The winter before my marriage ultimately crumbled, my husband and I went to a movie, for the first time in two years since our son was born. It was a gorgeous night and we saw Garden State at Lincoln Center and walked home. I enjoyed the movie and thoroughly loved the soundtrack; so much so that I was singing it out-loud, almost skipping in my step. It had been so long since I was out without my kid attached. I felt a familiar piece of myself emerge for the first time in over two years and he stops me mid-step, and says, “What’s got into you?”
When I first separated from my husband, I would cry at work when I saw his name on the caller ID. I keenly remember my co-worker telling me, “It will pass. The day will come when you won’t cry when his name comes up on the caller ID. I promise.”
While nearly 11 years have passed, and I no longer cry, I still get the feeling someone punched me in the stomach every time I see his name on my caller ID or email. You know that feeling you get when the love of your life is calling you and your stomach gets happy butterflies and your whole face smiles? It’s the opposite of that.
And I was the one who initiated the divorce. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I was the one who was abandoned. When you’re the one who wants out of the marriage, the other party may feel eternal rejection. My ex-husband would never admit that. He never wanted to give me the power.
He was “smarter” than me. By that I mean, he got higher scores on his SATs, he knew the answer to “why” to every possible 2-year-old question, and would rock a double Jeopardy round. He could give you the theory of magnetism or capitalism – or else it seemed that way. Any subject, including my own religion, he knew more than me.
In our relationship, I always spoke too soon and he let me. He took his time answering me, carefully calculating a response, and I was too much of a fast-talker to allow an uncomfortable silence. When he didn’t answer me right away after I made some sort of declaration, I instantly went into self-doubt mode, either apologized for saying something wrong or else back-peddling out of it. “Maybe I’m wrong, I’m not really sure, I’m sorry.”
He used to say that he may be smarter academically, but I was smarter in life. Somehow, though, I always got the feeling that he didn’t value that as much. Or else I interpreted it that way. His passive aggressive manipulation held me captive in my own self-doubt. I spent a long time taking things the wrong way.
He discounted my gut instinct because he had a scientific reason to dispute it. And you know what? I loved science so it was easy for him to convince me to trust in science more than my own heart.
I always tried to be prepared for what he’d refute, trying to stay one step ahead, prepared with my armor. This may be the reason that almost 11 years later I’m STILL getting that feeling when I see his name in my inbox. I am fully aware that it is only up to me to be confident enough to not let him get under my skin. Not allow him to make me feel like the dumbest person in the world and the world’s worst mother.
A year before we got engaged, we broke up for two weeks. I was 24 years old, thinking I was older than I really was. While the relationship hiatus was brief, I did a lot of soul searching. At a crucial moment, I had a phone conversation with my aunt.
“He’s a good man,” she told me. I knew that. But then she said something to me that I still hear with an echo. “Do you really think you’re going to find anyone who is going to love you as much as he does?”
A more secure woman than me might have answered, “Sure. Plenty of men would be lucky to love me.” But I didn’t say that. Nor did I think it. Instead, I thought, “I have a good, kind, smart man who wants to marry me. Isn’t that enough?”
Tomorrow would have been our 15-year wedding anniversary. I look back at the Me I was 20 years ago. I should have loved myself more.
I lost a lot of Me in creating the We of our marriage. It took shutting out the rest of the world to clearly hear my heart and be truthful with what I needed out of marriage. It was passion, respect, and most of all, someone who is in love with the real me.
I’m the kind of person who wants everything to be done right. I didn’t want to fail at the greatest thing I had ever taken on, but I eventually needed to liberate the Me that had been squelched for so long. I still feel guilty that I screwed up his life in making the best decision of mine.