They reconnected through Facebook.
When my husband broke the news that he was leaving me, he couldn’t stand to say it to my face. Instead, he scribbled a note onto a paper plate. If that wasn’t bad enough, he crumpled the paper plate to fit it into our mailbox.
To truly appreciate the awfulness, you should know that we were living in a little apartment above a Chinese restaurant in Belleville, Illinois. The entrance to our place was in the back alley. Our actual mailbox was in front of the restaurant, which meant that we had to walk all the way around the block just to check the mail.
Since we didn’t check the mail every day, one of my first thoughts was how long that note had been sitting in the box. And if the postal worker had read it.
While I’m sure my ex-husband had his reasons for breaking up in that way, I can assure you that leaving your wife by scribbling a note on a paper plate and shoving it into your mailbox is among the worst ways to go.
Don’t do it.
My husband left me because he was unhappy in our (mostly) sexless marriage. Actually, we were both unhappy and I had also wanted out of the relationship for a while. But in those days, I didn’t know how to effectively communicate or manage my own happiness. So, I found myself feeling constantly stuck in the expectations our culture had for me.
We were both raised in evangelical Christian circles, though my upbringing was likely more rigid and dysfunctional. Looking back on our dating relationship and engagement, I can see a whole lot of red flags and missteps on both sides right from the start.
He proposed to me just three months after we began dating in college. It’s funny how when you’re young, three months can feel like an eternity. We rationalized the quick proposal by the fact that we would have about a year long engagement.
Saying it like that made our decision seem much safer, smarter, and less hurried.
The health of our relationship was admittedly marred by our individual baggage, mostly from our family issues and the inherent weirdness of the 90’s purity culture that was still going strong in 2003.
He and I both had healthy sex drives, but we each felt enormous guilt anytime we thought we’d "gone too far" in a makeout session. And like a lot of other Christian kids at the time, we set weird and confusing boundaries for ourselves. Like keeping our clothes on while we fooled around.
By the time we got married, I was nearly twenty-one. Battling so much guilt with my sexuality had conditioned me to automatically stop any sexual activity as soon as I came close to an orgasm. To make matters worse, I also struggled to feel any sort of unison or peace with my body.
Growing up with repeat messages about sex being sinful or dirty meant that I had a lot of fear of my body. I was so out of sync with myself that I didn’t actually know where my vagina was. I didn’t even know how to wear a tampon, or at least, I thought I must be putting them in wrong because I could never wear one without pain.
People today laugh about that level of ignorance, but when you're raised with so much shame, nothing body positive feels natural or implicit.
Knowing I had such difficulty with tampons, I worried that it would impact my married sex life. I told my fiance (with as much awkward innuendo as possible), and mentioned it to his parents, but he said to me that they told him it would be fine. He relayed stories that each parent had given him: ultimately, his father said to use plenty of lubricant, and his mother said that having a problem with your anatomy down there was extremely rare.
My fiance told me I could relax.
The awkwardness we shared in talking about sex and our naivety in thinking that everything would just work out did our relationship no favors. I saw a gynecologist a month or two before the wedding, and he explained that although there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I needed to be stretched.
The doctor would have helped right there in the office, but the nurse relayed that they only had the “intercourse size dilators” in stock. Apparently, those were too big, so I was told to make another appointment.
Because that first appointment was equal parts painful and embarrassing, I was hardly inclined to come back. Unfortunately, the gynecologist gave me no further instructions or suggestions at that time, and I didn’t know how or what to ask.
As our wedding night approached, I kept telling myself that things would work out okay with time and practice. For me, there were no "wedding night talks" from either one of my parents. Instead, my mother simply instilled the notion that plenty of other Christians promoted at the time: that married sex was amazing.
And that it would all be worth the wait.
Our wedding night sex was neither amazing nor worth the wait. Our married sex life wasn’t so hot either. As it turned out, attempting P & V sex was so painful for me that it became impossible.
It’s not like my husband and I never tried to have sex. We did. But after a while, all that trying felt really awful to me. In my eyes, I was this constant disappointment. The “holdup” that prevented us from ever consummating our marriage.
I felt terribly guilty for that.
To his credit, my husband wasn’t a jerk about it. Or, at least, not initially. He simply didn’t understand. And I think he tried to be supportive, but neither one of us knew enough about life or sex to know what true support would have looked like.
Today, I understand that I wouldn’t have felt nearly so terrible if we had approached my sexual dysfunction together as a team. And if we had been able to focus on all the other ways to have sex. But a lack of penetrative sex became such a focus in our relationship, that nothing good had room to grow.
Sex was not the only problem in our relationship, though I doubt it ever really is for anyone. We were so young and neither of us knew exactly what we wanted out of life. To be fair, he knew more about what he wanted than me. His long-term life goal was to become a history professor. Mine was to carve out some sort of creative career.
