I forced myself to take a good, hard look at what happiness means to me.
Most marriages end in one of two ways: either you both crash and burn in an emotional wreck, or you each stumble to the finish line more or less quietly, exhausted by the long, ridiculous haul behind you.
In my case, I think it was a little of both.
I felt like an accident victim who fell asleep at the wheel.
I'd been married nine years, chugging along, falling deeper and deeper into the routine of acceptance. And then BOOM: one day, it all caught up to me. To us. We fell apart in a single conversation that had been happening silently for years.
So am I better off now? Can I look back on what was back then, compare it to what is right now — and honestly say that I'm happier? Or that my life is better overall?
I don't know.
Because it occurs to me that through it all — through all the pain/suffering/self-confidence-exploding that typically comes along with even the most amicable divorces — there's still one lingering question burning a hole in the mirror every time a divorceé glances in it: Would life be better if we were still married?
For me, the answer is no. My life wouldn't be better. And in the spirit of very loose solidarity, I think most divorced people would say the same exact thing. I mean, we have to. Who the hell wants to look back on something as monumental as a breakup and admit to themselves that calling it quits was a monumental f*ck-up?
Oh, I tried like a bastard to view it all as a mistake; it's easier that way. When you're caught up in complicated maneuvers that involve a long history, your perspective can get very drunk sipping on the skimmed surface of your own past.
When you stand alone in your kitchen and stare at the wall and try to convince yourself that the kids/the sex/the laughter/the trips to London or Venice/the friendship/the secrets and the promises, that none of it can outshine the reality that you'll be more content and fulfilled when you walk away from it all — that's when the real challenge begins.
I thought I wanted to be married to my ex forever. I thought I believed in certain late-night talks when we swore up and down that we would never be those people, the divorced people. Yet looking back, we talked a lot of jive to each other — and rarely did much to back it up.
Some people find a certain solace in the mere fact that they're married. It takes a load off the brain. Being married allows a person to say to themselves, "Right. That's out of the way. Now I just need to control my wandering eye/remember to feed the kids/listen to him or her tell me their problems every three or four days/have a little sex with them between meals on the run. NOW, back to the football game!"
You get what I'm saying. Marriage can be a real sign of true love. But it's also the leading cause of killing love dead.
Why? Because I convinced myself that being married was enough. Enough to keep us happy. Enough to see us through the next 40 years or so. But it ain't enough, Jack. It ain't even close to enough.
I see that now. I didn't see it then. I got married fast to someone I didn't even know. I liked that risk at the time. I was genuinely in love with my ex and thought by taking the marriage leap, we would flawlessly grow into each other's existence.
It was a beautiful idea but it was also a crack pipe dream, a hundred rocks high.
And it never happened. We never found the groove. We slammed into one another at almost every turn and rare were the moments when she felt sure I was her man. And as for me, I think I've always been half-asleep, dreaming in broad daylight. That works if you're a young poet, but it's not exactly the perfect mindset for modern marriage.
There was so much about being married to my wife that made me think I could never be happy without the marriage dangling around my neck. The marriage was my unmissable bling, just shining in the sun, gleaming for all the world to clock — and that's absolutely idiotic.
I'm not all that happy these days. I have my moments, but it's a struggle. This first year after divorce is tough; my head is fried; my heart is confused; my future is as uncertain as all the past I've left behind. Yet, I have to admit to myself that there's liberation in the honesty.
We broke up forever. We closed up the shop. And in doing that, I forced myself to take a good, hard look at what happiness means to me.
And I'm not even sure what that is yet. But I know that it wasn't what we had in our marriage. So in that light, I guess I'm better off now. I guess we both are. Which was all any of us can ever really hope for in the end, huh?