I was sitting on the subway, heading out of work as the clock rolled over midnight, and this was nice enough to pop up on my phone.
That’s not to say it somehow caught me by surprise. To the contrary, my anniversary is something I tend to see coming a mile away to the point that I suspect my friends and those connected to me are beyond tired of hearing me talk about it.
BUT…talk about it I will, because I’ve found myself thinking a lot about a word that seems to be both forgotten and marginalized in our current hyperbolic cacophony of politics and the ongoing battle for moral and societal superiority.
Pretty much everyday I see someone pontificating about the difference between rights and privileges. Usually it comes as they try to justify and rationalize how they and those of their particular ilk alone are somehow entitled to the former and can dictate who is allowed access to the latter.
Something that has gotten completely lost in the argument, though, is the notion of sacrifice.
No one tends to really think about what you have to give up when you make the decision to marry someone and for good reason. You’re too busy thinking about the possibilities of what positive things will hopefully come out of it. The idea being that those things will come to outweigh the possibilities which you gave up in order to commit the rest of your life to this singular relationship.
And if you’re lucky, it does. The however long you spend with your spouse ends up giving you everything you could both want and need in terms of physical, emotional, economic and social fulfillment and that is a wonderful thing to ponder when you’re old enough to reflect on it as the inevitability of death comes knocking at your door.
It also makes whatever sacrifices you made in order to reach that point completely worth it when looked at through the 20/20 prism of hindsight.
But we’re not all so lucky, sad to say. And sometimes, we make those sacrifices for entirely the wrong reasons.
After I got divorced six years ago, it didn’t take long for me to recognize all the red flags in my relationship with my ex-wife that ultimately doomed us. To be fair, those flags do not exclusively belong to one of us alone either, but the biggest ones that I’ve come to accept were the realization that I was expected to marry her because it was what she wanted and I only married her because I felt I had an obligation to meet that expectation.
It wasn’t because I loved her enough to want to marry her, which I know is going to paint me, rightly or not, as a stone-cold bastard, but to do so also neglects the context of both who I was and what my life was at the time.
I was 24 when we got married and I’d just spent five years going through a legitimate hell that charted the course for the rest of my life. I’d survived prison, homelessness, abandonment, family dysfunction, discrimination and complete social ostracization.
I hadn’t been to college, nor had I tried setting out on the career I’d hoped to attain. I had no real idea of what I was going to do, or even what I genuinely could do, based on the very small box I’d been confined to by the powers-that-be.
The only good things in my life that I had at the time were the tiny group of friends I managed to hold onto and this woman who kept telling me that she loved me enough to want to spend the rest of her life with me, even though I told her I don’t know how many times that it was never likely going to get easier.
What gets lost in this also was the reality that we possessed two completely different perspectives on what marriage was. For her, she’d been able to watch her parents stay together for decades and build the prototypical All-American family and having been around them for half my life, even I’ll admit they made it look really easy at times.
Whereas I had seen my parents split when I was five, my mother remarry and divorce again when I was 10, and while her third marriage has managed to last 20-odd years, she somehow rationalized that it had to be done without my knowing about it. My father took off after the divorce, but he never remarried or even pursued another relationship that I know of and my brother’s marriage ultimately disintegrated not long before mine did, though I was kept in the dark on that as well, for reasons which defy common sense.
So we were on polar opposites of the spectrum and yet, because I had gone through so much shit over the six years we’d been together at that point, I’d allowed myself to fall prey to two things which eventually undercut a lot of relationships – codependency and mental illness.
I remember being so desperate for even just a fleeting sense of anything close to normality that if it meant capitulating to what my ex wanted and marrying her, even though it would cost me opportunities to pursue goals I’d set for myself before we’d ever met, then that was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
So I did. We both did and for just under ten years, we made it work in our own weird way. What ultimately did us in was a combination of things that neither of us could’ve predicted, anticipated or prepared for when we stood in that church in Portland and put rings on our fingers and made those promises to each other.
Now at this point, I guess the logical question is What about her and what she gave up to be with you for that long?
It’s a fair question to ask, but the somewhat unpleasant and honest answer is very little.
When my ex decided to end our marriage, her family was right there to prop her up as they always did, as was the man she’d left me for. They’re married now and she’s going to give him a son of their own sometime in the next few weeks to go along with our son. And as she said on the day I left Portland for the last time, she’s happier with the life she has now than she ever was with me.
As for me…? I guess it depends on your point of view.
Yes, I have the career I’d wanted to pursue, but I’m looking for the fastest way out of it that I can find because it’s nowhere near what I thought it was going to be like when I started. Yes, I’ve finally managed to come back home, but what I was hoping to find when I decided to make that long drive doesn’t seem to be here. And Yes, I had a chance after the dust settled from the divorce to maybe find love and a possible new relationship with someone else, but that didn’t happen and now, even though we’re separated by about 20 miles, we couldn’t be any further apart if you put one of us on the Moon.
So now, as I sit here writing this, I genuinely don’t know what I’m supposed to do because I gave up so much of myself along the way that most of the time I feel emotionally empty.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me that if I can find someone new that can fill that hole, then it will start to figure itself out. Only I don’t want to because most of the time I don’t feel like I have anything left to offer them.
I’m a middle-aged divorcee just trying to keep his head above water from one day to the next. That’s not all that much of an attractive prospect in any generation, but most definitely not now and it’s hard for me to not think about what anyone would have to give up to be with someone who has an unintentional habit of destroying anything good that comes into my proximity.
Call me crazy, but if I was someone looking at me and what I’d have to maybe give up for the sake of a relationship, that’s not a sacrifice I’d be willing to make.