When I used to tell people I was separated their response would be sympathetic and consoling; now, when I say that I am divorced I might as well be announcing that I like my toast buttered.
Someone who is separated is accorded a sense of loss and hurt, of a life disturbed with uncertainty ahead, an understanding that the upheaval is recent and emotions are still raw. But with divorce, it is assumed that time has done its work and it is a case of “join the club”.
My own broken marriage of 25 years has taken this familiar path. For a year or so I felt the deepest grief. With crystal clarity I could see the marriage from my wife’s perspective. After living with an undiagnosed depressive for so long, my wife simply had enough. When I was diagnosed with clinical depression, a condition that had been present since my boyhood, she simply wished me well with the rigorous treatment that lay ahead. This was now my battle to be fought alone.
At first it was my wife that I missed dearly. My flowers and plaintive letters only strengthened her resolve. “This has to stop,” she demanded in one letter. “It’s over.”
But the overwhelming and lasting pain came with the loss of my family – our three boys – and the knowledge that I would not get a second chance to be the husband and father I had ceased to be in those last few years, a time when my depression plumbed to its deepest, darkest depths.
My remorse, growing self-awareness and greater control over my depression (with therapy and medication) would have no part to play in reprising my role as husband and father.
In those early days of treatment my psychoanalyst insisted that I had to be my first priority.
“You are no good to anyone, your wife, your children, least of all yourself until you regain your strength and confidence,” he stated bluntly.
“Now is not the time to concern yourself with reconciliation, and I can’t tell you if there ever will be a reconciliation, but I can tell you it will not happen until you are strong again.”
This was easier said than done, of course. I was overwhelmed by the knowledge of what I would be missing, the things I would no longer be able to celebrate as a family – the birthdays, the school events, the graduations. The milestones that one might normally take for granted. But I understood what he was saying.
There is nothing nuanced about a failed marriage
Occasionally one will hear of divorced couples that remarry after some years apart. It’s a happy outcome that speaks to an idealistic hope that wrongs can be set right, lessons hard won can be activated and corrosive behaviours of the past can be exorcised. It’s also a reassuring hope that time cannot erase the good in a relationship that is inevitably overshadowed by the heightened emotions and catalogue of hurts that invariably crashes a decaying marriage against the wall of no-return.
The worst of the trauma of divorce is felt by whomever is not the willing party when it is not a mutual decision, or when the mutuality gives way and at the eleventh hour only one of you is determined that the marriage must end.
There is nothing nuanced about a failed marriage. By the time the final act plays to its torrid and bloody conclusion, there is no room for forgiveness, doubt or sentiment. Every fault is magnified a thousand times, slights previously overlooked coalesce into a damning tsunami of recrimination and the patience of the angels gives way to an unbending determination to endure no more.
Marriages end for many reasons but the end usually comes when one of the partners finally decides ‘enough’. By the time that point is reached, the anger, bitterness and possibly even hatred is all-consuming. Tearful entreaties for another chance will fall on closed hearts. Perhaps the angry and unforgiving brick wall is necessary for protagonists to maintain their resolve.
As a married man, it always struck me as odd, not to say insane, when there was rare news of an estranged couple remarrying. How could a couple step back into the fire of a flawed union?
From my new vantage point of being single after 25 years of marriage my perspective on that is much mellowed. Not because it gives me hope in my own situation – my (ex-) wife seems positively energised by her liberation from me – but because I stand in awe of the power of forgiveness, the supremacy of love and the optimism of spirit that such a reconciliation denotes. (For those who come back together as a matter of convenience, without resolution of the original breaking points, they are very likely buying into a resumed hell on earth.)
Resilience after a long period of fragility
There are men capable of swapping one marriage for another, much as one would return a faulty toaster, but even after four years of separation from my wife this is an alien prospect.
On one occasion, some time ago and to my own surprise, I attempted to initiate a romantic relationship, a venture that was politely declined. And recently I did ask someone I met at a dinner party to lunch, with romantic intent, but that invitation was also declined. Fortunately, in neither case did I find this a crushing experience, which speaks well of my resilience after a long period of fragility.
For those who viscerally feel the pangs of divorce there are various strands of emotional hurt but the overwhelming feeling of rejection looms especially large; doubly so in the case of pleas for reconciliation (or for that matter forgiveness) that are flatly denied. So, I’m rather pleased with myself that having dipped my toe in the waters of romantic possibilities I did not lose a leg to a ravenous shark.
Life does go on; maybe not the life you had envisaged for yourself, and maybe with more ebbs and flows than you would like, but a life of new beginnings, fresh prospects and good friends nonetheless.
I live in the country (Macedon, Victoria), a one-hour train trip from Melbourne, surrounded by gum trees, a spectacular array of bird life and occasional visits by a family of kangaroos. I am occupied with writing a novel (admittedly taking longer than expected, but now five chapters in) and a memoir (which is not the act of vanity that might suggest). Meanwhile, I sustain myself materially with a portfolio of freelance work, some of which is professionally fulfilling, much of which is tosh.
In more ways than one I find myself single-minded. And it’s okay.
Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist and commentator. He is a former columnist with BRW and the Australian Financial Review and was a senior writer at The Bulletin magazine. He is a columnist with The New Daily and is on Twitter: @DAngeloFisher