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Consoling windowshield

January 17, 2013

I keep having traumatic I’m-back-in-the-marital-house dreams. It’s funny, because they’ve all but replaced the I’m-back-in-the-marriage dreams, which became less frequent as time went on but never went away…until I moved into my new house, and then they did. Sometimes I drive by the marital house just to make sure it’s still standing–one never knows, and I do still own half of the place–and just navigating the familiar streets makes my heart pound unpleasantly. I love that I live on the other side of town. I love the way the kids and I fit perfectly into our new digs. And I love that my ex-husband has never been inside my  new house, has no reason to come in, doesn’t know what it looks like or where I’ve put anything or what I see when I lie in bed at night.

It’s not our bed. He got our bed, and I got the smaller bed we’d bought for the apartment we alternated living in when we first separated. He’s never slept in my bed.

Seven years ago my marriage began to fall apart. There was the phone call from the wife of the soccer coach I’d flirted with, telling my ex-husband that she thought we had had an affair. We hadn’t. But we probably would have, at some point, had the soccer coach not left his email open for her to read, had she not confronted me months earlier. I barely knew the guy, the soccer coach–it was not a leave-your-husband kind of flirtation. I’m not trying to excuse myself, I’m simply telling you what happened. I committed one type of betrayal, and my ex-husband went berserk, and this went on for a year, more than a year, till finally the inevitable occurred and we split up.

It’s funny. It could easily have gone the other way. But when I look back at my marriage now I am struck by the fact that I had crushes on other men, had both innocent and not-so-innocent flirtations throughout our entire relationship. I thought this was normal–I even thought it was harmless. I assumed my ex-husband had the same thing going on in his lab, with other scientists he knew and would see at meetings. I knew there were a few women who liked him, who flirted with him, and I’d tease him about it. I assumed he flirted back. I also assumed that this sort of thing didn’t really matter, that a long marriage with two children was solid enough to bear the weight of a few light crushes. I was, apparently, wrong. (I don’t mean I was wrong in general, just in the context of my particular marriage, which could bear the weight of no light crushes, apparently.) And I was also wrong to assume that everyone falls in half-love over and over again, despite being married or seriously committed.

I’ve been with my current boyfriend for years, and I have no desire to cheat on him. At all. Perhaps this is just middle age; perhaps I learned my lesson; but perhaps I am different with him than I was with my ex-husband. Perhaps I was actually looking for a way out of my marriage for much longer than I thought. Perhaps I knew all along that my ex-husband wasn’t the man I wanted to be with forever. Did I sabotage the marriage deliberately? Did I want, somehow, to end up right where I am now–out of the house we bought together, alone with my kids, with a man who is more suited to me than my ex-husband ever was, working hard, making my own money, making my own way?

I remember one of my professors in college–we were reading Faulkner–telling the class that the body renews itself every seven years. It’s a nifty concept, isn’t it? I can tell myself that my ex-husband doesn’t know me any more, has never touched this new me, the person I’ve evolved into. I can hardly remember having sex with him. His body and mannerisms and voice and the way he looks are alien to me now, finally. When I see him I recoil without meaning to. I used to hold myself carefully apart in his presence, because his familiarity drew me like some fatal magnet. I knew him so well. I knew exactly what it would feel like to collapse into his arms. I couldn’t quite look at him, because I was so afraid I’d see the person I’d loved, that I’d be submerged in memories. Two children, three pregnancies, three houses, one dog, eighteen years of living together. And now I feel I’ve finally broken free.

I have a new car. I bought it on New Year’s Eve, and I love it. I love that my ex-husband has never driven it, never sat in it, and that I have no memories of sitting next to him looking out through the same windshield as we drove along. “Oh, god, I know exactly what you mean,” said my divorced friend in California. “I even like getting rid of pairs of socks, or a running bra, that I wore when I was married. I think, ‘He’s never seen me in this running bra’ and I feel wonderful.” 

