One night, sometime mid-July of 2015, my husband of almost 4 years–high school sweetheart, best friend, and first love– told me that he was unhappy and that he needed real changes if we were to stay together.
The conversation started because of an offhand remark I had made, about how the people who have no problems tend to blow out of proportion the problems they do have, and that we still have to have enough empathy to treat their problems as real. My husband, we’ll call him M., thought that I was implying that WE had no problems, an idea he found utterly offensive , so he decided to tell me right then and there, that our problems were so severe that he didn’t know if we could still make it through.
I was flabbergasted. That was the first time we had ever talked in those terms. I knew our relationship wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t know our problems were so severe as to even consider ending things. It was all new information to me. But, at first, I thought it was a good thing that M. had spoken up; it gave us an opportunity to work on things.
The biggest problem was that, at the time, M. and I were spending the summer in different continents. He was in Belgium, finishing an internship and I was in the states, working crazy hours in my lab. M. had chosen to share his big revelation with me half way through our summer apart, which gave us few opportunities to actually work on things.
At first, our communications were awkward, we cried and we laughed, but we kept talking to each other as much as possible. He was distant, preoccupied with work, and I was worried not sure how to carry on with the uncertainty. I was spending all of my time either in the lab or talking to M. and completely isolated from anything else happening in my life.
M. had made a couple of friends in Belgium, two Italian girls, the tall one he instantly bonded with, and the short awkward one that accompanied them everywhere. M. had a particular weakness for girls whose lives were falling apart, and the tall Italian definitely fit the bill. They bonded over her failing LDR and M.’s issues with our marriage. I kept hearing about how close they were getting, but I tried to keep my jealousy to a minimum. M. had always had friends, he had always had small crushes on pretty girls. I didn’t have a reason to believe this would be any different.
M. would go on and on about their special connection, about how he hadn’t felt this way about anyone in years. They had similar career goals, worked in the same field. She got how very important everything he did was, in ways that I never did.
A couple of months into his internship, M. asked me if he could travel to Porto with both Italians and I said yes. I made sure he knew that I wasn’t particularly thrilled with this, but I also didn’t think it was my role to monitor his friendships. I never believed that vigilance was the right move to keep your partner from falling for someone else. M. was very reassuring during the trip, he called multiple times a day, and it was clear that it wasn’t some big romantic getaway between him and his new friend.
As the summer progressed, and M.’s time to return drew closer, things didn’t get any better. He kept growing more and more distance, and I kept trying as best as I could to encourage him to not give up. I kept hearings his reluctance “I don’t know what I want”, “maybe even the best iteration of our marriage is not good enough”, “I don’t know if we are good for each other”.
Everything felt very sudden to me, things had just escalated very quickly and out of nowhere, but M. said he had felt like that for a long time, maybe half of our marriage. He called me neglectful, accused me of taking him for granted. I felt like I was in a dark period in my life, and M. was not giving me room to be anything less than perfect. Starting grad school had not been particularly good for either of us. I started a year before him, because he has not been accepted into the programs he wanted originally. But I had chosen a program that was less competitive, so that M. had an opportunity to get in to a decent master’s the next year. I tried not to resent him for it, I wasn’t always particularly successful at that.
Close to the end of the summer, I went home to South America for two weeks. Once there, I let my parents in on what was happening. It was the first time I had really talked to anyone about what was going on and the things that M. was saying to me. Their support was incredible and it allowed me to stand up to M. a bit better.
But things in Belgium were coming to a close as well. M.’s Italian friends were leaving for their respective cities for a short while and he was staying in Brussels by himself. At first, I thought he was just upset because of it. But then he talked to me about saying goodbye to his tall Italian friend, and how difficult it was. He talked about an intense and emotional goodbye, and I tried to be understanding. But there is just so much understanding one can do when your husband is upset because the person he had fallen was leaving him for a week.
Those days at home were very difficult, I wanted to talk to M. constantly, but every time the conversation devolved into existential angsts about our relationship. My parent’s encouraged me to limit contact with him. It was a last minute desperate effort, a bit of “Don’t talk to M. and he won’t ask for a divorce”. But M. didn’t take my new silence well. He decided to cancel the cabin trip we had planned for his return to the states. We had booked the trip during one of our long talks about the things we could do to make things better, and cancelling it felt a lot like saying: “I’m giving up, I do not want to try anymore”.
In a moment of inspiration, I decided that I didn’t want to keep waiting for M. to reject me. All I was accomplishing with my pleading was for M. to leave me 20 days later once he saw me in person. So I told him I wanted a separation right away.
I wanted to take some time for each other to figure out what we wanted, and I definitely didn’t want to be in limbo with him. Our conversations had developed into desperate pleading on my part, and constant reminders from M. about the ways in which I had failed him. M. and I had some different ideas of what it meant to be separated. I told him that I just wanted some space, but that it wasn’t permission to sleep with other people. M. said that expecting fidelity from him wouldn’t be a separation at all. I didn’t want to force the issue. I didn’t really know what my choices were. Say no to a separation and let M. keep treating me like crap or say yes to the separation and just deal with the transparent reality that M. wanted to have sex with his tall Italian friend.
At the end, I chose the concrete type of pain. I couldn’t control if M. wanted to be with me, but I could have some space from all of his second guessing. I told him very clearly that if the goal was to be together again, some things would damage our relationship and some would strengthen it, but that I wanted the separation anyway.
We limited contact right away, had a couple of conversations about nothing, tried to not engage. He sounded uncertain sometimes. He said that maybe we hadn’t done the right thing. But mostly things stayed the same. I stopped eating or sleeping well. The crazy fights across time zones had messed with my sleep cycle, and now I was still awake at odd hours but unable to talk to M. I wrote my brother in Hong Kong late at night, about nothing in particular. I learned of his strong opinions regarding Guyana Esequiba.
M. started talking to the tall Italian more and more, and with me less and less. I could see him up at crazy hours logged in on social media. He didn’t think that getting that close with her was a problem or in any way related to our marriage, and I was tired of having that fight. By his own admission, she was his new best friend and I was just a source of angst.
Ostensibly the goal of the separation was still to mend our fences and find a way back to each other, but M. had given up all pretenses of trying. In the last days, as we were getting closer to seeing each other again he would say “working on our marriage is not one of my priorities”.
The last days of the summer were the worst, he was in Brussels enjoying a reprieve from the real world and I was in the states trying to figure out what my life would look like without him.
I had spent my entire adult life, until that moment, being absolutely committed to him. I had put my career, my family, and my friends second and developed this unhealthy dependency on him. It was now time to figure out how to be divorce at 25.
EDIT: This post was significantly shorted from its original version, and edited for clarity in 2017.