Things had been rocky ever since that fateful and awkward car ride back home. The one when I waited for hours to work up the courage to ask her why she had been so distant recently. I couldn’t believe, let alone process, the words that came out of her mouth—“I’m not happy. I’ve been seeing a therapist for months and I think we need a break.”
I knew something was wrong. We had just spent a weekend in Catalina for a beautiful beach wedding where she was a bridesmaid. The scene was set for romance, but the romance was nowhere to be found.
My mind raced, searching for other red flags—ones I somehow missed.
I remembered another wedding. My brother’s, over a year prior, in Maui. Another destination overflowing with the prospects of romance and another time when romance was nowhere to be found.
In some ways, it would’ve been easier if she’d said she was sleeping with one of the groomsmen. She did seem awfully friendly with them and they’d been spending a lot of time together leading up to the wedding. But she insisted there was nothing going on and I was being paranoid.
During that weekend in Catalina, one of our friends called us the perfect couple. Little did she know, there were massive cracks in the foundation, like a house that looks perfect on the outside but an expert knows it needs too much work to fix.
We stayed together. Me pleading with her to explain, to reconsider, to give our marriage a shot in ever-increasingly embarrassing ways.
We sold our house. Without any kids, it was the only thing tying us together besides our two dogs.
We rented a new house. Looking back, I don’t know why she didn’t leave then. It gave me some false hope that she would come to her senses—that we could go back to the couple who everyone else was envious of.
We went to a comedy club with my family during the holidays. She was nervous about sitting at a table next to the stage, afraid the comedians would make jokes at her expense. I saw a banner on the wall advertising a show on New Year’s Eve—our anniversary. I joked that we could come back and celebrate by sitting in the front row again. She erased the smile from my face when she said she was traveling to a different city and spending our anniversary away from me with a new friend.
My mind raced again, asking myself questions—What was the point of staying together if we weren’t going to spend our anniversary together? Where was our relationship going?
Our communication broke down and we went to a therapist. The therapist saw the cracked foundation and said we would need to rebuild.
I was willing to try. I said when I added up all the reasons she wanted to leave, they didn’t equal divorce. But it was a death by a thousand cuts—a cliché and a common cause of marital strife.
She had one foot out the door, ready to walk away. She said she didn’t care if she ever saw my family again.
That’s when I knew there was no going back.
I moved out first. I found an apartment with a friend from work. We wanted to find new jobs and move to San Francisco. I was upset, but I knew I had to move on with my life and I was excited about the future.
Three weeks later he was in a cycling accident and put in a medically-induced coma for days. But the trauma to his head was too severe and he still can’t walk or talk normally to this day. I should’ve been there for him, but I was too self-centered and wrapped up in my own problems.
My mind raced again, this time with new questions—Why was this happening to me? How can I get her back?
I was alone. I called her and begged her to try to work things out. I said the divorce paperwork hadn’t been filed yet and we could try again. I said I needed her and I didn’t want to be alone. But her one foot out the door had turned into two and she didn’t want to turn around and come back in.
I saw a therapist on my own, trying to understand what had happened and to work on my mental health. I visited my parents more often. I worked longer hours and went on business trips.
One of my coworkers moved into the empty room in the apartment. We laughed, and, as the months passed, I cried less and less. It felt good to not be alone.
Not much time had passed, but it was starting to heal the wounds.
I signed up for OkCupid. I was ready to have fun and meet new people. I was free to do what I wanted and I wanted to experience single life again, without obligations or expectations.
But the first person I went on a date with stole my heart and she hasn't given it back since.
She had gone through a similar divorce, but she had a four-year-old daughter. We both knew communication was the key to a lasting relationship and we both wanted a true partnership. We deleted our OkCupid profiles and committed to each other.
My coworker moved to San Francisco for a new job. I moved in with her and we began our life together in earnest.
Our communication would falter at times, but we patched the foundation as best we could when the cracks appeared. We went to a therapist before the cracks got worse because we weren’t ashamed and we knew how important it was for both of us to be heard.
We weren’t sure if we would ever want to marry again. For a while, we thought we could commit without making it official in the eyes of the law. But we talked about how we both believed in the symbolism of marriage as a public act of commitment. I said will you marry me and she said yes.
The years went by and we decided to have a child. It took longer than expected, but we finally had a daughter. She wasn’t breathing when she was born, which caused her cerebral palsy disability. It tested us in ways we could never have predicted. Sometimes tensions ran high and the cracks would start to appear again, bigger this time with more emotion and trauma in them than ever before. We went to a therapist again, because we knew the work was never truly done and we could always get better. Instead of withdrawing from each other, we grew closer and our relationship grew stronger.
I received a text from an old friend a few days ago. I hadn’t heard from him in months. His wife isn’t happy and she has one foot out the door. He felt alone and didn’t know who else to turn to. We talked on the phone for the first time in many years. It was great to hear his voice, but I wished the circumstances were different.
I recognized the same feelings he described—the sadness, the anger, the despair. Yet I didn’t feel them as viscerally as I did in the past. I realized I haven’t thought about my first marriage in a long time—the intervening years had healed the wounds.
I wanted to tell him it would be okay. I wanted to give him advice. I wanted to tell him how writing has helped me heal from trauma. I wanted to share an article from a writer friend that was coincidentally published on the same day.
Instead, I listened and I validated his feelings. Because I knew what he needed most in that time of need was just to be heard.
I hit an exciting milestone this week!
I know the number doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it felt good to get there regardless. Just let me have this moment for a second, okay?
No, but seriously, thank you for being here, it means a lot to me.
If you haven’t subscribed yet, here’s a big blue button for you so you can do that right meow ⬇️
I’m quite proud of this piece titled “On Time” that I wrote for Symposeum, a new quarterly magazine. Give it a read on their website, or, better yet, order a print copy. They’re taking orders only until this coming Wednesday, July 7th. I saw a preview of the issue and it looks beautiful.
I know I always ask this, but if you liked this one, could you please let me know and tap the heart button below?
I'm glad I'm not the only one who cancelled all my other OKcupid dates after my first one on the site - did the same thing 11+ years ago. Still with the dang guy. We could be advertisements for OKCupid!
Thanks for sharing this life lesson, Lyle.
Thanks for sharing buddy. We’re you ever able to get closure with your first marriage? If it were me, not knowing what the root cause of the deterioration of the relationship would haunt me forever.