I Married a Republican and It Was the Biggest Mistake of My Life

Shannon Ashley

Our divorce was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

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This summer, I reached a bittersweet milestone but almost missed it. Seventeen years ago in June, I married my college boyfriend in a small church ceremony in Southern Illinois. It was in no way my “dream wedding,” and nothing about it really felt like me. But for a young and naive Christian girl who wanted to have sex and believed that marriage was the goal of her life, I figured that I didn’t need my dream wedding. Or even a wedding I wanted.

Instead, I had this blue and white, appallingly conventional and very conservative church wedding that everybody else seemed to think was appropriate. All because I thought marriage was the dream. Surely, it was enough to marry my college boyfriend a couple of months before I turned 21.

Reality hit swiftly. It wasn’t enough. He took me on a honeymoon to a place where I truly did not want to be. I was disappointed when he shut down my road trip suggestions and as far as honeymoons go, ours sucked. I tried to pretend to be happy about holing up in “Holiday World” while he tried to pretend that he wasn’t irritated when we couldn’t even attempt sex without my yelping in pain.

We returned “home” to his mom’s house to wait until a new college semester began and we could live in family housing. We should have been building a life together. We should have been enjoying ourselves and working through my sexual dysfunction together too.

Instead, we were still getting to know each other and ourselves. Our sex life was not working out and he left that all on my shoulders. We started fighting. Before too long, I felt like we were just roommates and I felt zero attraction to him.

Well, crap. I felt like I’d ruined my life before it really began.

We both sank into pretty deep depressions. His involved a lot of lying and hiding new habits like smoking and messaging an old flame. Mine involved Jimmy John’s, Krispy Kreme, and plenty of isolation. And dirty One Tree Hill fanfic. One day, as he watched yet another episode of MTV’s Cribs, I realized that I didn’t even like him as much as I once thought I did.

To be fair, I’m sure he thought a lot of the same things about me when I sat around watching Mama’s Family.

I began to gain weight and battle cystic acne. I withdrew even further from all my friends and canceled plans because I didn’t want anyone to see me looking like “a monster,” My PCOS and endometriosis flared up too.

It was a miserable marriage.

Many people say that the first year of marriage is the worst. For some folks that may be true, though “worst” is certainly in the eye of the beholder. What’s worse — the first year of marriage where you realize the person you fell in love with wasn’t who you thought, or the second year where you simply resign yourself to a loveless marriage forever?

In my efforts to “do better,” I spent a few months away from my husband in my hometown 800 miles away to see some specialists about my acne and hormone troubles. While I didn’t have health insurance, my father said he’d help me with the bills and I genuinely believed the problems in my marriage were all my fault.

So, I’d better fix me, I thought.

While I was away in Minnesota, my husband began hanging out with his old high school sweetheart. One thing led to another. Meanwhile, I thought it was strange that he wound up calling me every day as if he really loved me and we weren’t struggling in real life. Despite his affair, he drove me back to our apartment, which was now in shambles — dishes piled up on kitchen counters, and half-packed boxes strewn around the floor for our upcoming move out of campus housing.

As I packed our boxes, I discovered hidden Pepsi bottles filled with my husband’s urine and given my upbringing that said, “God hates divorce,” I simply resigned myself to living a very unhappy life.

I was back in Illinois with him for less than a month and we were moved into our new apartment in Belleville for maybe two weeks when I discovered he was having an affair. It would have made more sense for him to tell me we were over back when I was still in Minnesota, but he drug it out, and I suppose he did it more out of fear than anything else.

Once it happened — once I found the note he scribbled on a paper plate and shoved into our mailbox to tell me he was leaving, I actually thought it was the end of my world. I felt so alone and humiliated. It wasn’t even a quality relationship that deserved much sorrow since I’d already realized I didn’t want to be with him and he’d really just been using me as a scapegoat to avoid his family.

I didn’t need to be so brokenhearted about the whole thing, but I was. I chalk a lot of it up to my very evangelical upbringing which made marriage out to be equally important for everyone. And divorce, ugh. It was always painted with a widely negative brush. Like falling short of God’s plan.

Although my husband kept denying an affair, I had the voice and text messages to suggest otherwise on the cell phone we were sharing. So, I called every televangelist prayer line. I called the pastor who married us and did our premarital counseling. Every Christian said the same thing — that I’d let my husband down and I had no one to blame but myself. As if I’d stuck my husband’s dick into another woman. I’d better get my heart right with Jesus, they said.

