Sometimes people ask me if I have any regrets about leaving my marriage, and I can only assume that lots more wonder but don’t ask. To those who do, I always say no. But that’s not entirely true. I often wrestle with the ubiquitous “what if’s” that lurk in every dark corner of my decision to divorce. I think this contemplation, reevaluation, reexamination is normal, and good. There was real value in my marriage — it wasn’t an all-bad situation — and I think my “what if’s” are my way of staying real with myself and not getting caught up in the polarized ideas of good guys and bad guys that seem to be the standard paradigm of divorce. I don’t hate my ex, and he doesn’t seem to hate me, and I think the utlimate question of whether my decision was the right one will only be known at the end of our lives, when we look back on what we created separately after I left.
I want it to be worth it. Really, truly worth it. I want to know that the pain I inflicted with my decision somehow gave birth to goodness in our lives in other ways, and not just my life, but my ex’s and my children’s. I want us all to emerge from the shattered ruins of my marriage as better, more well-developed, self-aware, happier people. Is that too much to hope for? Maybe, but I am damn determined to try.
Something happened recently that put my dedication to this ideal to the test.
One of the small injuries that accumulated over time into a real wound in my marriage was my ex’s apparent indifference to me when I was ill. You know how sometimes you’re just so sick and you need to sleep alone so you can barf or cough or toss and turn all night? When my ex was sick like that, I’d offer to sleep in the guest room if he wanted me to. Not because I was afraid of the germs, but because I didn’t want him to be concerned about bothering me when he was that sick. So, when he was sick, I slept in the guest room. But when I was sick… I slept in the guest room. It was a very, very small thing that became associated, in my mind, with all of the other ways that he seemed not to care for me when I was vulnerable. In the midst of one of our vicious post-separation, pre-divorce fights, I hurled that example at him with the power of the pain that was behind it. He physically recoiled as if I had slapped him, and I saw my own pain played out on his face, as he realized how broken we were and our mutual culpability in getting us there.
It was never mentioned again, directly or indirectly…. until a few days ago. My ex delivered our daughters to me for my week and explained that his girlfriend had, for the first time, spent the night at his house while the girls where there. Before I could say anything, he offered the explanation that she’d been sick and he hadn’t wanted her to be home alone at her place. He further explained that she’d slept in the bed, and he on the sofa, so that she could get a good night’s sleep.
As the final words left his lips, we had the same realization at the same moment, and the next moments were excruciating: me fumbling through a reassurance that I was fine with it; him over-explaining that he only mentioned it in case the girls were uncomfortable or talked to me about it; me mumbling agreement; and then us awkwardly saying goodbye as he retreated, and I was left standing alone in my foyer.
In that moment, the fork in the road was clear. I could resent him for giving her, in those small, caring gestures, what he had denied me all those years. I could rail against her as undeserving and some usurper who was now reaping the benefits of all my pain. I could hate them both for being what we could not be together.
Except that I couldn’t. I want him to be a better person. I want him to be happier than he was with me. I want to know that my leaving meant something, I want to know that I meant something — enough to cause him to pause in who he is and possibly reconsider his fierce certainty, through the latter part of our marriage, that he was fine and justified and right, and I was broken and selfish and unreasonable. And everytime I see glimpses of the new man he is becoming — and believe me, this was not the first glimpse — I am proud of him. I am proud that he is making this worth it, finding value in the pain that we created and I blew wide open. He is using this experience to become a better version of himself. It is what I wish for all of us. That, and possibly that alone, would make me feel, at the end of my life, that this decision was indeed worth it.