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The man I chose to be my husband was a good and solid guy. Super smart with money, he was the yin to my spending yang. His easy-going style (cracking a beer after work, football-watching, cul-de-sac party enthusiast) contrasted with my less-social, yet strong-willed and artistic personality.
Still, we had fun together and marveled at our similarities (both adopted, both world travelers, both registered Republicans). Our differences, then, were the things that made our relationship exciting. We could learn from each other, and build a life that combined only the best of our best.
The month before the wedding, I had a major league freak out. I sat at the top of our long flight of stairs, blubbering into tissues over what I feared to be the truth: this marriage was going to be a mistake. He sat at the bottom of the stairs convinced that I was insane, but for his own reasons, showed up on our wedding day, too.
Had I paid better attention (or had he), we would have realized that it was never going to work. We weren’t madly in love, but the prospect of winning the golden ticket (a marriage, a house full of children, growing old with the one person who loved us more than all others) overshadowed that reality.
I knew it as I walked down the aisle and spent the next seven years working to make it work.
I gave birth to twins and tried to live within a budget. I folded laundry and cleaned house, drove kids to school and performed the duties I said I would. When the marriage was shaky I called counselors and met with support groups. I fought to stay together, until I fought to break it up, and then I fought to get it back together again.
I tried to be what he needed, allowing my needs to sit on a back burner. I’d made my bed and I was determined to live up to my end of the deal. But would I ever feel loved by this man?
Then one day last spring, my husband’s irritation over something I’d done (so irrelevant that I can’t even remember his complaint) cemented my decision to leave him. Standing on the back porch of our perfectly pretty house, listening to the sweet sounds of the birds, looking in on what (from the outside) appeared to be a pretty good life, I knew that I wanted a divorce. (I’d wanted one before, but it’s true what they say -- you just know when it’s over).
So why didn’t I listen to my gut (that night on the stairs) when I rightly predicted the marriage’s demise?
The guilt over the answer is one that I’ve pondered: blaming myself and the decisions of my youth, my time-ticking uterus, and my husband’s belief that he was marrying a girl who looked really good on paper (if only she’d stayed that flat).
As a little girl, I dreamed of being a wife and a mom, reenacting the fantasy with friends and dolls. I also got Barbie and Ken naked a lot, which contributed to grown-up delusions about what it meant to be loved.
As a teenager, when I met the brown-eyed boy that I thought was the love of my life, I’d daydream of a car full of little brown-eyed sons, towheaded like their mother, all of us sharing his last name. I was Barbie, he was Ken, and, yes, we got naked a lot.
As happens with young love, it all went south when his dreams of college girls and my dreams of a true love and family collided. He left me, and I spent my childbearing years licking my wounds.
Eventually, my broken heart led me to bigger things, but it never fully healed. I moved to New York City, worked hard and made friends, but began to live by a lie: men sucked, true love didn’t exist, and I’d be happy if I never had kids (because of the men sucking, true love not existing thingy).
By 29, the realization that I’d spent almost a decade mired in pain over the loss of a dream that would never be left me deeply depressed. My avoidance of any sort of intimate contact left me lonely. Not even nightly Snicker bars and pounds of sugar could fix the pain. It took a good therapist and a daily dose of Paxil for me to give myself permission to try again. True love might be the answer, possibly worth the fight.
And so I went back to school and focused on me. I started to practice yoga and began to date. And when I met my husband at the age of 32, I really believed he was the one. The blinding truth was that I wanted kids more than anything, the deal with the devil signed as I tossed the birth control out the window.
It was the dream of children that propelled me (not kidding, I literally ran down the aisle) to my awaiting fiancé in his Brooks Brothers suit. The palpable need for a family overshadowed the truth of what my husband and I were missing: deep and abiding love.
Soon after the wedding I was pretty convinced that he didn’t love me, either. We’d fight about everything, even arguing as I waited for my C-section on the day my kids were born. I was the antithesis of the kind of girl he should have married (one who worked two days after giving birth, who thought he was God and who looked good in cheap jeans and boxed hair-color).
It’s been five months and (already) $16,000 in attorney fees and we’re nowhere near divorced. In the state where we live, we have to be separated for exactly a year (in separate homes) before we can rip that marriage certificate in half and have it mean anything.
May my experience be a warning to bright young women everywhere not to say, “I do,” unless you love that man with every corner of your sweet soul. Settling for anything less will likely result in a situation like mine: walking in “Who cares what it costs to get out of this mess, I want to be happy” shoes, while holding the hands of children who don’t understand any of it, except that their mother still believes in love.