Bad wife or not, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I was getting divorced at age 23. My life at that point felt like such a complete and utter failure. For several months after we said goodbye, all I wanted to do was fix things and get back together.

It’s always been tempting to look back on my divorce in one of two ways. Part of me felt that it was all my fault because we never had “real” sex. I was ashamed that I suffered from vaginismus and thought that was enough to kill any relationship. These days, I’m recovered and I recognize that there’s a lot we could have done together to make our sex life great.

There’s another part of me that once felt it was easier to focus on the affair. If I wasn’t such an awful and flawed woman, perhaps my husband wouldn’t have cheated on me. And maybe if she hadn’t pulled a Rory Gilmore, things would have been different too. It’s easy to demonize anyone in an affair. Just like it’s easy to take on all the blame and feel like crap about it.

But the reality, of course, was different. It always is. Over time I realized there were other reasons why we shouldn’t have gotten married and that we never would have been able to be happy together after all.

When I met my husband, we were only 19. I was living on-campus at my new Christian liberal arts college in southwestern Illinois, and he went to community college a couple of hours away. I started school in January 2002 after a yearlong “internship” at Teen Mania Ministries and didn’t know anyone. After spending a year in the pseudo-Christian cult, this Methodist college in a small, dry town felt way too liberal.

I didn’t know back then that my personal beliefs were actually on the liberal side of things. Sure, now I can see there was always an internal struggle with what I’d been taught to believe and how I actually thought. Back then I pretty much just thought I was Satan’s spawn. And I thought other weird things, like that I had to marry a Christian but not too good of a Christian because I would never be good enough for him.

What can I say? Religion can truly screw you up.

Well, my future husband was frequently on my campus to hang out with his guy friends and practice with their punk band. When I first saw him, he was playing his bass on stage at a show and clearly had a female fan club already, but he seemed mostly oblivious to them. At 19, I was very naive about relationships, and I tried to figure out if each new, seemingly nice guy I met might be a potential boyfriend.

I can’t exactly remember how we began chatting over AOL Instant Messenger, but it happened and after a few occasions of mutual flirting with the Christian bass player, I asked him, “Are you gonna ask me out or what?” He did. And things just sort of took off from there.

We had a lot of fun together, but it was all new for me, so it was a novel type of fun. He took me to meet his parents, who lived a couple of hours away from each other and both had new spouses. Each new marriage had resulted in another sibling, for a total of four kids in the whole family. He was the eldest.

Personally, I liked the blended, Brady Bunch vibe before I knew how much resentment was there. My boyfriend told me that his high school sweetheart had told him his mother “was going to go to hell” because she’d been married three times and divorced twice. It was the whole “God hates divorce thing.”

And it was one of those things that really ate at him for a very long time. Her words haunted him. Although he certainly loved his mother, he had a strained relationship with her as well. He definitely resented her for divorcing his father and first stepfather. He also complained that she married her third husband as the result of an affair and that she did more for her other two children as if she loved them more. Since he grew up with a lot of the same evangelical Christianity that I did, I think he was torn over thinking about his mom’s “sins.”

When I look back on our marriage today, I realize it was silly to think we ever could have “made it.” In college, I didn’t just lack self-awareness. I had no understanding of politics or the world around me either. I was raised in a very poor, single mother household and we relied upon welfare. My mom raised me with the expectation that I would have conservative Christian values. I was told to always vote against abortion because it was never right. My mother was (and still is) a single-issue voter. Plenty of other Christian leaders also encouraged me to think I had a duty to support republicans too.

These were the good guys, they said.

My husband — despite playing bass in a punk band that hit the stage with groups like Ghoti Hook, Dead Poetic, and Taking Back Sunday — was a staunch republican. Personally, I didn’t give a hoot about politics back then. I thought it was all pointless. But he ate it all up. It was a point of pride to him that he didn’t think like every other college guy, who he assumed was a democrat by default.

He planned to get his generals done, transfer to a university, and eventually become a history professor. College professors are notoriously liberal, he said. He would be a voice of reason.

For a while, I listened to that voice and thought it was reasonable too. Who do these liberal celebrities think they are, trying to make political statements? What gave them the right to say anything just because they got famous?

