As I’ve been slowly sharing with my family that my wife and I are getting divorced, I have noticed that the responses typically consist of two parts: condolences and shock. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” and “I had no idea,” sum them up well, to which I respond, “Oh it’s ok, it isn’t your fault. And it’s okay that you didn’t know because I didn’t let on that it was happening.”
I cannot identify (nor do I think I want to) when exactly things started going bad, but I can pin two moments that are akin to a football being snapped and when Jadeveon Clowney knocked the helmet off of Big Blue’s Smith.
Almost immediately after my wife and I got married, we took a huge leap into the biggest adventure we could and moved several time zones away. Amidst the chaotic coordination of moving, we decided that gingerly packing, shipping, and freezing wedding cake was more work than we both thought it was worth to adhere to the (questionable but still honored) tradition of eating wedding cake on your first anniversary. Not wanting our first anniversary to be thwarted by a choice of practicality, and as the sentimental romantic that I am, I made a special request to a local baker friend to recreate the top tier of our wedding cake as a gift. The morning of our anniversary I picked up the surprise cake present and was able to stash it safely until I got home from work. I know my wife isn’t a fan of surprises, or that she’s even as half as sentimental as I am, but she does respect tradition, so I figured this unique take on a first anniversary tradition would be received in good spirits.
When she opened the box, she was as shocked as she was pleased, because she thought I had contacted her friend who made the cake for our wedding and had it shipped from back home. The recreation was fantastic, and she was impressively pleased with this gift. After a couple, delicious bites of cake, she then says to me that my gift is in the fridge. Don’t get me wrong, I love food as much as the next person-I like to say, “I didn’t get this body by not eating,”- but my mind was racing as I thought of what kind of gift would need to be kept refrigerated that was not food. I mean, it’s our first anniversary, right? And she knows that I love gifts of significance, alluding to fun times and our own special language. I built the tension up myself, waiting to open the refrigerator door as I thought of what this surprise gift could possible be. When I opened it, nothing jumped out to me as a gift, so she had to point it out.
She got me a six-pack of Miller Lite.
This is no knock on the beer itself. Miller Lite is my go-to when watching the game, but really? A six-pack of a beer we get fairly regularly for a first anniversary present? I wish there was a cute back story to validate its significance in this occasion, but there isn’t. Not a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, wine, or even a twelve-pack of Stella, but a six-pack of Miller Lite.
This says a couple things to me:
1. You didn’t get anything for me at all for our anniversary, and you just so happened to pick up beer on your way home, so you pawned it off as your planned gift.
2. You intentionally selected this six-pack of beer for the most ordinary and emotionless present I’ve ever received.
Either way, I took it as a slap in the face that dropped my jaw open, at which point she then spat into it as if to say, “I christen thee Unimportant.”
I did share with her my feelings of this gesture, and unfortunately it was taken lightly. Over the next couple of weeks I took some time with myself to dig through a lot of reflection, writing, and brutally honest refocusing/prioritizing. Once I believed I had everything I wanted to share with my wife all written out, I shared my thoughts with her.
We all hear, “the first year is the hardest,” and I can see that, but I also recognized that we were thrown an exceptionally unique set of challenges, in addition to those we imposed on ourselves (i.e. moving to a completely different state that neither of us had lived in before, among other things). It’s one thing for a couple to be faced with challenges, that happens daily all over the universe, but in my mind, these fires and stresses forge some couples and shatter others. That is something I noticed in my thought process. What we had been through in that first, tumultuous year was not insurmountable. Each of us made it through alive. But what was revealed after the dust had settled is that, although it helped each of us learn more about ourselves and each other, it had not brought us closer together as a couple. This was obviously disconcerting, and so in the spirit of open and honest communication, I shared this discovery with my wife.
One morning on a day we both had off from work, we lay awake in silence, not touching each other, as it had been recently since the six-pack appeared in our fridge. Aided by my list of questions and concerns (created to ensure I don’t leave anything out, good or bad), I shared my feelings with her as I often do. In similar fashion to other occasions where the topic of discussion was anything less than celebratory, I shared and she remained still like my feelings were oil being poured over a cement slab, saturating quickly, leaving the rest to run off the sides.
What finally elicited a reaction from her was this, “We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and each other in the last year, and I wish it could say it has brought us closer together, but to me it points at us moving in separate directions.”
She almost immediately started to tear up (which was a rare occurrence for her) and began to repeat, “I don’t want a divorce, I don’t want a divorce. It’s only been a year. We’ve only been married one year.”
As I shared more of my feelings and asked questions here and there, she only continued to reiterate that she didn’t want a divorce and that we had only been married a year. She seemed to ignore the fact that I wasn’t disagreeing with her. I didn’t want a divorce either, and I definitely know we had exchanged vows just over year ago. Exhibit A: The First Anniversary Wedding Cake Present.
I pointed out that I did not suggest getting a divorce, and the reason for that was because I did not want to exercise that option at that point. My reason for sharing my feelings with her was simply to point out that we had gotten off track in the last year, and that if she wanted to, we could work together to get this marriage back on track. However, she was more focused on circumstances: a divorce and a time line. Additionally, at no point in her tearful replies did she ever say, “I love you,” or “I love you, too,” or “I still want to be with you,” in any manner.
Hearing this truth by omission all but solidified my inclination that she was more concerned with the assumed shame and embarrassment of getting a divorce rather than wanting to be married to me. I like to think that people don’t wake up thinking, “You know what? I’m bored, let’s a get a divorce today,” and that they would rather work through and cultivate the marriage they’ve created with their partner. I know I didn’t get married with the intention of getting divorced. But, I would rather have a check off “divorce” on my scorecard than stay in a marriage that both of us know full well we aren’t enjoying, invested in, or even want. Besides, who’s keeping score anyway? If we have the opportunity to make ourselves happy in the long run by making a few hard choices along the way, why don’t we?
After we had shared all that we had felt in that conversation, she told me she appreciated me telling her how I felt, and I did the same (after she had finally shared how she had been feeling about so many things she had kept in–even from before we got married). She then proclaimed that she acknowledges the inequality in our efforts towards the success of the marriage and that she would, as she put it, “do better.”
At the time I thought we still had a chance to turn it around, get the marriage back on track, and make a solid run for married happiness. Obviously, by nature of this blog, that was not the result, it was just the snap that set this play in motion.
More importantly, the more I think about everything, the more I realize how much I’m truly going to learn from all of this.