Art provided by the talented Ratihtri on Fiverr.com
(Note: I’ve received permission to write about this subject as long as he’s unrecognizable so I made him a ginger ❤ Didn't need to say that but thought it was a fun tid-bit.)
My ex-husband and I are still excellent friends. I’m not quite sure how it happened. When we divorced over a year ago, I didn’t expect we’d be sending funny memes to each other or playing video games online. To be truthful, I’d never expected to talk to him again period because this is how I imagined splitting up worked.
Didn’t we all, or am I standing alone here?
Ready for the showdown
Like many people who suffer through a divorce, I was in pain.
(This is mostly an assumption, but I’m sure accurate for some. My mom is still recovering from hers and never mind the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health research revealing the suicide rate of divorced people in comparison to married ones).
After the split, I didn’t want to be in the same house. The air got super close all of a sudden. To condense an already told story, once my ex-husband sniffed out my unhappiness because I didn’t want kids and the “deadline” to build a family was approaching, he broke up with me in a parking lot. And that’s not the worst part. (It’s some soap opera shit, for real).
He’d offered to drive me home, and I let him because I couldn’t stop crying enough to focus (when karma comes to collect, it feels like getting the wind knocked out of you — I don’t recommend it).
I didn’t speak. What could I say? What do people say when they divorce? Do we shake hands or copy the movies? Do we suffer like our parents? Aren’t divorces meant to be messy, angry situations?
And many times, divorce does call for a fight. There are some real bastards out there on both sides. My ex-husband was not one of them, but I’d prepared for the showdown. Also, I felt petty and ready to raise a little hell (I’d bet a meatball sub anyone who says they didn’t at least have this itch is lying).
But I still held back.
It’s like people expect women to handle breakups this way. I’m the authority on that one, seeing I have the right parts and experience. And I’ll say this — a lot of people, in general, don’t take breakups well. Just ask freshman me after I wrote a six-page letter to my first “boyfriend,” who’d moved onto a new girl at school. Or when I cried on the lawn at community college when my longtime boyfriend and I broke up. Some random good Samaritan had to make sure I wasn’t dying.
History has given women nicknames like “shrew,” “psycho bitch”, “Karen,” “drama queen” for their reactions to pain. Never mind the men who go batshit (According to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, seventy-two percent of all murder-suicides feature a romantic partner, and 94% of the victims of these murder-suicides are women. The more you know!) But this is a different story.
Back to the drama.
“Make him bleed.”
Mostly, I was stunned and in a bind with the last-minute change of plans. Still, I didn’t want to pour gas in the backseat of my ex’s car and drop a match.
(there are so many more examples, but it would be a travesty not to see this one. It’s wild. This video also isn’t the only “woman lights car on fire” one there.)
“You can stay here,” he’d offered, “until we both get ourselves together.”
“I’d responded with a ‘fuck that shit,’” and made my way to a familiar bar — a local hot spot where I used to deal cards before relocating.
My friend — one of the only ones I had in this wilderness, I followed my husband and the military to — arrived soon after I sent an S.O.S. text. She bought us a few double shots, which we took in the bathroom (even off duty, it was frowned on for card dealers to be drinking on camera).
As she held me on the floor that needed a good cleaning and after calling my fresh ex-husband an asshole more times than I could count, she said, “take him for everything he has.”
The man had nothing to take. We’d married for love. Maybe the Nintendo Switch I got him for Christmas, but even when he offered it to me months later, I didn’t. I took nothing. What would taking a gift prove?
I hadn’t realized I’d already checked out, and a different kind of love carried over. You know how our parents told us when they divorced, “they love each other but aren’t in love with each other?” The emotion felt like that sentence. Maybe you’re already familiar, but this was my first time.
Judging by the look in his eyes when he told me we should go our separate ways, distant but still soft, in pain, he understood those words, too.
Beyond that, no matter how sad and ready for a little revenge I was in my mind, the thought of actually going for blood did not work beyond a daydream.
“But it was my fault?” I’d said.
“He could’ve communicated better. Breaking up with you in a parking lot? Leaving you to fend for yourself? He told you he noticed you were slipping for a year and didn’t think to say a word? I don’t buy that ‘you know I don’t have a way with words’ B.S. Make him bleed.”
Spite is a common reaction to divorce — this is a fact. All rules for how to behave fly out the door — cage match style. I mean, if you think about it, the most basic of animal instincts is to bite when hurt. I couldn’t, though.
“I’d rather just let it all go,” I learned to say after a while once my mom agreed with Mary and wondered why I wasn’t angrier.
I want to stop here and say I’m not trying to pretend I was a saint in all of this. Trust me. I was angry as hell because I felt guilty as hell. The saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.” I knew the jig was up, though. Sometimes in life, you give up because all your actions lead to a particular moment, and this was mine.
I went level one honey badger on his ass once he dropped the news in the grocery store parking lot, though the disappointment or even the anger wasn’t with him, but me. He also had to sit through quite a speech from me where I did my best to pick apart where things went wrong until I noticed the unfocused, glassy sheen of his eyes, that he was looking at my forehead rather than meeting my gaze. He looked tired, and I didn’t want to keep chopping at the same tree. (Not even sure if that’s a euphemism, but you get the point).
He was gone, then he called.