My republican husband was an avid reader and latched onto practically every conservative radio talk show book. Shut Up and Sing was a big one when we got married, plus anything from Michael Savage. And then he introduced me to The War Against Boys by Christina Hoff Summers, and (perhaps predictably) a few books by Ayn Rand.

There were definitely ideas that resonated with me, especially with The War on Boys. At the same time, the solutions and reasoning didn’t make sense to me. Men weren’t being oppressed or bullied by feminists, but I could see where they were ridiculed as the (apparently) necessary cost of misogyny and toxic masculinity. Likewise, I couldn’t get behind the pure anger and hatred in so many of these authors' voices.

I thought Michael Savage was one of the worst offenders. So, I questioned my husband. “How can you stand to listen to this man? All he does is scream or spew hate. I can’t hear past his rage when his constant yelling only puts me on edge.”

CONTENT NOTE: Hate Speech Against Gay Men

My husband didn’t understand my issues with such anger from right-wingers. That in itself should have told me that we had drastically different values. There were a lot of different issues in our relationship, but we didn’t grasp the depth of the divide at the time. I always thought that the main thing was how we were both so young and unaware of what it took to have a healthy relationship.

When all was said and done, we were only married for two-and-a-half years, and we spent maybe three months apart while I took care of my health issues in Minnesota.

Even so, it seems strange to think our youth had everything to do with it. Or that our relationship could have gone so poorly when his affair with his high school sweetheart became his second marriage and (as far as I know), they’re still together today. What’s the secret to their lasting marriage? Could it really be sex that kept them together despite being so young and having an affair?

I’ve got my theories, and, to be fair, there were multiple reasons why we didn’t work out. Indeed, I wasn’t a great wife. Yet there’s one glaring issue that I’ve never really talked about.

I married a freaking die-hard republican.

Recent years have helped me to further reflect upon my marriage and realize where it all went wrong. And for me, as horrid as some folks think it sounds, I know I never should have married a republican. When I look back on the arguments between us I see they were always going to happen because I didn’t respect what he wanted out of life (the more I learned what that was). And he couldn’t appreciate what I wanted either.

Back then, I was only just becoming aware of certain injustices in the world, but he was completely unwilling to hear about them. I wasn’t always informed enough to explain why it was so distressing to listen to men like Michael Savage or Bill O’Reilly. I could really only point to their attitudes and hostility to ask, “how could this ever be okay?”

Of course, I know there bipartisan couples who are happily married. Who knows? Maybe if I was a democrat, I might have done things differently too. But over the years, I’ve realized I see plenty of fault in both parties. And sadly, I don’t see folks playing nice anytime soon. That said, with the way things have turned out in America this year, I know I couldn’t stomach a partnership with any lover who goes to bat for Donald Trump or the “news radio” conservatism which actively rallies for confederate statues and against police brutality.

In 2020, I finally understand that I was never going to be okay with who my husband wanted to be. And he was never going to be alright with the woman I was becoming.

I completely overlooked the importance of being on the same page with your spouse about your values and whatever makes a meaningful or worthwhile life. I mean, sure. We can claim ignorance and marry whoever speaks to our heart or hormones but that doesn’t bode too well. Marriage is a partnership, and if two people can’t fundamentally agree upon where they are going, there’s bound to be real problems.

My ex-husband did some really awful things that hurt me way back when, but he was still never the villain of my story. If anything, he was just a passerby.

And yet?

Marrying a republican was the biggest mistake of my life, and let’s be honest — my husband didn’t do so hot by marrying me (a bleeding heart liberal). The reality is that we were very lucky, however. Had we gotten through the whole vaginismus thing, we could have wound up having children together. And when I look around at the state of the world today, I know I’m relieved to have this man in my past.

No, not because he was such an terrible person. (I don’t even know his politics today.) It’s because I don’t want to spend my life arguing with the father of my child about human rights and how to show our kid the real world. There are people in the world who are much better equipped to deal with conservatives. It’s not my forte and I suspect it never will be.

That said, I’m glad I didn’t forget the recent anniversary of my 30-month long marriage. It helped me see my life and priorities in a whole other light.

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Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. I cover real-life issues, like family, parenting, relationships, and spiritual abuse.

Cleveland, TN
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