Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Part II: Red Flags

I envisioned this post as unsolicited advice to myself, the 21-year-old who made a very bad decision to marry the wrong woman.  What would I tell that guy if I could?

Well, clearly, DON'T DO IT.  Get as far away from her as you possibly can and next her with extreme prejudice.  Easy to say now, and I thought about what a dear friend of mine told me recently, that all the checks he wrote in his twenties are now coming due, and that bit of coinage hit me like an anvil.  Fucking A, I thought.  All of those huge life-decisions I made in my twenties, that have put me on my current trajectory, well, I'm not sure I did anything right, in hindsight.

I married the wrong woman, which amounts to 20 years of complete waste.  I can't recover one single golden nugget from that rubble.  It is all just waste.  All of the investment, all of the time, and energy, all just waste.  But further, I earned three college degrees in the humanities that are worthless.  If I could go back and kick my 21 year old ass, I'd kick him straight into a STEM field.  But I digress.

Truth be told, even that younger version of myself had serious misgivings about tying the knot to my ex-wife, and I've spent a lot of energy thinking about those misgivings, and how they could have, if I had paid attention, spared me from making the biggest mistake of my life.  These are the red flags, and on the off chance that one of my readers is some clueless dude in his twenties thinking about marrying a woman, I hope these red flags are completely missing from his mate, but if they are there, I think some real reflection is in order.

1. She was always a branch swinger. She cheated on her current boyfriend at the time with me.

This one is huge, as this pattern of behavior very much continued in our marriage.  At the time, I remember thinking I was something special to be able to pull her away from her current boyfriend.  Context is everything.  It was a red flag.  In her life, there's a continuous string of men, one to the next to the next.  She was unable to express her unhappiness about our marriage until she had fucked another guy, and when she moved out of the house, she had to have another guy to swing to to enable her to leave.  It's pathological, and sad, really.  A person needs some time alone to figure out who they are, is my guess, and swinging from man to man to man never allows time form self-discovery, which is also why she was such a non-person, without interests and an identity of her own (the subject of another post for sure).  But most tragic, in a marriage context, I was devoted to living my life with this woman, to working through whatever problems arose, but she was just never in that mode.  Not once.  When the going got tough, she started scouting the next man to swing to.

2. She did drugs.

She would do any drug that was put in front of her, the ultimate sheep in the herd.  No real identity of her own, she just assumed the group identity.  Crystal meth?  Sure.  I'll snort that.  For me, I'd never put meth in my body, and back then, when I learned that she'd done meth (with her boyfriends mother, no joke) I'd considered breaking up with her.  I remember riding in the car with her, thinking about dumping her over just that.  If only.  Point is, she had zero standards in her life, and I think if I could go back and do it all over again, I'd seek out a girl with some sort of moral/ethical compass of her own.

3. Her parents had serious marital problems, and she wanted her own mother to leave her dad.  
Her mother came to live with her at her apartment when we were in college, while were were dating, and I remember she told me she'd wished her mother would just divorce her dad.  In other words, she believed in divorce.  Huge red flag.  Never marry a woman who believes in divorce, especially if you believe in the whole til death do you part thing, because you will not be a perfect husband, and you will end up divorced.

4. She had serious self-esteem issues.  Even though she was very pretty, she always considered herself fat.  

My guess is, most women have self-esteem problems as a by-product of living in an American context, but with her, the only validation she ever found was in that supplied by a doting man.  She could never validate herself.  She was always easy pickings for any man who paid her attention.

A marriageable woman, I think, would have some self-respect, some standards of ethical behavior, and some belief in the sanctity of marriage.  The woman I married had none of those qualities, and I have paid a steep price for my inability to recognize it at the time.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Divorce and "Manning Up"

Telling a man going through divorce to "man up" is the worst advice one could possible offer him.

Google surviving divorce, and take note that the majority of articles are written by women, for women.  Resources aimed at men are out there, but you have to dig for them a bit, and by far the bulk of the help is written with women in mind.

If you're a man, and you're struggling with divorce, often you'll get the advice to "man up," advice that was given to me fairly often, even by the source of my struggles, my ex-wife.  The message here is that men are supposed to suffer in silence, but more troubling is the implicit message that something is wrong with men who suffer, who feel grief, sadness, and find themselves plunged into deep depressions because every aspect of the world they relied upon has been turned upside down.  Having one's world utterly destroyed, losing one's mate, his family, his home, everything he held dear, is surely among the most painful experiences one can have, yet men are told to "man up" and the range of emotions he feels are cast as abnormal and wrong.

I watched as a wellspring of support engulfed my ex-wife, with friends coming out the woodwork to support her, despite that fact that she had two affairs that were serious breaches of professional ethics, despite the fact that she was the driving force in the destruction of our marriage.  None of that seemed to matter.

For me, though, a handful of close friends checked on me occasionally, and the only real support I found was in my mother and father and in the paid services of a Psychiatrist.  I'd relied on my ex-wife for my emotional support to that point, and with her gone, I had very few places to turn.

So, with the dominant cultural message being to "man up", with primary source for support now the enemy in the for of the ex-wife, and with other sources of support scarce to non-existent, no wonder, then, that divorced fathers are at a much greater risk for suicide than single men or divorced women.  Their families gone, their support gone, and hearing the message that bearing the grief and the anger and the sadness in stoic solitude is the proper way to deal with those emotions, divorced men are killing themselves rather than live such damaged and deranged lives.

