Not too long ago, I was randomly blog-surfing, and what I found amazed me: blog after blog written by a divorced person, full of vitriol and hatred for their former spouse. It wasn’t the anger that surprised me — I understand and accept that divorce breeds a lot of anger — it was the intensity, the duration, and most of all, the basis for it: most of these posts to which I am referring could be summed up as “How dare you stop loving me?!”
As I read one after another, I was first amazed and then saddened by how summarily and brutally these writers labeled their former spouses as “evil” or “ruthless” or (my personal favorite) “demonic.” Several times, I took a step back and tried to uncover the cardinal sins committed by these damned husbands and wives, but rarely was it one of the obvious Unforgivables. Most often it was the more common and intangible “drifting apart,” “feeling unappreciated,” “unhappiness with the marriage,” or “feeling like she lost her identity.” These reasons were universally dismissed by the writers as being insufficient grounds for leaving the marriage. No, they insisted, their former spouses are simply evil.
I used to work with families whose children had been abducted, usually for sexual purposes. I don’t need to be educated on the presence and power of evil. I’ve seen it and felt it and know how real it is. So let’s get a little perspective, shall we?
But I can forgive the hyperbole. Love — and hate — makes people crazy. Emotions are powerful and we are all their slave at one time or another. Anger is a completely natural expression of pain, and expressing it is the only way to purge it. I understand that. What I don’t understand is staying crazy, wallowing in it, embracing it as your actual reality for months or years. That part is incomprehensible to me.
What I hear when I read these diatribes is this: I don’t care if you (my husband or wife) was unhappy or miserable or even suicidal (don’t laugh; I’ve had several women confide to me that their thoughts of desperation and hopelessness went that far, and I was nearly there in my own marriage…). I don’t care if I wasn’t meeting your needs or if you told me so a million times or if you did seven years of couples counseling with me (again, don’t laugh; one poor blogger did exactly that). All I care about is that you dared to take your love away from me after you promised that you wouldn’t.
I don’t mean to be a complete bitch, but to that I have to say: So sad, too bad.
The marriage contract is not indentured servitude. You aren’t stuck until the other person decides that you’ve earned the right to leave. None of us is entitled to another person’s love or physical companionship, but that’s really what so many of these rants sound like to me. They honestly and genuinely sound as though the departed partners should have stayed, no matter their feelings, no matter the state of the marriage, no matter what.
I understand that marriage used to be exactly that — you stayed no matter what. But then society evolved and most people began to agree that a physically abused spouse should not be required to remain in such a marriage…nor should a spouse who has been cheated on…or one who is saddled with their partner’s addiction issues. And so, gradually, more and more acceptable reasons for divorcing emerged, and the concept of the “no-fault” divorce arrived when it became clear that most of the time, marriages did not end because one party was a “victim” and the other was “evil.” Most of the time, it was just a long, sad road to Irreconcilable Differences.
What’s particularly interesting to me is that, in the abstract, most reasonable people can agree on the wisdom of these premises. They can nod sagely and agree that a person who feels stuck in a sad or loveless marriage for many years should not be expected to serve a life sentence. They can be supportive of friends who leave their marriages because the love was no longer was there. But when it is applied to their own relationships, the polarizing categories of “good” and “evil” are resurrected.
This form of hypocrisy was evident to me from a very young age. When I was growing up, my mother had many divorced friends and she was always accepting and non-judgmental of their reasons for having left their marriages. But when my father left, after spending four years explaining to her that he simply didn’t love her anymore and couldn’t stay in the marriage, she was furious beyond all reason or sense. And she stayed furious for many, many years. Even now, more than 20 years later, she still can barely say his name without clenching her teeth. By her calculations, he had no right to stop loving her after he promised he wouldn’t. He broke that promise, and so he is an awful person.
My friend Annie’s husband is another fine example of this. Even though Annie worked really hard to stay in her marriage — marriage and individual counseling, self-help books, the support of family and friends, and various attempts to reconnect with him emotionally and physically — he told her recently that he would never forgive her for leaving. Apparently she was supposed to simply suck it up and swallow her sadness and hopelessness and carry on for his sake?
Is that really the deal we strike when we marry? Am I really to believe that because I promise to love you always, I must do so no matter how you treat me or make me feel? Am I required to accept whatever efforts you make and just assume that is your best and highest effort at saving our marriage, or am I — like you — permitted to judge those efforts and find them insufficient? Why are you allowed to say that I didn’t try hard enough to save our marriage but I am not permitted to level the same accusation at you?
I think that it is precisely this ability — perhaps even propensity — to embrace such a self-righteous posture that may be a common denominator among many failed marriages. What I mean is this: maybe people who are capable of and willing to villify their exes are more likely to be left. Would that really be so surprising?
In my dating life, I gradually developed a rule about not dating men who’d been left by their wives unless there was a really good reason (e.g. she was mentally ill or unstable) or the circumstances giving rise to the marriage’s demise had changed (e.g. he used to be a workaholic and has since created a better work/life balance). This wasn’t a rule based on prejudice or a lack of empathy, but of too many dates listening to men rail against their exes and slowly reveal to me her very good justifications in leaving him. And of course there are huge and important exceptions — there always are. But in my experience, they are exactly that — exceptions.
Hate blogging someone is human. It’s simply the latest version of what has gone on after break-ups for eons. But hate blogging someone for eternity is not human. It might just be evil.