I didn't have enough independence when we got married. I couldn't drive, and he never felt like teaching me. I tried to settle into my new role as a housewife, but I hated everything about it. I hated the pressure and the guilt. And I floundered.
Mentally and emotionally, my plate was full. I battled autism regression without understanding what was happening to me. I dropped out of college when we got married because we initially moved to my husband’s campus and I was too scared to transfer my measly credits after flunking several courses in my three semesters at a Christian liberal arts school.
But I'm something of a miserable person without a job or school schedule. I need a creative outlet along with my own money. I also value my freedom, though I didn't know it at the time.
It wasn’t long before I realized I resented my then-husband. All of the pressure and disappointment I felt about being a terrible wife further contributed to my feeling that city was falling out of love just months into the marriage.
But as a Christian, I felt trapped.
My husband had been in a popular-ish St. Louis punk band when we first met, but it went through a lot of transition by the time we reached our first anniversary. Just when it felt like everyone else’s life was expanding mine kept shrinking down.
After a while, I hardly recognized myself. I gained 100 pounds as I ate through my sadness with Krispy Kreme donuts and Jimmy John’s sandwiches. My PCOS flared up with terrible cystic acne, and I was turned down for some really basic retail jobs.
I started spending all of my time at home just because I didn’t want anyone to see me.
It was a bad marriage for both of us.
He was lying to me. First, it started out small with random omissions. He’d say he hadn’t eaten, and then I’d find fast food wrappers tucked away under the car seats. Soon, he started coming home smelling like an ashtray when neither one of us smoked.
He always insisted that the smoke came from a guy friend, but I didn’t believe him. Although I didn’t make a big deal about it, I figured that he had picked up smoking, and it bothered me that he would keep that sort of thing from me.
Eventually, I began finding cigarettes in the car. And then receipts for those cigarettes. Any time I confronted him with the evidence, he kept denying it and blaming his friends.
At that point, I guess I knew I couldn’t believe anything my husband told me, so I quit asking about his new habits. But lies tend to accumulate, whether you talk about them or not.
And that’s what happened with us.
It was a different time back then. Since I wasn’t in school at the time, I couldn’t have a Facebook account. They didn’t open to the public until 2006. My husband and his friends were all on Facebook, however, and they enjoyed reconnecting with old friends.
He began spending all of his down time on Facebook. At least, that’s how it seemed. It’s not like I didn’t seek refuge online, either. I spent hours writing on Xanga and interacting with old friends there. I just didn’t talk about what was going on in my personal life.
It was different for him, I think. He began venting to some of his friends about our problems, based on some snarky comments a few of his friends made to me.
And then, the new lies began pouring in.
We shared his cell phone in those days back when mobile phones were still something of a luxury and hardly smart. He started getting text messages and voicemails from an ex-girlfriend, his high school sweetheart.
For me, the messages were evidence that he was already having an affair. They weren’t explicit or even racy, but they were… personal. Too personal.
When I asked him what they meant, he tried to play it off as no big deal. That they were just friends. My gut told me not to believe him, but I also knew that most people would call me a bad wife. If I couldn’t even give him sex, then surely, I deserved it.
At least, that’s how I rationalized it at the time.
My husband was cheating on me, we’d never successfully had penetrative intercourse, and I was no longer attracted to him. I felt like I was stuck in a loveless marriage for the rest of my life. Like we were just roommates, and I couldn’t get out, all because I believed that divorce was “wrong.”
The funny thing about it is that part of me was relieved when my husband left me. We were married for two and a half years and despite a handful of pleasant or happy memories, it wasn’t what either of us wanted in a marriage.
In a lot of ways, he did us both a favor by leaving. He got to be the bad guy, so I didn’t have to feel like such a jerk for getting divorced. But he also crapped all over everything by having an affair, lying about it, and then dumping me in such a ridiculous way.
To me, a paper plate message stuck in the mailbox was just about the worst way he could have ended things. It was done so hastily and without care that I wound up taking the end of our marriage much harder than I likely would have done if we had simply talked things out.
Despite falling out of love with the guy so quickly after our wedding, the way he ended things left me with a broken heart. I spent years feeling as if my identity was rooted in rejection. And years feeling like a loser for getting divorced at twenty-three.
For a long time, I felt as if there was something inherently flawed in me. I believed that I was this pitiful person just because a man left me, as if my only value lied in being loved.
I carried that baggage into my subsequent relationships. That’s probably one of the worst things about the way affairs eat away at your psyche. I felt as if my status as an abandoned woman was all I’d ever be.
It took a long time for me to understand that having my husband leave me didn’t have to be the end of my world. And I have to admit that the healing pretty much snuck up on me over these past seventeen years.
I used to wake up in tears every morning as soon as I remembered that my husband left me for his high school sweetheart. It didn’t matter that I wanted out of the marriage myself. The way he left hurt me so much that I used to think that sort of pain would never stop hurting.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be wrong.