Divorce is Forever

My mother would often start conversations with total strangers by discussing the emotional toll of divorce versus death. What she meant by this was the toll it had taken on her by having one husband divorce her and her second husband die five years after they were married. In her experience divorce was far worse than death. (That her second husband had had five heart attacks before their marriage and died on his sixth while on vacation in Bermuda may have influenced her quick recovery. It wasn’t entirely unexpected.)

My mother had a point however. The death of one’s spouse while tragic has a finality that’s unrelated to the surviving partner. There’s no ambiguity, no blame, no resentment, no guilt, no anger, no regrets for what might have been. The sorrow is deep but specific. To have the divorce be unwanted, and unilateral, makes it worse. Whatever warning signs may or may not have been evident, the shock of being told “I don’t love you anymore. I’m divorcing you” is stunning.

I know because those words were told to me.

A basic human need is to feel wanted, to feel loved. On our fourth anniversary last year my wife said she was sorry that our marriage was a disappointment. What I didn’t understand, then, was what she was really saying to me was that she no longer loved me.

I knew our relationship was broken. We hadn’t had sex for over three years. When intimacy was first withdrawn it was unfortunate but tolerable. Love and sex are not the same thing. I never asked, and hoped that one day she might reach across the bed and hold me once again. That day never came. And that broken, lonely feeling of being close but so apart became the nightly routine.

I came across an article in Vanity Fair about—of all things—the prenuptial agreement Donald Trump forced Marla Maples to sign. Two quotes in that article struck home.

Raoul Felder, the legendary divorce lawyer whose clients have included Rudy Giuliani, said. “A prenup sucks romance out of the relationship. It’s a prior agreement as to the disposition of money, assets, payments. You basically plan the divorce before you get married.”

Even Donald Trump realized that, when it comes to romance, a prenup is a buzzkill. “A prenuptial is a horrible document,” he once told a reporter, “because it says, ‘When we get divorced, this is the way we’ll split things up.’ And when you’re a believer in positive thinking, it isn’t good. But it’s a modern-day necessity.”

My wife and I had a prenuptial agreement. It divided and protected our prior assets and set the terms for separation in the event— unanticipated—that day came. Did it suck the romance out? Did it set the clock ticking? At the time it seemed prudent. In retrospect, there’s a harsh sadness to its necessity.  It does indeed make it very easy for my wife to ask me to leave. There’s no legal hassle or question as to division of assets. It’s all predetermined. I just pack up and leave. It was never our house.  By design I was always a tenant.  It’s one more, foundational, negation of “we” in our marriage.

Maybe we leapt into marriage too quickly. We never had a conversation that really dug deeply into what marriage meant to each of us. We said we loved one another, We wanted to live together, be together. There was a time element relating to my wife ending her job and my joining as a spouse on her life-long health insurance. We never questioned our intentions because they seemed pure and heart-felt. We were so happy. I was so happy.

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Our wedding day at Greens, with all our friends and children, was one of the happiest days of my life.

I still can’t truly believe it has unraveled, and that my wife has turned into the person who no longer loves me. She has told me that now even her compassion is withdrawn because she knows I want it.  She won’t play “the sympathy game” with me.

Perhaps she’s right. It’s better that she not show kindness, because it’s her kindness I crave and if given would only make the loss sadder.

It’s sad enough.

I will walk out the door of this house and be gone forever. Divorce is forever. My wife will regain her former life, as before she even knew me, and I will start a new life, away from her, away from this city.

I hope this makes her future happy. To have caused such misery without the reward of happiness would be tragic misjudgment.

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