A recent chat with the Queen got me thinking back on those first weeks and months after the last nail was hammered into the coffin of my marriage. Divorce brings an overwhelming sense of freedom when a marriage, especially one adorned with bitterness, anger, and resentment, finally ends; even if that divorce was not the desired outcome. With all legal and moral boundaries judiciously removed, for many, it’s near impossible to keep from showing off this newfound freedom, like they might a new car or cute blouse.
It’s understandable, after escaping what may have felt like a matrimonial gulag, to embrace this sweet freedom by trying to relive what we believe was missed; to devour, openly, proudly, and quite often embarrassingly all those forbidden fruits; to suck the nectar of life in its many flavors regardless of the taste. We rationalize our post divorce adolescence with the common ruse that we are merely catching up after years under the yoke of matrimony. Divorce becomes our gateway into those green pastures we often wondered about. And now divorced, we believe they’re to be no one and no thing to prevent us from doing what we always wanted and believe we deserve. I say this with confidence because it’s the very soundtrack playing as I walked into my post divorce life.
Still married in the eyes of the state, and the church, (which is odd considering God played absolutely no part in my first marriage, which may account for its failure) I considered myself effectively single following the ex wife’s suggestion I move into the extra bedroom. I saw no need to wait, conveniently viewing divorce and separation as a matter of intent instead of a legal or religious formality. If she didn’t want to be married, I wouldn’t behave like I was married.
Waking that morning a somewhat happily married man, I went to bed that evening, in the guest room, as someone different. In the weeks to come my entire mentality changed from one of a dedicated family man battling the mundane and predictable, to an enterprising single guy on the scent of novelty and the unexpected. I fit into my new divorce clothes easier than might have been suspected.
These two qualities alone, the novel and the strange, didn’t have the necessary octane to propel my soul into the abyss of regret and self-doubt. It‘s only by mixing them with a raw and white-hot sense of entitlement, which divorce invariably forces upon us, that put me on a collision course with ‘the wall’.
I call 2008 as the year of my ‘emotional winter’. I use that phrase as another way of saying, ‘the year I hit the wall.’ The second half of 2008 is when playing ‘catch-up’ finally caught up with me; when I reached the point where those green pastures of novelty and excitement withered into barren fields of humiliation and regret. Standing among its parched grasses, the meadow, once looking so fresh and abundant at the onset of my divorce life left me covered in the dust and dirt of heartache from my own selfish choices.
I couldn’t help but reflect on this during our conversation. A friend, after two decades of marriage, was now shamelessly running through many of the same pastures I had visited so long ago. They had become someone unrecognizable to friends. That novelty and excitement, instilled with a lethal dose of entitlement, drove this person to abandon all morals while those watching are left to wonder, ‘what has happened, will this person ever change, and what should we do?’
The sad fact is there’s little others can do besides wait and look on as those we care about spin uncontrollably on their collision with the inevitable. Few recognize the course they are on early enough to hit the brakes and change direction without suffering major damage. More often, and from personal experience, they speed blindly towards the wall only waking upon impact with that unmovable reality as the sand and stone of consequence tumbles down upon them. It’s a fact that’s unavoidable. Regardless of how we may think otherwise, if we drive our divorced life with reckless abandon we will hit the wall sometime. That road is littered with the remains of countless others who mistakenly thought they too could stay in control; only to recognize the wall moves for no one.
For me, and so many others, it takes such a collision before we realize our mistakes and accept that changes are needed. Maybe the wall is financial catastrophe, or a pregnancy, maybe we get in legal trouble, or perhaps those consequences are more climatic. Sadly, with most newly divorced, it requires such pivotal circumstances to grab our attention and force us to admit the way we’re living needs a radical overhaul. When a feather doesn’t work sometimes it takes an anvil.
‘Do you think this person will ever change?’, the Queen asked.
‘Of course, I said, we all hit the wall, eventually.’