On Monday, I was talking to a woman I volunteer with who is getting divorced in a few days. Let’s call her Kate. I always say that emotions are not a contest, but man, she sure got dealt a shitty hand. After 34 years of marriage and raising three children together, Kate’s husband served her divorce papers, completely out of the blue. He then moved out of their house and in with his girlfriend, who is the same age as his daughter! Ewww. Anyway, I forget how it came up, but over the course of our conversation, she lightly referenced my marriage as a mistake. I quickly corrected her and said I don’t feel that way, even if I did go through a lot of rejection and hurt.
But all week, I kept thinking about this idea of a marriage that ended in divorce could be a mistake. This wasn’t the first time I heard this either. The asshole therapist who Max and I saw together called our marriage a mistake over the summer and I never went back to him. Does a marriage that “failed” automatically get labeled a mistake? Does Kate, after 34 years, three children, and two grandchildren, think of her union as a mistake?
During happy hour on Friday, I brought up the subject with my friend Jen. She is younger than me and single, but she gives me some interesting insight into moving on post-divorce because her parents are divorced and both have been happily remarried for a long time. I told Jen about Kate’s comment, and how it keeps lingering in my mind.
On one hand, you could easily say we were foolish to even move in together, much less get engaged and then marry, with the intimacy problems we had. I’m usually an extremely practical and logical person. As I sipped my glass of Chianti, I admitted to Jen that I don’t know why I kept thinking/wishing that the next relationship milestone would finally be the catalyst to fix our intimacy problems. I suppose that was where the logic stopped and the naive optimism took over.
But on the other hand, I married a good man. He loved (and I think still loves) me with all of his heart. He was good to my family and friends. He was fiercely loyal and would have done anything for me.
Then Jen asked me a good question: “Knowing what you know now, would you have married Max?”
This really gave me pause. I thought about the past seven years of rejection. Confusion. Loneliness and longing. I know that no relationship is perfect, but I also know now that the weight of all those tears is not part of a normal, functional relationship. I also thought about how I’m 33 and now single, so I might never get to have a baby.
I looked at Jen, and then I looked down at the floor. I replied, “With the benefit of hindsight, no, I would not have married him. And that makes me feel like complete shit.”
Jen answered, “But you didn’t know at the time how things would devolve. You made the decision based on the love that you felt. So how could it be a mistake to marry someone you loved?”
And that’s what I’m going with. I will never call my marriage a mistake because the decision was made with love in our hearts. Max and I had plenty of good experiences together that I wouldn’t trade for anything. And even the bad stuff helps me know myself better and what I will never, ever tolerate again.
How do you think about your past relationships? Do you consider any a mistake?