I was texting with my boyfriend the other day and mentioned something about my ex husband. He immediately texted back: “Which ex?”
I am a woman with two ex husbands. A woman who at one point thought she would never marry and for most of her life didn’t dream of divorce. But somehow I have wound up with two exes.
This is not to say that I had no part in the fact that I now have not one but two ex husbands. I did. I played a very huge part in the fact that I am now (and forever, although I did say the same thing after my first divorce and before my second marriage)an unmarried woman. I was the one who ended both marriages. But I did not end them capriciously.
My first marriage, which lasted almost twenty years and gave me two incredible children was, perhaps, troubled from the start. I have written about what I saw were the problems in my book Desire: Women Write About Wanting. But now, six years after the fact of that divorce, I see perhaps more clearly than I did when I wrote my essay for the book four years ago, my part in the failure of my marriage. I hadn’t the strength to be as honest as I should have been; from the getgo I hoped that my first husband would be able to read my mind, to understand the subtext underneath, between, around, what I was really saying. When I look back I see that I was worried that my honest assessment of our issues might scare him away, but I also know that, despite having had numerous relationships before him (and despite having considered and rejected two previous marriage proposals) I simply did not have the language to express how profoundly unhappy I was. My feminism bumped up against the reality of living, day to day, with a man who was as different to me as chalk and cheese, to use a brilliant British expression. I could have tried to make myself better understood. I could have forced my first ex to confront his own demons, which were plentiful and profound but which I only learned of after we split. But I did neither.
Both times, I didn’t assume a happily ever after but that was sure what I was going for. Both times my children played a part: why I stayed in my first, and why I married at all the second time.
In addition, I was a child of divorce and the failure of my parents’ own marriage made me all that much more determined to succeed . Divorce was something I shuddered to inflict on my son and daughter. Yet, eventually, no matter how much I wished otherwise, I felt I simply had to leave my marriage to my children’s father to save my own mental and emotional health.
Explaining that, as well as explaining why loved failed me again has been the subject of many a discussion with my kids. And as they have grown older, wiser, and more experienced themselves they understand. The first timeI broke their hearts and it wouldn’t have done any good to tell them that my heart was also torn into pieces. It wouldn’t have helped them then to let them know that I had tried as best I could to save the marriage, despite my own failures of communication or that I had allowed the lovely distraction of those children to keep me in a place I should have long before vacated.
My second marriage, hastily conceived but not hastily abandoned, happened far too soon after the first divorce. He caught me still vulnerable and swept me off my feet with all the romance and passion and adoration I hadn’t felt in so many years. But he had his own issues, ones I would have known about had I not rushed to say yes as soon as he asked me to marry him. Those issues became impossible to live with, and what I could not predict was how difficult it would be for me to just have a man in my house full time again. Intellectually I know that one of the reasons I agreed to marriage was because I didn’t feel comfortable carrying on a relationship or living with a man (and he lived three hours from me) with a very young teenager in the house. Despite my feminism, despite the fact that I really didn’t wish to marry again, I worried more that I would be setting a bad example. I wanted both my children to see marriage as an option that could work, despite evidence to the contrary. I wanted them to believe in love.
Some years later, I know that once again I should have and could have been more honest. I could have let my daughter know that the man I met was special and that we cared deeply about each other but didn’t have to marry. I expect she would have understood, or, at the least, tried to. I know that were she the age then that she is now, I would have found it easier to be more open. Now, I am in a long-term relationship with a man who has stayed at the house dozens of times. I have spent time with his daughter. My daughter has spent time at his house. He has explained me to his child in the way I should have described my second ex to my daughter. The fact is that sometimes love lasts and sometimes it doesn’t. My daughter knows that. At fifty-five I finally do, too.