Seven years ago my ex-husband came straight home from work in the middle of the day and demanded access to my email account. I would say that everything fell apart after that, but it’s not precisely true. Things did fall apart, but I did not. I will be forty-five next month. I have never been–the concept is bland, but the feeling is not–happier in my entire life.

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2013 10:08 am

    I too have often dreamt of my marital home. It is not the one that I live in now, but the first house that we purchased together. It was my dream home in many ways- a fixer upper in a great neighborhood that we bought during a market low. It crumbled around us in the six years that we owned it. My husband never really was all that interested in home renovations. Mind you, he did tell me that before I pushed him into the purchase.
    So, oftentimes I dream that I have had to move back there; to a vacant crumbling house, that I must hide my tenancy from its new owners. I suppose that I dream of being a squatter- what would Jung say about this?

    When we sold the property, it was to a commercial developer. They knocked it down immediately. The property manager asked me how we had managed to live in it all those years.
    Amazing how one can get used to living in disaster.

    Your posts brings so much hope to me. I am hoping to move ahead just far enough to look back and exhale. Thank you for your beautiful writing. It has helped me through so many dark moments.

    Also, I never thought that there was any harm in flirting. I was, at times, a fairly shameless flirt. My guilt never would’ve allowed me to take things farther than that. My husband never did feel okay with this aspect of my personality.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 17, 2013 10:34 am

      It takes a long time. You’re still at the beginning, but you will get there. I promise.
      There was, it turned out, great harm in flirting. Not the kind of harm I thought–I thought if you didn’t fall in love it didn’t count–but still. There’s no way to justify it. But I now think that my wide-eyed “But I love you, and that other thing meant nothing at all!” reaction was naive and dopey and disrespectful. Does that make sense? I was a fool not to see what I was playing around with.

      • January 17, 2013 1:24 pm

        I can see it now, yes. Now that we have parted ways. I was too easily able to use my resentments toward my husband in a way that manifested punitively. Punitive flirting. Martyred flirting. I should’ve just said what I wanted instead; which was to leave of my own volition, for my own reasons. Not to wait for a period of his falling apart.
        At the time though, it just felt like harmless fun.
        It is not how I would like to participate in another relationship, whenever it is that I may be ready for another relationship.

  2. January 17, 2013 11:41 am

    Although, as someone who has gone through most of her adult life in a state of what can be best described as a sort of spiritual purdah (I simply…keep the shades down, most of the time) and now feels like this well-placed caution has taken over her entire personality, leading to terminal dullness…there is something to be said for being able to flirt well and not dangerously. Is this possible? Sometimes I think that yes, yes it is – think of X, who is so open and engaged and yet clearly loves her husband (right?) – but then, perhaps X does not.
    Meanwhile, a tendency toward introversion combined with loyalty, combined with a sort of pollyannaish distrust of complaint or gossip, has made it almost impossible for me to engage on a real level with anyone outside of my nuclear family.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 17, 2013 2:58 pm

      Not all flirting is bad. And even happily married people need to flirt, and get off on attention from people they find desirable–anyone who pretends otherwise is either lying or dead. However, there is a big difference between innocent flirting and a real urge to find someone else. All those years I think I thought I was doing the former, but I was really doing the latter. No matter what happened or didn’t happen, I was always ready for something to happen…and I’m not, now. And it’s only now that it occurs to me that if you are truly in a good relationship, you’re not looking for the next fascinating thing (or even the fascinating thing that will augment your present situation). Does that make any sense??? I feel I’m not expressing myself very well.

  3. BrandNewDay permalink
    January 17, 2013 12:07 pm

    My goodness. It’s really gone beyond uncanny how similar your story is to mine. From the details of our married lives (young love, scientist marries writer, two boys, how long we’ve been together, etc) to the details of their undoing, and now to this, an experience all-to-relatable for me…lots of little crushes over the years and now realizing I likely have known all along this is how we’d end up, though I never would have admitted it.

