Happily Divorced—And Still In Love
Words: Angela Johnson
When her marriage came to an end, this writer found life as a divorced couple made more sense for her family.
I got married for a lot of reasons: I was madly in love; I was in my thirties; I was tired of dating; I was pregnant. Unfortunately, none of those reasons was enough to make my marriage last. My divorce was finalized just a few months before what should have been our fifth anniversary, but before you feel sorry for me, I have to let you in on a couple of secrets: My ex-husband and I still live together—happily, I might add—and I have no regrets.
I didn’t go into my marriage expecting to get divorced. In fact, I always thought I’d live happily ever after with the person I chose to settle down with. I’ll admit, it was a pretty lofty goal for someone who had no real-life examples to look up to: There’s a two-marriage minimum in my family, and divorce is seen as more of a pitstop on the path to finding the right partner than the bitter end of a committed relationship. Even my parents, who managed to trudge through their marriage relatively unaffected, ran out of steam in year 20 and ended up calling it quits. But I was determined to defy the odds, dating ferociously through my twenties in hopes of finding “The One.”
I was 32 when I finally met him on a random girl's night out—the perfect combination of Midwestern sensibility and East Coast swag. We bonded instantly over a mutual love of ‘90s hip-hop and Thai food. After only a few dates, we were spending all of our free time together, until the five-minute subway ride between our apartments felt like a cross-country flight. It wasn’t long before all of my things had found their way into his apartment. At the end of our lightning-fast courtship, I went from a free-spirit single gal to an engaged mom-to-be.
Things would just work out, or so I thought.
Admittedly, I was too in love to think too far beyond the wedding. I had a great job, and had never had an issue making ends meet. Things would just work out, or so I thought.
I was swept up in a romantic storm of wedding dresses and nursery decorations when I became a casualty of a corporate marriage. My company was being acquired and my position was eliminated when I was three months pregnant. The combination of the recession and my growing baby bump made my search for a new job impossible. When our daughter finally arrived, I reluctantly accepted my new position as a stay-at-home mom.
While I knew there were plenty of women who would love the opportunity to be home with their newborns, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of bitterness about my situation. I’d worked so hard to achieve my career goals, and had always planned to stop working on my own terms. I was completely overwhelmed by this little person who needed me for everything, and I began resenting my husband for his ability to come and go each day, even if it was to a job he didn’t like.
A year and a half later, we were expecting baby number two, and I was equally excited and terrified. Now there were two tiny people who, through no fault of their own, demanded I be present for them around the clock. I was a prisoner to the kids’ feeding and nap schedules. I rarely got a moment to myself each day, but I was lonelier than ever. When I did have time alone, I agonized over whether I should go back to work and face exorbitant childcare costs, or stay at home and try to survive on one income in New York City. Overwhelmed by it all, I spent most of my days staring longingly out of our third-floor window at a city that had moved on without me.
I was an emotional wreck and angry with everyone: my former employer for laying me off; potential employers for not giving me an opportunity; my kids for needing so damn much from me; myself for starting a family in the most expensive city in the country... But mostly I was angry with my husband for refusing to join me in my den of despair. He maintained an eerily tolerant view of living hand to mouth. Deep down I knew he was doing his best to keep us afloat, but I was jealous of his ability to not allow our setbacks to get the best of him—at least not on the outside. For the first time in my life, I was not in control of my destiny. I couldn’t do anything, and so I wanted him to do enough for the both of us.
Every few months, I would beg him to take us away from the unforgiving city and go to our parents for help, an idea he quickly shot down. The slightest hint of an argument made me retreat. After all, arguments—especially those about money—almost always led to divorce, something I was desperately trying to avoid, remember? So I kept all of my anxiety suppressed instead.
When it all finally became more than I could handle, I cried out to my husband for help. What should have been a two-way conversation about a financial plan to get us back on our feet turned into a verbal vomit of everything I had been keeping inside for the past three years. Without warning, I’d launched a full-scale attack complete with accusations, criticisms, and finger pointing. It wasn’t fair, but once I opened my mouth, there was nothing I could do to stop it.
At the end of the argument I sought refuge at my mother’s house. She eagerly turned my old bedroom into a comfortable space to recharge. I busied myself with knitting and yoga whenever possible. The click-clack of the needles soothed me, and allowed me to sort through the mixed emotions that had been swirling around in my head.
While we were apart, my husband and I agreed to seek couples’ counseling in hopes of getting to the root of our problems. But each session ended in screaming. Neither of us was willing to accept blame for the state of our relationship, and there was little tolerance for our differences of opinion. We saw no other option than to end things.
The months that followed were painful and awkward. All of our conversations erupted into arguments. He couldn’t forgive me for leaving, and I couldn’t forgive him for letting things get so bad that I felt I had no other choice. The only thing we could agree on was that our kids would end up suffering the most from our separation.
One Saturday night, we decided to make a last ditch effort to hash things out on our own. Without therapists and lawyers, and with the help of a few cocktails, we recalled the things that brought us together in the first place and the two very important reasons we had to make things work—our children.
For the first time, we admitted our parts in the breakdown of our relationship. I had been so consumed by what I thought a wife was supposed to be that I lost myself. I was too afraid to rock the boat by asking for the things I needed from my partner. He recognized that he could have been more present for me and understanding of my concerns about our family’s financial well-being. We talked about a plan for moving forward, and we haven’t stopped talking since.
We came out of the conversation committed to keeping our family together, but we agreed that our relationship needed a fresh start. We decided to go through with the divorce, but on our own terms. The marriage as we knew it was over, but we would live together, raise our children together, and attempt to reassemble the pieces of our broken partnership.
I’ve learned that what I wanted wasn’t necessarily a marriage...
As the judge reviewed the terms of our agreement, a tear ran down my cheek. Was all of this legal mumbo jumbo negating the beautiful promises we had made to each other at our wedding? Did it mean that I wouldn’t have the successful marriage I promised myself?
With a bang of his gavel, the judge announced that our divorce had been granted. Outside the courtroom, my now ex-husband pulled me in close to his chest. The tears flowed freely now, but this time, I felt relieved. We were no longer married, but I knew we would be together because we wanted to, not because a piece of paper told us we had to.
Since our divorce, I’ve never felt happier. Not because I’m no longer married, but because I feel more like the person I was when I first fell in love with my husband. I have reentered the workforce and feel like more of an equal partner. I treasure the time we have together as a family because I’m able to appreciate what it feels like to be apart.
When I reflect on my marriage, I can’t help but wonder why any of the guests at our wedding never told us the truth—that marriage is so much more than rings and lovely words recited in front of a pastor and your family. Instead of smiling and posing for pictures, why hadn’t anyone given us an idea that things wouldn’t be as romantic as all of the fairy tales and romantic comedies I loved? With over 50 years of marriage experience in the room, not a single person had the guts to keep it real with us. No one thought to mention that sometimes it’s impossible not to go to bed angry, and that we’d actually be forced to agree to disagree more often than we’d like. Nobody warned me that once kids entered the picture, we’d no longer be able to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast in bed. At least one person should have cautioned that once he’d bought the cow, most nights, he wouldn’t even bother trying to get the milk.
Through my experience, I’ve learned that what I wanted wasn’t necessarily a marriage. I wanted someone who made me feel special and valued. Someone with whom I could share my deepest thoughts and feelings. Someone who shared my commitment to raising strong, independent children. Though we temporarily lost our way, I’m more confident than ever that I found him. Now, I just have to figure out what to call him.
Any name suggestions for Angela? What are your thoughts on their new relationship? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
Angela Johnson is a freelance writer based in New York City.