photo: loyal nana

photo: loyal nana

“I want a divorce,” my husband said as he got up from the grass. I had just tried to apologize for my recent coldness but he wasn’t interested—there was no room for discussion and he let me know by walking away, leaving me at the park, alone.

For years I, too, wanted a divorce but never had the courage to ask for one. The cowardice turned me into someone I couldn’t recognize and it set off a long battle with self-loathing and depression. So at that moment when the table was turned, while it was hard to face the feeling of rejection, I knew his declaration was a gift. To get myself back, I had to let him go. Again.

He had just returned from almost a year of living in California—for work (he’s a director)—but our lives had been separated for much longer. We’d been having problems for a few years at this point and right before he left, we’d been working with a new marriage counselor. I knew it would be impossible to maintain our sessions and even though taking this job was a necessity, I knew he was running away. He always ran away. It’s hard to fight for something you know is wrong, but it’s even harder to let it go.

During this year he’d come back only a handful of times, each one resulting in a fight that usually ended with him sleeping in the spare room. For our summer vacation, I chose to spend two weeks in Europe with friends rather than with him, in his VW van—his production home away from home, which he bought after promising me he wouldn’t. We had different ideas on how we wanted to spend our free time—and none of it included being together.

For a long time I’d told myself, and everyone else, it was independence, that I loved being alone, not talking to anyone for days—and I did. But I eventually started to feel lonely and isolated, especially when we were together. So what was the point of staying married? Fear of failure.

We met, fell in love and married quickly, a few weeks after the death of my father. I am pretty sure family and friends were skeptical, maybe even horrified, but under the circumstances, all they could do was support me. Marriage had never seemed appealing to me until I was in a bad place; now it seemed hopeful. That hope didn’t last long—in the morning we married at City Hall, by evening we’d had our first fight as husband and wife. The cause of the fight made me ashamed of my decision to marry him, but my ego kept me there. I needed to prove to myself (and everyone else) that I made good choices. We stayed married for almost 7 years.

When I got back home from the park something in our relationship had already shifted. We were suddenly nice to each other, loving, if you will. We hugged, cried, and then we went about our day as if nothing had happened. There were details we needed to work out, but I think we were both just relieved that we had arrived at this place, finally. He stayed in the apartment for a few weeks, eventually finding a sublet. We saw each other more than we had in the recent past, got along better, and we even went Upstate to our house and had fun together. It was the ideal break up, but it wasn’t clean.

photo: loyal nana

photo: loyal nana

A few months later he was leaving again, this time to Asia. We kept in touch, though I started to sense his distance—he was responding with less frequency, fewer words, less emotion. Turns out he started sleeping with someone in another state a few weeks before he left and when he came back to the US he went straight to her. That should have been the turning point for me, but a few days later he came back to New York and I let him stay with me, in my bed. We had sex. Obviously, a terrible idea.

By this point I’d lost 15lbs, was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and drinking more than usual, which is to say, a lot. We did this dance—him back and forth from me to her—for a few months until my therapist suggested we not speak to each other for the next three. A true separation, one we had never formalized in the past.

At first, it felt like a betrayal, that my therapist was on his side and it was as difficult as you could imagine. But as time went on, I found clarity in that lonely space without him. I distanced myself from his family and most of his friends. I lived my life not as a married woman whose husband was traveling, or one who was trying to save her marriage, but as a single one. And when I stopped trying to save my marriage, I truly started to heal. I was kinder to myself and more forgiving of myself. I understood that I had nothing to prove to anyone, and that a failed marriage does not mean a failed life.

About a year after my husband told me that he wanted a divorce, I got to tell him that I wanted one, too. I was never more sure of a decision and it felt so freeing. The process was fairly simple because we had no children and got a prenup (thank you to my best friend who made this happen in 24 hours). Though it was a painful process from start to finish, marriage to divorce, I wouldn't be where I am today without it. I walked away with everything I’d ever wanted but never confidently had—self-respect and love.