    And now here we are, finally separating almost two years after the ’email incident’, and the first thing I’m going to do is throw away all my underwear and start fresh with ones he’ll never see! Ah, the little things.

    I appreciate your writing so much, both for the quality of the work and the depth of the experiences shared. Today you’re helping reaffirm this nagging suspicion I have that the best really is yet to come. Thank you.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 17, 2013 3:01 pm

      I love knowing that I have a secret sharer somewhere out there. It gives me great comfort to know you exist!

  4. penny permalink
    January 17, 2013 12:15 pm

    I am so happy for you… so happy you are happy.
    LOVE your writings.

  5. January 17, 2013 12:43 pm

    Just lovely, this. Lovely. Even happily married I sometimes hold myself apart in order to have a space, however slight, of my own. I bought a coat this morning and he hasn’t seen it, ever, and I’m tempted to hide it away and wear it only when I am alone in the house. But my practical side scolds this idea. Anyway, as Penny says, happy you are happy.

  6. January 17, 2013 2:25 pm

    Yes – Penny said it wonderfully.
    What she didn’t say was that your ex-husband sounds like an ass. Demanding to see your email account indeed; and taking the word of a stranger over that of his wife. What a cock.

  7. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    January 17, 2013 3:04 pm

    Thank you all, and Reluctant Launderer, I was not entirely innocent, which is why the whole situation turned into the mess it was. I hadn’t done what he thought I had, but I had done more than he knew, and would have done much more. So, you see. Not exactly a lamb maligned….
    The whole thing was such a mindboggling clusterfuck. Though it did make me grow up in a hurry.

    • January 18, 2013 6:57 am

      I know. I was going to qualify my comment, but instead allowed myself to over-vociferously take your side. Of course I don’t know any of the details, and who knows how any of us would behave in that situation? (But I still think he sounds like an ass.)

      • irretrievablybroken permalink*
        January 18, 2013 10:35 am

        See, this is great! I like having a small cadre of people I’ve never met rallying in my defense. Onward, into the breach! I think what we have here, in my particular divorce, is a case of she-started-it-but-he-decidedly-finished-it. It shocked me how easily the whole edifice of our marriage burst into flame. A tinderbox I’d thought was made of brick. Or something.

        • Val permalink
          January 23, 2013 6:16 pm

          Even now, 13+ years out but still in the midst of the Co-Parenting Wars (have to take Ex back to court next month to rectify the inadequate child support), I am troubled by dreams of Ex in the homes we’ve shared…
          Sometimes I think it would have been best if I had sold the farm & started completely anew, but at the time I couldn’t bear any more disruption – losing the house my father had built for us, abandoning the land on which my aunt & uncle held the note…
          “It shocked me how easily the whole edifice of our marriage burst into flame. A tinderbox I’d thought was made of brick.” Amen! I thought I was on solid ground when I reared up on my hind legs, quit “taking it” & insisted Husband give up GF when our son was 8 mos old, but obviously I was mistaken. The taste of ashes in my mouth that their relationship has endured…

  8. Linda V permalink
    January 17, 2013 8:16 pm

    I love your blog, and read it in my Google Reader, but I’m a longtime fan, and maybe even all 7 years. You tell my story. Nearly exactly. Goodness.

  9. January 17, 2013 8:49 pm

    Love your writing! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

  10. January 17, 2013 10:02 pm

    oh, the mixture of feelings i feel when i read this post! i am so happy for you, and so encouraged, and so hopeful. but i am also so terribly sad, and so afraid. we are still in the throes of imminent separation–two months after the big reveal!–and while many scales have fallen from my eyes, i still don’t want my marriage to end. i still love my husband and hope we can fix this…but i’m getting how little of it is in my hands. i know that there is a very real possibility that once he leaves, he will not be back. i have to live like i expect him not to be back, and take care of myself and my business like i am soon to be on my own. today was a good day, despite everything, and i am encouraged by the good days. as i am encouraged by your example of the possibilities that lie ahead even if i don’t get what (i think, right now) i want. so thank you for that. and well done–you worked hard to get where you are, and you’ve certainly earned it.

