I never thought I would be married at 25, let alone divorced. I cheated, and it ended my marriage. I am not proud of myself, and I think I took the coward’s way out. But if I hadn’t gotten out, I might not be here.
I met my future ex-husband, Jeff*, when I was 16 years old. My self-esteem was really low. As a kid, I was self-critical, but reasonably confident in the knowledge that I was smart and loved. However, puberty and stupid teenage love had knocked me down a bit by the time I met Jeff.
My first red flag should have been the way he pursued me. Jeff stared at me, intensely, without speaking, for the first month we had class together. I was a little freaked out, but mostly flattered. Jeff was really good-looking, from a “good” family, and a year older than me. Maybe he was sizing me up, deciding whether or not I was suitable to his needs.
Our relationship was intense from the start. Jeff took everything very seriously, which I interpreted as “passion” and “depth”. If I didn’t pick up the phone right away, he would call dozens of times in a row.
When I attempted to break up with him, after one of my friends spotted him with another girl, he sobbed and threatened to hurt himself. Infatuated and terrified, I forgave him.
After high school, my best friend and I were accepted to the same school five hours from home. We were going to live together. I was pumped. Jeff was unsurprisingly against this plan… he didn’t want to let me out of his sight. But I was on the edge of independence, and I was ready to embrace it.
Jeff realized this. So he proposed.
I still question why I said yes. About a week before, I had a hunch. My gut was twisted up about how I should respond, and I prayed. I’m not particularly religious, but I do believe in a universal guiding force.
Desperate for an answer, I opened my Bible one night, exactly to 1 Corinthians 13… “Love is patient, love is kind…”, that old wedding-day standby. It felt like a punch in the gut, because I knew that message was my answer. At the time, I took it to mean I needed to be patient with Jeff. Looking back, I think the universe was trying to tell me that what Jeff and I had was not real love.
Jeff was always certain about everything. I thought: If he is so sure he wants to marry me, he must be right. My own uncertainty should have been answer enough, but I didn’t trust myself. I was only 19 when I became his wife.
When we moved away, Jeff began to truly isolate me. He limited my phone time with my family, and if I stood up to him, he raged at me. My friends all were “against us” and could not be trusted. Slowly, methodically, he tore my support system away. Then he went to work on me.
Jeff wasn’t verbally abusive outright, not at first. It was things like, an insult to my family here, a dismissal of my opinion there. It was insidious things, designed to make me doubt myself more. It became more and more difficult to talk about issues in our relationship. He shut me down and refused to participate, or mocked me until I cried in frustration. When I cried, he called me ridiculous and overly emotional.
When things went wrong in our lives, it was always someone else’s fault… never his, and frequently mine. I lived in fear of doing something to “ruin” his day. To keep the peace, I walked on eggshells. I did what he wanted, because I knew to resist would eliminate any chance of peace that day.
The only friends he allowed me to keep were the ones he could push boundaries with. After a drunken threesome with a girlfriend of mine, he began pressing me to provide him with more. I hated this; it made me feel creepy and disingenuous to pick up women for my husband. But Jeff wouldn’t take no for an answer. He claimed that variety, more women, could make him happy.
I eventually encouraged him to go out on his own. Selfishly, I hoped it would take some pressure off me. I was tired of being solely responsible for his happiness.
Jeff quickly got several girlfriends. Some knew about me, some didn’t. Sometimes I felt guilty, like I should have warned the women he hooked up with. “Run,” I wanted to say. “You aren’t real to him. Your worth is only how good you make him feel.”
I asked him if I could talk to other guys. The question offended him. The answer was always no. I was his wife, and only his. It would ruin him if I did such a thing. He cited the Bible, how men had multiple wives, but women who were adulterers were stoned.
He frequently picked and chose the most misogynist bits of the Old Testament to use against me, to guilt me into backing down. I was too tired to stand against yet another injustice.
Up until that point in our marriage, Jeff had insulted my interests, my looks, my family, and had ripped into me when I made “mistakes”. He had slapped me a time or two, but only when “provoked”—i.e., when we were arguing and I “talked back.”