Men are protectors and providers.  When reflecting on this, I kept thinking about our primate ancestry, how it must be hard-wired in males to take a family under his protection, his mate and his children.  Nothing is more important.  It is his sole reason to exist, and so when these things are taken away, when his protection is no longer required, what does he do?  How does he deal with the loss?

The loss is catastrophic, and required a radical reconfiguration of this thinking, a reconfiguration so profound and difficult that for many men death is preferable.  And again, tell him that this radical reconfiguration and the intensity of emotion that comes with it is something he must simply endure in silence, moreover, that those very emotions are somehow wrong and a sign of weakness, and well, no one should be surprised that divorced men choose suicide.  I argue that we ought to recognize that men suffer in divorce at least as much as women, and if my story is in any way representative of what men experience, I know I've suffered more than my promiscuous ex-wife to move forward and reboot my life and re-envision my role as protector and provider as a a single father.  That I'm writing this at all demonstrates that suicide is avoidable, that the reconfiguration is possible, that life can move forward, but so much of that I came to on my own.  Men need better support.

Telling a man going through divorce to "man up" is the worst advice one could possible offer him.

Part I: The Timeline

  • September, 2015: She'd complained that she felt bad, that her leg hurt, and she said she wanted to go to physical therapy, which I encouraged.  She was referred by her doctor to a therapist 100 miles away, and she began going to therapy every Wednesday.  
  • After a few therapy sessions, she showed dramatic improvement.  She began to lose weight and exercise.  She bought new underwear.  On the Wednesday's she went to therapy, she left for work dressed to the nines, and though her therapy sessions were late in the afternoons, she'd leave work at noon to drive there.  She began to return home later and later, to the point that the kids would be in bed when she arrived home at 10 and 10:30, slathered in her new Victoria's Secret lotion.  When I ask her why she came in so late, she said she was having dinner with her parents.
  • I begin to have nightmares that she's having an affair with her therapist. 
  • December the 16th, 2015, my wife was getting dressed for the day, and she snapped at me about something.  She walked up to me and said, quite clearly and plainly, "It is over. Our marriage is over."
  • And I knew she meant it.  I asked her who she was seeing, and she said she was seeing no one, simply that she was unhappy with the marriage. 
  • She stops sleeping in my bed and moves into the guest room, which generated a lot of confusion for the kids, and a lot of tension in the house.  We do our best to put on a normal Christmas for the sake of the girls, but the atmosphere is tense and it is clear that our family is falling apart.  
  • New Year's Eve: She leaves and drives to Tupelo, where her therapist lives, to ring in the new year, leaving me and the kids to ring it in without her.  
  • After the new year, I go to the guest room and sit down with her, and I ask her is there any chance of keeping our family together.  She flatly says no.  Again, I ask her if she is cheating on me, and she says absolutely not.  I tell her the tension in the house is unbearable, and I ask her to move out.  She agrees.  
  • January 7, 2016, she locates an apartment and moves out.  
  • January 8, 2016, when I check her cell phone records, a new number appears exactly one day after she moved out.  It wasn't there before, and all of the sudden there it is.  Hours of conversations and reams of texting to this new number from that point forward.  
  • January 15, 2016, I ask her who she is talking to so much, and she says it is a friend and confidant.  She denies a sexual relationship.  She refuses to name the person she is talking to.  I ask her one hundred different ways who it is, and she refuses to name him or her.  
  • January 16, 2016, I file for divorce. To this point, her story is that we have irreconcilable differences, that she has been faithful to me, but that she is unhappy and wants to move on without me.
  • January 20, 2016, I take the kids to visit her at her apartment the day before she is to have a kidney procedure.  I was trying to be nice and let her see them before the procedure.  Her purse is sitting on the coffee table with a little notebook sticking out, and I grab the notebook and close myself in the bathroom to read it.  In it, she describes having an affair with her physical therapist and with another unnamed man.  The truth comes crashing down.  Though she has told me repeatedly that she has been faithful and that she just wants out of the marriage because she is unhappy, in truth she was having sexual relationships with two different men, and one was her physical therapist.  The weight of the truth, which I had to discover on my own, comes crashing down on me.  All along I knew in my bones she was having affairs, but she denied it, so there was some relief in learning the truth.
  • March, 2016, I visit her office to find her talking with one of her non-traditional students, a student I also taught a few semesters prior.  The body language made it clear that this was more than a student/teaching conference.  Weeks later, she comes over to the house and admits to me that he is indeed the second man.  So, I now have the awful knowledge that my then-wife was having an affair with one of her current students. Both of her affairs represent breaches of professional ethics, highlighting her compromised mental state.  
  • April 30, 2016, our divorce becomes final.  
  • May, 2016, the student she is seeing confronts me on Facebook, calls me a pussy and threatens to fight me.  I forward the message to her boss, along with the phone records of their conversations. 
  • June, 2016, Confronted with the inappropriate relationship with her student, and the As he received in her classes, my ex-wife resigns her teaching position and moves in with her parents.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Beginning Again

After devoting 18 years of my life to a woman, creating a life, starting a family and a career, I find myself rebooting my life from scratch.  I am a single father who married and divorced the same woman twice, and surviving those divorces was by far the most difficult thing I've ever faced in my life.  It is my hope that my experiences can help people out there suffering through divorce.  It is hard, but it is survivable.