    ( i will say, though, that i know exactly that new-running-bra feeling!)

  11. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    January 18, 2013 10:38 am

    I hope no one thinks I’m endorsing divorce. I still wish it hadn’t happened. Who doesn’t want life to go smoothly, easily, lovingly into the sunset? Vikki, you will be okay, it’s this tormenting in-between period that is making you nuts. Not knowing whether your husband is going to leave or stay must be torture. You can’t prepare, you can’t make plans, you can’t gird your loins for one or another kind of future, because you don’t know what the future will hold. You’re in a terrible limbo, and I hope it resolves soon. No matter what comes next, it will be better than what you’re struggling with right now. I wish you peace and eventual happiness. You will get there. You will.

    • BrandNewDay permalink
      January 18, 2013 12:17 pm

      Do you really wish it didn’t happen? If it hadn’t, think of all you wouldn’t have experienced, both good and bad, that make up the whole of who you are today. I think, for me, the wish will always be “I wish it didn’t have to happen.” Is there a difference? I think so… Food for thought.

      For what it’s worth, I think your portrayal of divorce is far from endorsement. It is simply real. Good and bad come of every situation, and it’s an honest assessment to portray it as such.

      • irretrievablybroken permalink*
        January 18, 2013 1:49 pm

        Well, I wish I could have stayed in love with my ex-husband and been happy. But I think that the fact of being married kept me infantile, in many ways. So you’re right. I wish I hadn’t hurt my ex-husband, though. That regret will never go away. I wish I could have gotten divorced without causing anyone else any suffering, does that make sense? Perhaps that’s much closer to what I wish. The shrink I saw when we were separating laughed at me and called me a Pollyanna when I told her that’s what I wished.

    • January 19, 2013 10:34 pm

      thank you, because it does encourage me somewhat to think that this might be the worst part 🙂 i doubt it, because i feel (right now) that learning a divorce is in my future would be worse than this limbo, but you’re right, it is awful. the anticipation of him leaving is making me angrier and angrier, even as i try to delay it further. i want a relationship in my life, i want sex in my life, i want the partnership that i thought i had in my life. and i want my kids to have the family they want. but we don’t always get what we want. it’s just hard to believe that there is, somewhere in my future, a reality that’s better than the fantasy i was apparently living in until a couple of months ago.

  12. January 18, 2013 10:52 am

    I love that you have a new car and a new house and a new side of town. I love that you are happy and you know it.

    Flirting is a skill I lack completely. The couple of times I tried it in college were not pretty, so at least now instead of feeling deficient in this area I can see it as a small veil of protection to my marriage.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 18, 2013 4:06 pm

      Your marriage strikes me as bulletproof, dear Korinthia. I think the best kind of flirting just happens, you don’t necessarily recognize it as a behavior. I’d wager you have conquered many hearts without knowing it.

  13. January 21, 2013 10:07 am

    I have recently found your blog and have read every single word, you have a beautiful style of writing. There were many resonances with my own marital demise, I wish I had found it in my darker days, it would have brought me a ray of hope. I too, have prospered post divorce and joyfully have recently remarried to the man who is undoubtedly my big love.
    Wishing you everything good for the future.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 25, 2013 10:30 pm

      I am delighted to hear that all is well, and am now delving into your website in return. Makes me very happy to read about those who’ve come out the other side. Thank you.