Then there was the night that he and his brother went out to a bar. His brother brought a girl home, but Jeff didn’t. When they got back, I was asleep. Jeff woke me; he wanted me to “put on a show” for him and his brother with this random girl. I sleepily refused.
The next thing I knew, Jeff was on top of me in our bed, with his hands around my neck. I don’t think I struggled at all. At that point, I was so numb that I hoped he would kill me. At least if I survived, I would have a real reason (in my broken mind, anyway) to ask for a divorce.
I carried on, increasingly detached and numb, until Kevin* was hired on at work. I noticed him right away. He was my age, which was kind of uncommon in my old-guy profession.
I didn’t set out to cheat on Jeff with Kevin, at least not at first. Kevin and I had the same background, so we were in the same training classes. We naturally became friends.
Kevin was refreshing to talk to. He laughed easily, and he listened to me without a derisive smirk on his face. It was a revelation. We kept it professional for months, and my home life got darker and darker.
When Kevin asked me to grab a beer after work, I accepted. Any reason not to go home was welcome. We mostly talked about books, movies, and our goals in life. Of course the fact that I was married came up…. However, Jeff had trained me to not speak of our “personal business” to anyone. Kevin wasn’t stupid, though. Anyone who cared to look could see I was close to empty.
I knew what I was going to do the night that it happened. I won tickets for a basketball game, and Jeff didn’t want to go. He hardly ever wanted to hang out with me anymore, unless it was to have sex or eat a dinner I cooked.
I didn’t have any real girlfriends, since they all hated my husband. So I told Jeff I was taking my mom to the game, and instead, I invited Kevin.
For a few hours at the game, I forgot the pain and isolation of the past five years. I stopped worrying about my husband’s rage. I felt young, carefree, and alive for the first time in years. Kevin took me out to meet some of his friends afterward, where he casually put his hands on my hips. That was the first time he had touched me, and I knew there was no going back. It occurred to me for the first time in a long time that I had the freedom to do what I wanted. So I went home with Kevin.
Jeff packed up and left immediately when I told him what I had done. It was the best thing I could’ve hoped for. I wanted him to find me disgusting, so he would leave me alone.
It worked for a week, and it was the best week of my adult life. I ate what I wanted. I watched TV shows Jeff had banned. I hung art in our apartment, which Jeff also hadn’t allowed. I read in the tub. It sounds cold, but I did not miss my husband once.
After Jeff realized I wasn’t planning to beg for forgiveness, he began harassing me. I guess it was too much to hope for that he would just let me go after all that time. I spent several months couch surfing, hiding from him. Friends who I assumed had written me off opened their homes to me. I drew on their strength, and my new feelings of happiness, and refused to reconcile with Jeff.
He caught up to me a few times, and assaulted me once. I had come back to the apartment to pick up some clothes, and Jeff was waiting. As he sobbed and clawed at me, I saw clearly what I had been blind to before. He was a sad man, and no matter how “good” I was, how hard I tried to please him, no one could fill up what he was missing. I was able to get a text to my aunt, who called the police. Jeff didn’t come back after that.
Kevin and I hooked up once or twice more, and then let things fade. There was never a romantic connection between us, but I still consider him a friend. He was there when I needed him.
Three years later, I don’t regret leaving. I am disappointed that I set fire to my marriage instead of leaving on my own two feet. It was a selfish, cowardly way to break it off, and I know this. However, I don’t like to think about where I would be had I not left then. I think I did what I had to do… at least that’s what I tell myself.
I am incredibly lucky to be where I am today. I remarried recently, to a wonderful human who is my partner in every way. I didn’t tell Jeff, and I don’t respond to his abusive messages. I wish him well, but I am never allowing him to drain me again.
I am working to find out who I am, and to forgive myself. I have good days, and bad days. As time passes, though, the voice in my head that says I’m no good gets a little quieter, and my own voice, a little easier to hear.