I hadn’t heard anything from Mr Ex.
After he collected his stuff in early February 2013, that was it.
Settlement ensued. The t’s were crossed and the i’s were dotted. All loose ends tied.
And it wasn’t until January 2015 when I next heard a peep from him.
Because he wanted to file for divorce.
Now, by this stage (that’s January 2015), exactly two years had passed since Mr Ex first walked out. I was in a good place. I had landed my dream job as a Junior Primary teacher in a leading school and I was surrounded by a hoard of legends: family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, church family, my tribe of crazies…
I was also on this exciting journey with a God who was continuing to re-reveal Himself everyday; a God who, despite my efforts to be an atheist sometimes, just doesn’t let me go. And I praise Him for that.
“God is hanging onto you. He’s not waiting for you to save yourself and mature into someone who no longer needs Him. He will not let you go, come what may.” -Tullian Tchividjian
So, my life wasn’t exactly lacking. I was happy.
Nelson Mandela said it best; “There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” And that is exactly right.
At this point, I had worked out that my life when married to Mr Ex was normal. Nothing amazing. Nothing extraordinary. We did everyday things. We made practical plans and strove to execute them. We were sensible and careful and, yeah, pretty normal.
Just for the record, now I pursue the abnormal.
I recently went back and revised most of my earlier chapters. Even now, I remember things from early 2013 that I had since forgotten. The brain is funny like that.
One thing I have never specifically addressed in my blog is why I think my marriage ended; a question I’ve asked many times, but most prominently back in 2013. Why did Mr Ex leave? Why did a seemingly perfect match end in disaster? Were there signs? Why did the world’s most loyal husband cheat on me?
The answer is, I don’t know. And I will never really know.
Mr Ex and I have never had a conversation about it. And I can’t say I ever want to. But, for the sake of my blog (and because I know I have a couple of readers who are interested in my opinion on the topic!), I’ll give it a crack…
One thing is for certain: Mr Ex and I were ‘the perfect couple’. We knew we’d be together forever. We were everything to each other. Mutual adoration and respect. I really can’t stress that enough. (I know people reading this would be thinking that we must’ve had cracks to begin with. Fact: We didn’t. We both went into our relationship as a 17-year-old and 19-year-old who whole-heartedly believed and whole-heartedly wanted our relationship to last forever.)
So what went wrong?
- Did we get married too young? PEOPLE CHANGE MASSIVELY IN THEIR 20s!!!! That is my observation, anyway. So there would be nothing like marriage in your early twenties to make life all the more complex and if you grow apart, well, o-oh.
- Is marriage actually quite hard? When I was married, marriage was just ‘normal’ and I didn’t think of it as being ‘hard’ at all. But now that I’m single, I look at marriage and I see just how hard it is! Everyday, you have to be selfless, willing to compromise, and choosing that person again and again. You have to see their flaws and shortcomings and love them anyway. That’s actually not that easy.
- Were we pressured into an early marriage? Because we mixed in a church culture where you didn’t dare live together before marriage, maybe you reach a point where marriage is an unspoken expectation. I’ve seen that to be true. Did we fall into that?
- Were we incompatible? Yes, we are both fairly different people, but there are plenty of successful couples out there who have many differences. Opposites attract. How much common ground does a couple need?
- Did he go off the rails? I certainly wondered if he was losing the plot. That kind of made it easier to deal with. But, worse still, maybe he was totally sane?
- Did he get better sex elsewhere? I’ve included that one because yes, a well-meaning family member once told me, “Oh, Ess, he’s probably getting the most worldly sex from her“. Thanks. That makes me feel great.
- Was it our infertility? I’ve alluded to this in earlier chapters and I certainly thought this was a key reason for a long time.
So, out of those seven possible reasons which were all entertained by various people as highly plausible, the one that I personally referred to a lot in the early days post-separation was our fertility troubles. We were trying for a baby for more than a year. It wasn’t working. And we were literally days away from officially starting the IVF journey.
I have so much heart, love and respect for couples who go through infertility. I feel your pain because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to take a million pregnancy tests on the day your period is due, only to be shattered over and over and over again by the dreaded single pink line: Not pregnant. It sucks. And the more you want it, the more it sucks. Agh, just writing that now, I’m remembering the pangs of sadness and emptiness. It’s fucking shit.
For a long time, I blamed that for our marriage breakdown.
“Mr Ex had always wanted to be a father and he was so devastated by our inability to conceive so he ran off with an older woman to make that problem go away.”
It’s a reasonable statement, but I have no idea how much truth it actually holds.
With hindsight now, my opinion is that that statement would be me over-simplifying things.
I think our infertility shock (I mean, what 24 and 26-year-old couple has trouble starting a family?!) was a catalyst for Mr Ex’s affair. But I don’t think it was the be-all and end-all.
And I don’t blame any of the earlier reasons either. Well, not on their own.
I think the trouble lies much deeper:
I don’t think that physical reasons are responsible for marriage breakdowns. Not wordly sex, whatever the hell that is.
I also don’t think that ‘getting married too young’ or ‘marriage being hard’ or ‘pressured into it by the church’ are good enough excuses, either.
