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I lose, you lose

March 10, 2011

I’m trying to write my next post on Babble–I swear, I get the heebie-jeebies every time I see my bookmark to the website. I wonder why? I’ve got to try a bit harder to keep up–I can’t possibly say “I’ll write every day from now on,” because that guarantees I’ll never write over there again. I’ve somehow got to trick myself into it–any and all suggestions appreciated. I need to make up my mind whether to fish or cut bait–but I don’t feel I can do so unless I actually TRY to write more, and better, for Babble than I have been. I have none of that ambivalence about this website. Very mysterious indeed.

Anyway, I’m ostensibly writing about divvying up the marital stuff, but trying to articulate just how we accomplished our own separation got me thinking about how nothing you do in the middle of divorce is any good. I’m trying to write a cheery little post filled with advice for how to feel better about keeping what you keep and letting go of what goes away, and the grim conclusion I keep butting up against is that there IS no feeling better when you’re in that horrible place.

My ex-husband and I separated twice, sort of–once when we rented the apartment we birdnested in, and then again when he moved into his own house a few months later. I stayed in the marital house, though I didn’t want to, and he moved out, though he didn’t want to. And there, dear readers, is the rub: divorce is, unfortunately, not a zero-sum game.

A zero-sum game is a game in which there must be a winner and a loser. (The winner gets, say, one point. The loser gets minus one point. Add them together and you get zero: hence, zero-sum.) In a zero-sum game there’s never a tie, never a stalemate. If I win, you, by definition, must lose.

But divorce doesn’t work that way. It’s a negative-two-sum game, as far as I can tell. Even the so-called victories feel like defeats. And so my ex-husband moved out, and I stayed put, and we were both unhappy. Though we tried and tried to come up with something different, something that would make at least ONE of us moderately contented, there wasn’t, for us, any other way to separate. So we both ended up uneasy and upset: despite our best intentions, neither of us won. We both lost.

This may seem a bit of a downer, coming as it does after my skip-to-my-lou last post. I’m not saying you can’t bounce back. And I’m not saying (heaven forbid) that a bad marriage is better than no marriage at all. (In fact, I think just about anything–solitary confinement, a poke in the eye with a sharp stick–is better than a bad marriage.) The years during which my marriage was bad were WORSE than the post-separation years, which is really saying something. Several commenters have pointed out that trying to decide to leave is much, much worse than the hell that comes later, and I’m with them completely. But I still wish we hadn’t gotten divorced.

I don’t love my ex-husband any more. I don’t even think about him all that much any more, which is quite stunning. (The au pair conversion worked miracles; skipping town and seeing him much less over the last several weeks hasn’t hurt.) After more than three years, I’m so used to living alone that I don’t think about that much any more, either. And, as I said last time, the freedom to do what I want–get a kitten, buy a plane ticket on a whim, stay up all night reading whenever it suits me–is thrilling.

But it all still seems like freedom painfully won. And remembering how hard it was to get here, how sad we both were, and how utterly bereft of hope we both felt at the end has me wishing, again, that none of it took place. I’d never go back. I don’t regret leaving my husband, and I know I’m happier now. And yet–the way you’d wish a car wreck that freaked you right the fuck out and cost tons of money and broke a few bones and left you with a limp and joints that ached whenever it rained hadn’t occurred–I still wish the divorce had never happened at all.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2011 4:11 pm

    The thing I do to trick myself is to tell myself that it – the letter, the memo, the e-mail, the 10 mile run – doesn’t have to be perfect or even good. All I need to do is START it and that will be enough (by the way, sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s worth a try).

    With respect to wishing it never happened … if I didn’t have kids, I think that I – being on the side of not having taken the leap – could be more philosophical about the transient pain I might endure in the process of ‘setting myself free.’ But the KIDS (and I KNOW that the reason I feel this so acutely and am rather melodramatic about it all must be that I am a child of divorce and thus cling desperately to my two-parent fantasy for my own kids)! What harm will they endure in the process (and afterwards)?

    Yes, I know that witnessing years of a mostly-polite-but-lacking-any-and-all-passion-or- even-love-marriage is not healthy for my daughters. But I just keep thinking, just 10 more years …

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      March 10, 2011 4:15 pm

      Eeeh, there’s a lot to be said for polite. Things were way beyond polite by the time we finally called it quits.

      “Being unhappily married really sucked,” a friend of mine told me the other day. “But my god, was it ever EASY.” I know what he meant, and I expect you do too. And I think he’s probably right.

      Thanks for the Just Start It advice–you’re correct. And the longer I go without starting, the harder it gets to start…

  2. Celeste permalink
    March 10, 2011 8:45 pm

    My advice is to get it out. It doesn’t have to be a cheery how-to, it just needs to spell out what you went through and how. It’s okay to admit you didn’t always know what you were doing or if it was the right thing. IMO that’s the crux of the experience and what somebody on the divorce spectrum would NEED validated. To me, that’s what you’re offering by having the work at the Babble site. I don’t know if you’ll always have something to say over there, but it seems like for now you just might.

    To be fair, I don’t think anybody goes into marriage thinking that they’ll divorce or thinking they’ll be okay with it if they do. Really, it’s the unthinkable. So naturally you wish it didn’t happen, or didn’t HAVE to happen. It’s the death of a dream.

  3. Geraldine permalink
    March 10, 2011 10:29 pm

    When you’re in it (as I am), it’s so important to hear stories of how others experienced it. It doesn’t matter if the stories are profound, or even well-written, but it matters to know that you’re not alone in slogging through figuring out how to end a marriage. So, more please, and thanks for writing.