I’d stayed with my friend for a few weeks until I decided I’d been enough of a burden and trudged home. My family begged me to come out and live with my twin sister for a while (I’ve been here for the past year), but I insisted on staying for whatever reason. Attachment maybe? We all know how hard it is to let go, especially when you get along so well. Deal breakers in a relationship are unavoidable, though, and we both knew this.
It took me a while to leave my car and enter our small living room. He’d be waiting there, and he was. My ex-husband never argued once I silently took his offer to take the room upstairs. He told me, “I’m glad you came back. We’ll figure the paperwork and stuff out later, okay?”
We both did our best not to notice his little nest on the couch where he insisted on sleeping.
“I’ve been here for the past year,” he’d said the first night I returned and protested about him not taking the room upstairs.
He hadn’t tried to be a jerk saying this. In fact, after a moment, he added, “I’m glad you’re back and safe.” It only felt this way because it was true. I used to find his snoring cute, but once everything started to unravel, the sounds grew deafening, and I sentenced him to the living room. I remember wishing as I climbed up the stairs he could join me. But we both understood he couldn’t. A few weeks later, we learned this the most challenging way possible, finding ourselves in the same bed, but again, this is another story.
Fast forward a few months (yes, months, we won’t even go into the gambling addiction that left me broke), and we’re finally ready to leave. I found an apartment in town, and my ex helped me move along with my friend Mary who was not happy to see him despite me telling her the split was my doing.
Once the mattress and the couch were in my apartment, he was gone. I didn’t hear from him again for six months. When he called that day, it took a while for me to answer.
I debated whether I should answer for a long time. I might not have wanted a pound of flesh, but a part of me did demand some suffering (hurt people hurt people, ya know?).
There are plenty of reasons why people would send this call to voicemail. But eventually, because I just had a feeling that something was wrong.
Mental health played a huge role in the end of our marriage (Judging by this recent study found in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, mental health seems to play a role in a lot of marriage issues.) Yet we never talked about it much — at least not his mental health. My ex-husband was a quiet enough man in general, but his lips remained shut tight on this subject.
That’s how it is with men and mental health, right? — correct me if I’m mistaken, gentlemen, but from thirty-two years as an observer, it’s evident mental illness in men equals weakness. These were my ex-husband’s words.
(Also, this study during Men’s Health Awareness Month 2018 says of the 1,000 men interviewed, 77 percent of them said they’ve experienced anxiety/depression/stress. Forty percent also said they wouldn’t get help until they had suicidal thoughts.)
I won’t lie, in my marriage, especially toward the end, I was self-centered. But I noticed my husband’s depression. Especially once he told me, as simple as if he were talking about the clear weather, he planned to slam his arm in a car door to get out of his grueling work schedule.
Somehow I understood he was in trouble, even if we hadn’t talked in months. So I answered the phone. We kept the small talk to a minimum, though he’d tried a “how are you?”
“I went to the V.A. about my depression and stuff,” he told me in a tentative that suggested he might expect me to say no. “They need a letter from a witness about what you experienced. You’re the only one who knows about it…”
And that was true. To everyone but me, my husband seemed happy, if not quiet. But he could be bothered like anyone else.
How simple would it have been to say no to him?
I remember thinking this as he waited for my silence to end. By nature, I’m a vindictive person. As I get older, like most of us, my attitude adjusts, but the divorce made that familiar pit grow in my stomach.
But no matter how much a part of me wanted to be like, “LMAO, good luck with all of that,” I didn’t want this ending for myself or him.
“Do you need money?”
“Just a letter.”
“I’m on it,” I answered.
“Thanks, Ev, really,” he said.
“Sure.” Then I hung up.
That call taught me an important lesson I will take with me forever, and it was such a simple choice.
I’d realized I wasn’t angry at my ex-husband but hurt, and that’s a natural thing to be after divorce (anger in the right place is appropriate too, obviously). Still, being spiteful and hateful to get the last dig in doesn’t feel as good as it does after you do it. If anyone knows that, I do, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
That day, I realized that our relationship wasn’t going to be like the movies or even my parents’. I knew we’d always be friends, and after that day, we were. Still are.
It Doesn’t Have to End “Like That.”
The number one question I get asked when people learn my ex-husband and I are still friends is, “then why aren’t you guys back together?”
I want to make this point very clear because I think it could help those who might find themselves stuck in the same place as I did. There are reasons why we wouldn’t work. I mentioned them in a previous story, but what it comes down to is in relationships, sometimes lives go in different directions, and when they do, we can be civil. Not only civil but friends.
And that is a choice. My ex-husband and I have no children, no connections whatsoever. Once we signed the papers (a whole other dramatic episode), we could have gone on with our lives, and we’d be fine, better than ever, even, seeing how we’re doing so far. Yet, we continue to talk because the thing is, there is a genuine friendship there. Why does that have to go away?
Marriage is complicated (and divorce even more so), but I couldn’t react the way I always thought I would in this situation. So that says something. I’m not sure what that says, but something.
We still talk a lot, though it is getting less and less. And that’s okay. We’re both moving on with our lives, which is what we’re supposed to do.
Someday, I hope even to meet the children he wanted so desperately someday if his then-wife doesn’t have an issue (not everyone is cool with the idea of your husband being friends with an ex-wife. That’s some Jerry Springer stuff right there).
But what I take from all of this, and I hope you do, too, is a simple lesson. Just because a relationship ends, it doesn’t mean it has to end “like that.”