Realistically, all of those things can be overcome by CHOOSING that person everyday, over and over again. Choice. That’s the key. Choosing to love that person and stick by that person daily. None of those reasons on their own are valid for someone having an affair and walking out.
So, perhaps for us it was a culmination of, 1) getting married very young, before either of us had lived out of home or spent time getting to know ourselves (and our hopes, dreams, wishes and goals for the future) as individuals, 2) Mr Ex was on a slippery slope of becoming a very high income earner in a cut-throat legal world which, quite frankly, I now believe is soul destroying, 3) I, Mrs Bell, was an insular, co-dependent spouse who relied 110% on Mr Ex for my own happiness, fulfillment, self-confidence and identity, having very little (if any) idea of who I actually was and what made me happy, and this was all fuelled by, 4) a false church projection that young couples must get married and have babies to be ‘perfect’ as well as our own acceptance of being mass-produced ‘factory Christians’ who do all the right things and don’t do all the wrong things, but have absolutely no concept of the hardcore, exciting, lively Holy Spirit who enters lives and mucks up our notion of perfection.
Perhaps those four elements – and maybe others – were our fatal flaws. And perhaps the infertility diagnosis was our ice berg.
But you know what?
And if you ask me again in 6 months time, I might have a different response.
Mr Ex is also a complicated person. Just like me. Just like everyone.
And I don’t think there’s ever just one easy answer.
Interestingly, it’s not something that people really talk about. Why marriages end.
I’ve always thought it’s tragic how two people who used to mean the world to each other could end up essentially total strangers. It’s tragic. Utterly tragic. Yet it is so common!!!!!
50% of marriages end exactly like that. HOW SAD!!!!!!!! I don’t think divorce angers us enough. I think we have become complacent to how SHOCKING it is!!!
And if you’re a married person reading this, pleeeease go and give your spouse a massive hug right now and tell them ten reasons why you love them. Go and book tickets to a movie this weekend or find a new restaurant to try for dinner.
It really upsets me that society has made divorce so normal. Trust me; IT’S NOT NORMAL!!! And it is stupid for us to pretend like it is. We SHOULD get upset by it!! We should wrestle with it!! It should be on our minds!!
And, you know what, when there are KIDS involved!!!! BOY, don’t even get me started!!! SO sad and painful and hard, I can imagine.
We should be getting angry.
We should be kicking that darkness.
Because only in kicking that darkness, can the light begin to bleed out.
I wish more married couples would talk about divorce. Yep, I’ve had some strange looks when I’ve said that out loud. I wish more people would own their stories. In my experience, it’s actually very therapeutic!
So anyway, as I started off saying, January 2015 is where I’m up to in this whole ‘owning my story’ thing.
January 2015. And Mr Ex had just emailed me, saying that he would like to file for divorce.
He explained to me that I had 3 options: 1) I join him in a joint divorce application, which meant no court appearance and it would all just happen, or 2) He files for divorce and I would then need to go to court so that it could be ‘served’ on me, or finally, 3) I do nothing and it would eventually be ‘served’ on me at home anyway (like, where a court representative rocks up at your front door and hands you divorce papers).
I thought long and hard.
And in the end, I made the choice to go with #1.
Perhaps a controversial decision, because I was filing for joint divorce, which maybe looks like I’m giving up on my marriage. A whole lot of Christians would possibly raise their eyebrows right now. And yes, part of me thought that maybe I should just let him divorce me and then I could be all innocent like, “oh, this all just happened to me!”
But then I thought, NO.
At the end of the day, I have nothing to prove. And no matter what I say or do, I will end up divorced. I could be stubborn about it, but then I’d just be in the traumatic position of either going to court or having a court person at my door. Realistically, our marriage covenant was broken two years earlier when Mr Ex had an affair and walked out. And that’s it.
So, I eventually replied to his email and told him that I would proceed with a joint divorce application.
The next day, I got to school and a child in my class had a random gift for me. The families and children at work had no idea what was happening in my life outside of work. But kids often bring in little offerings for their teacher; flowers from the garden, homemade card, origami hats, crayon drawings. But this was distinctly different.
With one word: Trust.
And that meant SO much to me.
Aldous Huxley, an atheist, famously compared God to the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The Cheshire Cat would appear or disappear at will, and all that was left was its rather arrogant and frustratingly cocky grin. That is all that is left of the out-dated concept of God, presiding over a meaningless cosmos. But I don’t agree.
In the little things, I see God. I see God in a small child who (according to the parent) had the random idea to buy me a present. And went into a gift shop. And made the decision – out of EVERYTHING in that shop – to buy me a mug. With the word ‘trust’. I don’t even think this 5-year-old could articulate what trust even is. But they chose it. Go figure.
I don’t think God appears or disappears at will.
I think we think He does. And I think maybe it may seem like it’s the case.
But He’s there.
He’s always, always there.
Not being able to see God at work in our ordinary, mundane lives is kind of easy. We can miss His presence so easily. But I have a deep, unwavering conviction; if you look for Him, He’s totally there.
That child will never know the impact their present had on me. It’s proof that random acts of kindness go far, far deeper than we ever realise. And can impact a person in ways we’d never imagine.
Indeed, trust I did.