  14. kathryn conway permalink
    January 22, 2013 7:56 am

    i have, and continue to find great hope in your writing. and to echo the sentiments of others here, your story in many ways parallels my own. i only wish that i had discovered your blog sooner. some of the early days of the demise were incredibly painful and although others, (ok, the therapists) tell you that you’re not the only one ever to have gone the twisted and dark path of divorce, it’s really not until you find others that have in some way shared the experience, that you begin to see that you are most certainly not alone.
    i had mad, powerful crushes on other men from the very beginning of my marriage – dancing with my boss at my wedding and i fantasized about running away with him to the year before the marriage ended when i had a ridiculously consuming celebrity crush on patrick dempsey.
    sadly, i was all too aware of what these crushes meant to my marriage. i was embarrassed and ashamed. and when i found my first love, when my first serious boyfriend stumbled back into my life and we began to communicate, i knew i was a gonner. it’s hard to believe, and i didn’t for quite some time, that your first love really can be true, it is.
    sure, sometimes i miss the big house, the dishwasher, the first floor laundry and the waterford chandelier, but i trade them, and everything else all over again for the laughter, light and love.
    i am so glad you are happy. and i so appreciate you sharing your story with us, with me! xo

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 25, 2013 10:35 pm

      I had a ridiculously consuming celebrity crush on David Duchovny. (I still think he’d love me. We even went to grad school in the same subject! Though he dropped out, the big quitter.) Man. It spooks me out a little to hear how many people felt the way I did, but it makes me feel better, too. Thank you for writing, you have no idea how happy it makes me to hear from people who read the blog and like it. I am often on the verge of shutting the whole thing–it sometimes seems like an exercise in solipsism. But it’s not solipsism at all if you guys write back….

  15. January 26, 2013 9:20 am

    I have been reading your wonderful blog for about two years. I have also been separated for about the same. I read through the archives when I first discovered you, and this last post has inspired to to do so again. I can’t tell you how helpful it has been. When I first started reading I think I was too broken and lost to comment, or even to recognize how close to home some of your experiences hit for me, though I loved reading about them. But now I have so much to say to each one of them. You are incredibly wise and brave, honest and inspiring, funny and generous. Your writing is a gift to those of us on this long journey. While this post had me in tears in my office (!), it has also given me hope. And reading back through your journey now, now that I am two years out, has helped me see how far I have come, and how far I can go. I cannot tell you how grateful I am. The parallels of our journeys are so striking. As are those of our marriages. Some day perhaps I will have the courage to email you and tell you them all, though it seems vaguely stalkerish. But in the meantime, I wonder, have you ever thought of another dog? I resisted for so long (mine died in tandem with my marriage), but I recently took the plunge and it has been fabulous medicine.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 26, 2013 9:48 am

      Emailing isn’t stalkerish. I don’t quite think the stalker paradigm applies here, so please don’t worry about it. Two years out I was still a mess, so take heart–the best is ahead of you, and two years doesn’t seem like very long at all. I’m so grateful to you for your lovely, lovely comment.
      As for the dog–I miss having a dog every day. But I couldn’t go back and forth to my boyfriend’s apartment with a dog (he lives in the city, and no dogs are allowed in his rental) and now, in this new house, I am not allowed to have a dog. I try to console myself by noting how easy it is to go away, to travel, to vanish for the weekend, and most of the time it works (after nearly 20 years of kid/dog routine, being selfish on a regular basis is quite nice). However, a dog compensates for all of that, and I will re-dog (or dogs–I want two, I have even named them in my head) as soon as I can.
      Our wonderful dog was a wedding present and died a few months after we separated. She was fourteen and a half, a yellow lab, and I loved her.

  16. Val permalink
    January 28, 2013 3:34 pm

    What have I missed? Don’t you still have the kitten??

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 28, 2013 4:21 pm

      Ah, but a cat is not a dog….

  17. February 2, 2013 9:26 am

    I am very late in this game, but want to say that one flirts after marriage is because one of the following common reasons: 1) the husband is in many ways unavailable, mentally or physically, even though he is almost a perfect match (like in your case); 2) the husband does acknowledge that he is not the God…before I got married, I flirted and even had sex, after, I still do, but no sex. However, my husband cannot care less because he knows he is not God, he has his other responsibilities to spend time on than listening to my hormonal whines and needs.

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