Sometimes I get people telling me their life stories.
This particular time, Charlie* (not his real name) confided in me about his impending divorce. His wife had cheated on him and he was struggling with his grief. He had so much rage and yet, also carried a decent amount of guilt.
We talked for abit, and then he finally asked me a question I could tell he’d been wanting to for awhile – he was just afraid of offending me.
“Why did you ask your ex-husband to date other people? Did you yourself want to cheat on him and get a free pass?”
I asked him why he asked me this question. Was he merely curious or was he looking for comfort in my answer?
He pondered for a bit and to encourage him to find his own truth, I gave him mine.
I told him this –
“I don’t think there is solely one reason why I did that. Did I want to cheat on him? I didn’t want to. But I was feeling very unloved and unappreciated, as I’m sure he felt too. And that desire to be loved and seen was so big and demanding. I kept craving to be loved by my husband and he probably felt like he was already trying very hard to as well. Our love for each other was just not right? Or maybe, not enough? But I remember thinking that no matter the outcome of that experiment, at least we wouldn’t be stuck in limbo anymore. If anything, I just wanted an outcome to occur. Whether we stayed together or split apart, I knew deep down that I could handle whatever the outcome and be happy with it. But what I couldn’t stand was the limbo – the feeling of uncertainty and not knowing. Not knowing why we got married in the first place. Not knowing how my ex husband could love me if he never bothered to really know and understand me in the first place. Not understanding why, if he didn’t love me, did he ask me to marry him? Was I just a toy to him? Was I just a trophy he could collect and dispose of when he got sick of it? In the same way, why did I say yes to marrying him if I didn’t want to be a military wife? Why did I think I loved him if I hadn’t really felt we had anything in common? How could I have said I loved him if I kept trying to change him? Did I really love him, or did I just love his attention and affection? I treated our marriage with disrespect and I made it an open one, even though I knew he wasn’t keen to. I did what I did – out of anger and a lot of hurt. And I regret it terribly for sure. Someone once told me, that when you follow a broken compass, you’re going to feel lost even if you’re on the right track. So even though we were bound to separate, I don’t think we were actively and consciously heading towards that direction. But I don’t regret the outcome. Because at least now, the both of us are free from a marriage neither of us really wanted to be in anyway. 2 years on and we’re both happier with other people.”
My companion looked at me with so much intensity I thought he was pissed off with me. Then he said,
“You know. 2 months before Laura and I got married, I met this lady. And she left such a deep impression on me that I never forgot her. We got to know each other through a work project and for the few weeks we worked together, I felt attraction towards her like I had never felt for my wife. Nothing happened of course. But I would masturbate to her. I asked her out for drinks on the pretense of talking about work. I even secretly kept a drink coaster she once used. I sound crazy I know, but she was so intriguing and I felt like I was in love. Yet, it never ever dawned on me to not get married with Laura just because of this. The marriage was something I felt obligated to do. I loved Laura. I still do. I knew I loved her. But I was just so curious about my emotions for this other lady. Of course, after I got married, I tried to forget her but I just couldn’t. I even asked my wife to dress a little more like her. Laura isn’t stupid of course. She grilled me about this. And I guess, I was always lying to myself. I don’t really know why I married Laura. I loved her but. Did I want to marry her? I really don’t know. After we got married, I kept trying to love Laura the way I promised to. But I didn’t feel sexually attracted to her anymore. I couldn’t bring myself to pretend as well. So I just kept doing other things to please her – make her breakfast, buy her gifts, offer to do things for her. But I think she could feel I didn’t love her the same way anymore. But what could I have done? I didn’t even understand what I was feeling, how was I to explain it to her?”
I told him that I understood. And that I fight with myself all the time. I’m caught between feeling guilty for all the mistakes I made in my marriage and angry that my partner just gave up on us. But I also told Charlie “You can’t keep score on who did more right and who did more wrong. There isn’t a point system to measure who was more at fault. All you can do, is attempt to understand why you did what you did, so that you can find the root cause of your actions, which clearly confuses you.”
“Yeah. I just don’t understand why I was so infatuated with her (the other lady) and I don’t understand how, overnight, my love for Laura could just fade away like that. I knew I no longer feared losing her when I imagined her in another man’s arms. I used to know that Laura was the one for me because I couldn’t imagine life without her. So, it really scared me when I COULD imagine life without her….and even wanted it? I actually felt relieved when Laura told me she had cheated on me. I felt angry of course but I could also sense that it was just my ego that was bruised. There was that part of me that felt excited at the thought that I could now consider a possibility to not be with Laura. ”
I could see the fight within him. On one hand, he felt so much guilt towards Laura and on another, I sensed that there was a part of him he didn’t quite understand and yet, wanted to explore.
I think the complexities of being in relationships is such that we were never taught what to do in them. In school, we’re literally given examinations and tests to show us where we’re headed – whether we understand what we’re learning or if we need more help to. At work, there are feedback loops within teams to show us how we’re doing.
But in relationships, whether be it within a family or a couple, how we’re doing and how we’re feeling can only be understand through open communication. And this communication has to be made openly between all parties. It can’t just be one person talking and the others being uninterested and nonchalant. It also can’t be one obnoxious person insisting on their way the whole time and expecting the others to just go along.
But what’s the basis of open communication?
I’d like to think that it’s empathy. And the knowledge that everyone deserves to be heard. Everyone’s feelings are valid.
Relationships really are very tough to navigate. But we keep trying anyway, don’t we?
Every chance we get, if we stop and reflect, if we pause and understand where our actions stem from….I think we will see them start aligning more and more with how we feel. And then we won’t be so ashamed of ourselves anymore because there will be less regrets and more conscious living.
It is when we react unconsciously that I think leads to us being controlled by our emotions, instead of the other way around.
Either way, Charlie is now on his way to discovering himself a little more. His divorce changed his life. He finally took up boxing – something he has always wanted to do. He sold his car and got a motorbike – something he never dared to do because Laura didn’t like the idea. He even started yoga – because he wanted to do something out of his comfort zone.
I don’t think anyone can tell Charlie he isn’t living a better life now 🙂 This is the beginning of the next chapter in his life and I’m glad he managed to close a big and necessary one – in order to learn certain valuable lessons.