  4. March 10, 2011 11:04 pm

    You do an amazing job of capturing the ambivalence of divorce…I’m almost 8 years out, and there was no way I could have stayed with my ex, but I still long for the picket-fence life and in tact family I used to have.

  5. March 11, 2011 9:29 am

    Maybe try writing it all as if it’s for this blog, and then revise some posts for Babble instead? I’ve been reading both, and the section of this post that talks about “zero-sum” could totally have been posted there, I would think.

  6. Pinkie Bling permalink
    March 11, 2011 11:19 am

    Ugh, procrastination. I just develop a mental block about some tasks, and often I don’t even know why. Once the block is in place, though, it’s so damn difficult to overcome – though the task is NEVER as bad, once started, than the stress and angst I cause myself by putting it off. I wish I had a suggestion, other than just start it, as said above. Take away its power!!

    You’ve written so beautifully about your divorce here, and I’m sure that your words here help many of your readers. I think that you used to *need* to write about it, which is why it was easier then. Now that you have some distance and don’t need the catharsis so acutely, it must be difficult to force yourself to delve back in – especially when you’re free to right about anything you choose here. It’s catharsis for what’s going on in your world today, not five years ago. I think I’m just reiterating points you’ve already made yourself – they make a lot of sense to me.

    At Babble, though, you cover many of the logistics of your divorce in a way you rarely did/do here. I would think that would be incredibly helpful for your readers who are going through similar experiences. I hope you’re able to find a way to continue, and not dread it. Good luck!

  7. Pinkie Bling permalink
    March 11, 2011 11:20 am

    OMG! Right = write. I cannot BELIEVE I did that! I blame Friday. 🙂

  8. jen permalink
    March 11, 2011 1:29 pm

    i wish people wrote things like this on babble, instead of all that perky commercial bs.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      March 11, 2011 1:43 pm

      Well, I’m TRYING. Actually, this cheers me up–if you guys want to read stuff that isn’t so Babbley, as it were, then I’ll find it easier….Thank you….

  9. kath permalink
    March 11, 2011 2:36 pm

    i’m with you jen!
    still dealing with many of the same feelings, despite the fact that i’m truly happy. whenever i have to go to the big yellow, 4 bedroom victorian with the pool and the 2 beautiful dogs in the back yard, to pick up my daughter, i think things like “oh, the butterfly bush i planted 2 summers ago is enormous…he doesn’t know enough to cut it back for the winter…” and so on my thoughts go.
    it’s odd to me, that while i do think it’s beautiful and i will occasionally allow myself to remember how it was to live there, i almost inevitably wind up remembering how filthy the entryway floor would get and how i longed for the granite counter tops and how i resented having to clean the gorgeous waterford crystal chandelier. i think of what a drag it was having to clean it all. how pissed off i’d get when i would see all the crap in the basement and in the attic over the garage.
    my mind is still spaghetti when it comes to trying to articulate and navigate my inner disarray about the past year and a half. but i know one thing to be true – i loved the “idea” of living in that house more than the life i actually had while living there.
    anyway, excuse me for the ramble…i love this website. thank you so much.

    • Leslie permalink
      March 11, 2011 10:17 pm

      I wouldn’t call the somewhat wistful thoughts about a previous life ambivalence so much as mis-valence, or false valence. It’s a memory not of what was, but of what wished one had at the time, what one told oneself one had, what you had the appearance of having. It is a longing for the tacit approval of the community for doing what they were doing, being what they were; the self-satisfaction of being what you’d always imagined you’d be; the sense that you were, by all the standards or your friends, family, our culture, in the place and doing the thing that you were supposed to be doing.

      Then you get divorced or separated and suddenly you are rejecting ALL of that. All those people’s approval, all of that yes, ease. It was easy to be what you were supposed to be, to not upset that fucking gigantic apple cart.

      So it’s better now, for sure, but it’s better without all those certainties, without all that external approval.

      Regardless, you write well and many, many of us find comfort in what you write about.

      • Sarah permalink
        March 14, 2013 8:09 am

        Thanks Leslie. I don’t know how you did it but you wrote about my life. And Thank you all for even though I know I must separate and that I will be happy even in the sorrow of the Aftermath, I have days when this ‘mis-valence’ (great word) raises its head and puts doubts. What if the thought of the life you hade, even as fake as it was, will be too painful to bear. Listen to this: I am nor worried about missing the life but about myself making myself believe that I miss it. Does it make sense? Anyeay, thanks to you all. Being right in the phase before separating all I do is read this blog from the beginning. I sit and read. do not do anything else till the kids come home from school (and I become mum again, thank heavens or we’d live in victorian squallor). Thank you for keeping me where I should be – here, thinking of the problem, not glossing over it with a trip to Ikea or a new yellow oilcloth for the table to cheer us all up.

  10. Ellie permalink
    March 12, 2011 1:03 am

    I love your Babble posts. The last one about the absence of justice was a revelation for me that I can apply to different contexts, since I am not in a separation, but feel that I have no way of knowing when I might just be

  11. March 12, 2011 8:15 am

    As a fellow Babbler I can at least tell you what I do. I keep a series of drafts in reserve on topics I want to write about but aren’t time sensitive. Then when I’m out of town or just generally too swamped to write I schedule one of them to run to fill in the gap.

    I wouldn’t stress about having to write for Babble in any particular manner. Anything you write here would transfer over there just fine. The personal blogs are the neglected corner of the website anyway. I often wonder if I went bonkers and just started churning out grocery lists instead of real posts if the editors would notice.

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