where it was statistically likely that two people who invest their lives in one another, and share resources, and build their life’s foundation on top of this living arrangement, and often have children together, will eventually divorce and secretly wish they had never met their ex.
All of us who were married for a while privately roll our eyes at all those people who marry and divorce within a year or two. But really? They’re kind of lucky.
I was married nine years. Many other divorced couples were married MUCH longer.
And in a life where the clock always seems to tick louder with each passing year, we have a hard time reconciling the loss of that time.
More than a third of my life was invested in that relationship. And if my favorite little person on Earth hadn’t resulted from it, I’d have a hard time finding the silver lining in losing my twenties and early-thirties to an investment reminiscent of a Bernie Madoff dick in the ass.
At least I have a little boy to hang my hat on—to help justify the pain—even though my geography choices, finances and dating life suffer for it.
Childless divorcées have many more options as they take stock of their post-divorce lives, but maybe nothing of lasting value to pull from the experience.
Divorce is a necessary choice and freedom. Sometimes people find themselves married to mentally ill or straight-up evil frauds and abusers. Victims of domestic violence, sexual and verbal abuse, financial fraud, partners who endanger their children, infidelity, crime, and all the other sucky things that happen in this world, deserve the liberating choice to escape. To give themselves a new start where they can choose hope and reclaim their lives.
But I still hate it.
Divorce and all the accompanying shittiness are heavy contributors to most of the world’s wrongs.
There’s a huge (and growing) group of “progressive,” “enlightened” thinkers who believe everyone who gets married is simply brainwashed by hundreds of years of Puritanical influence, and that marriage and monogamy goes against our natural biological instincts as Eat-Sleep-Fuck mammals—that we’re all unwitting slaves to our primal urges.
I think they say that for two reasons:
1. For most people who never had to fight in wars, or stand in bread lines, or experience extreme violence or sexual assault, or lose someone super-close like a child or parent or spouse or sibling or best friend to an untimely death, divorce is the most difficult thing they have ever experienced.
I have a pretty positive disposition and, on paper, have lived a reasonably pleasant life. I like being alive and hope to stay this way for many years.
But throughout my separation and divorce, the thoughts and feelings I experienced were all so new and terrifying and unexpected. You either know what it feels like to completely lose control of yourself, or you don’t. You feel crazy. You hurt, fucking everywhere. Inside. Outside. In your chest. In your head. In your stomach. And no matter where you are. At work. Watching TV. The million times you wake up every night. During holidays. At parties. On dates with a stranger.
Everything feels wrong. And there’s no escape. We try to mask it with alcohol or sex or drugs or God or other forms of escapism. You don’t know as it’s happening that there’s no way around it. Just through it. And it feels impossibly long when you’re feeling it.
Once I realized I was going to feel that shitty no matter what I did—worse than I knew a person could feel on the inside, and no matter where I went, or who I was with—I finally understood how a person could take his or her own life. When there’s no escaping pain and horror, shutting it off somehow starts to make sense to a brain desperate for solutions. Just make this stop!
I never wanted to actually die. But I finally stopped being afraid of it. That oncoming semi-truck wants to cross over center and hit me head on? Bring it. I don’t give a shit anymore.
Once a human being has felt that, I can understand why they would be too afraid to put themselves in another vulnerable position to possibly feel it again. Self-preservation is a powerful instinct.
2. They don’t want to grow up. And I don’t blame them because I don’t want to grow up either. It’s juvenile and immature and impractical. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t a real feeling inside of us. We yearn for the innocence of childhood. Desperate for a life where all we have to do is hang out with our friends and play every day. Bottom line: Being an adult isn’t as fun as being a child. And some people (and I’m occasionally among them) are too selfish to choose responsibility over fun.
Brett and Kate McKay nail it in this excellent piece from The Art of Manliness:
“The world of children is made possible by the world of adults.
“When people say they don’t want to embrace adulthood, what they really mean is that they don’t want to be a grownup themselves, but they want to live in a world where everyone else is. They want competent, effective politicians to represent them; they want their journalists and doctors to be smart and level-headed with a comforting mantle of gravitas; they want their children’s teachers to be dedicated and on-the-ball; they want customer service to be friendly and efficient; they want police officers to be honest and fair. They want the world to be stable, predictable…so they can afford to be erratic and irresponsible. They want to be kids, but live in an adult world, where grownups are at the ready to take care of their every need.”
I think it’s possible to live in a society where most people have the smarts and know-how necessary to make their marriages an oasis of love and peace and goodness in their lives, rather than this unpleasant black hole of shit from which so many people crave escape.
I remain hopeful for a future where influencers take seriously the positive societal benefits of stable families and recognize the horribleness of divorce enough to start having real conversations about how to do it better.
All That Said, Yes, Your Spouse is an Asshole. GTFO.
The entire point of this post is supposed to be: Even though I’m a quasi-radical proponent of saving marriage and despise divorce, sometimes I’m like: What the hell are you WAITING for!?
I get lots and lots of blog comments and emails with awful marriage stories. Often, at the end of the story (sometimes people just need to tell someone), they ask for my opinion.
Here I am, a 36-year-old divorced guy hammering out pro-marriage messages on the internet. My mom and dad divorced when I was 4, and it probably fucked me up a little. My mom and stepdad divorced when I was 28, and it probably fucked me up a little more. My wife and I divorced when I was 33, and it felt so bad that suicide, while never an option (I promise), at least made sense.
I’ve never had a cause. But I think I have one now. I think this whole Hey World! Divorce is Horrible and You Seem to be Ignoring Just How Much, Which is Stupid, Here’s Why! crusade is the closest thing to a cause I’ve ever had.
It really matters to me. Because so much of it feels wasteful. Two decent people who don’t know better giving it their best shot without the information or resources they need to succeed in marriage. I think that’s most divorces. Those are the people I encourage to persevere. To choose courage. To choose love.
Two people who want to make it, can make it.
But sometimes I get emails or blog comments from wives (and occasionally husbands) who have a different kind of story.
I’ll combine and paraphrase all of them into one, using the husband as the bad guy because that’s more than 90 percent of the stories I read: “My husband cheats on me and hits me and is never around and uses all our money to have fun and support his vices and affair partners. If he is home, he is never affectionate, doesn’t pay attention to the kids, and calls me a fat, nagging bitch (even though I’m trying to lose weight after bearing his children!) If I ever even hint at leaving him, he threatens me with money and the children. But I still love him and want to make it work! What should I do?”
First of all, everyone, ESTABLISH AND ENFORCE STRONG BOUNDARIES. Right now, please.
Secondly, it’s hard for me to understand how someone can be cheated on, physically or verbally abused, threatened, abandoned, neglected, and treated miserably by the one person in the world who made a spiritual and/or legal vow to love and cherish them forever, and still be like: “I’m just not sure what’s best! Maybe he’ll change!”
There are psychological and emotional forces at work I can’t begin to understand.
There are children. Innocent, precious little kids I’ll never meet who love their mommy and daddy just like four-year-old me did in 1983 when my father crouched down in front of me with tears in his eyes after a long day in court and said: “Matt. You are going to go live with your mommy far away in Ohio and you’re not going to see me very much anymore, but I want you to know how much I love you and that we will see each other every chance we get.”
And I think about those little kids who are going to carry all the same scars I did and probably still do. And I ask the mothers follow-up questions because trying to make it work for your kids isn’t as dumb a concept as some people think.
But then they write back and you just know. You know they have no chance.
Not because marriage is a failed idea. Not because humans are beyond redemption. Not because it’s just another example of two people falling out of love.
But because these men are not actually husbands.
Here’s how you can tell the difference:
Actions A, B, C and D cause your wife to hurt more than she has ever hurt before. She’s terrified and cries often. If you continue those things moving forward, you intentionally are choosing to inflict serious harm on her. By choosing those things, you lose her forever, and put your children through life-changing hell. By choosing those things, you lose everything.
When a husband/father figures this out, he strives to grow and change. He apologizes with unmistakable remorse. He demonstrates clear intentions to right his wrongs and makes choices moving forward that contribute to the welfare of his wife/family. That will happen 100-percent of the time.
Men like that are worthy of redemption. Tragically flawed, but good-hearted.
And then, there are the other guys.
The ones who figure it out, or already know, and continue to do A, B, C and D. Why? Because they want to.
That’s it. That’s the reason. Because they want to.
“That’s the whole thing? Those things matter more than me? Those things matter more than your children?”
And no matter what actual words come out of their stupid fuck-shit mouths, the answer is clearly “yes.”
These men (and women) have earned their inevitable comeuppance. You shouldn’t be aboard the same ship when it starts to sink.
Yes, I believe in honoring vows.
Yes, I believe in marriage and love (not the kind you feel; the kind you choose).
Yes, I hate divorce and think it is an underestimated destructive force in our world.
But sometimes, the union you’re part of isn’t an actual marriage.
And sometimes, people are in so much pain they can’t tell the difference.
We don’t want to be the ones to call it off. We don’t want to throw the time investment away. We don’t want to be the person “responsible” for ending the marriage by choosing divorce, and hurting our children, and disappointing our families, and creating dysfunction for our friends.
We want someone else to do the dirty work for us. Or maybe we just want someone to reassure us that it’s okay. Absolution that isn’t ours to give.
The moment you know your partner understands your pain and the real-world consequences of certain behaviors, but chooses them anyway?
Then. Right then. That’s when it’s time.
I wish it wasn’t a thing.
Divorce is bad.
But some things are worse.