Married but Unmarried

I recently dated a guy who shared with me his concerns about my readiness to be in a relationship (and ultimately broke up with me because of that). I respected his feelings but also did not agree with his perception of me. I know, for many, it takes time – sometimes a very long time – before you are ready to re-enter the dating scene following the breakup of a long marriage. However, for me, my marriage had ended long before I asked my ex for a divorce. There was an exhaustive and lengthy process that I went through – while I was married – to prepare myself to be unmarried. When my ex ultimately moved out of our home, I remarked to friends how little had changed except that I had the whole bed to myself.

The loneliness of being in a marriage when you are no longer really connected is profound. And, when the time comes that you finally formalize the dissipation of the relationship, it actually comes as a relief. There is a liberation that comes from acknowledging the status of your situation and taking the appropriate action to move forward. I appreciate that this process, and the overall process of separating your lives, evolves differently for different people. For me, I struggled with the acceptance of what was happening in my marriage but when it came time to confront it and begin the process of untangling the mess of our relationship, I did what I always do – I tackled it head on. Of course, I was doing this in a vacuum. While I tried to share my concerns about the fate of our relationship, my ex was not emotionally capable – nor willing – to discuss my worries. His position was so resolutely focused on staying together that there was no space to entertain how we might need to prepare ourselves to move apart.

Ironically, while I have had several short-term dating partners since our marriage ended, my ex entered into a serious relationship with another woman shortly after we split and now lives with her. Perhaps, despite his unwillingness to address the growing distance between us, he was emotionally separating as well, making him ripe for a new relationship quickly after our separation. Or, perhaps, he just needed to be with someone to cushion the blow of our demise. For me, as much as my therapy was focused on coming to the decision to end my marriage, it was equally focused on understanding what I wanted and needed in a partner going forward. I literally have a list written out that I refer back to regularly when entertaining the idea of dating someone. What my gentleman friend did not know about me – and never had the opportunity to find out about me – is that I became a single person about two years before we officially separated. I began dismantling our finances, making sure I could handle all the household expenses independently. I began mapping out plans for myself to envision what my life would be like as a single parent, living alone. I put a great deal of time and effort into manifesting the partner I hoped to have so that when he came along I would be able to identify him. I was doing that work that most focus on once they have formalized their breakup. What I wanted to avoid was precisely what my date has suggested about me – that I would dive into a new relationship before I was really ready. I didn’t want to use a relationship as a way to heal my wounds but, rather, I wanted to want to be in a relationship with someone new when that opportunity presented itself.

The most significant part of the process of uncoupling for me was the grieving. As it became apparent to me that my marriage was going to end, I began mourning the loss. So, by the time I actually separated, I felt emotionally unmoved. The sadness and tears happened while we were together. I often escaped into my closet and sat on the floor and cried. Far too often, my best friend sat on the other end of the phone while I sobbed to the point that I could not breathe. I was diligent about hiding this from my children and I realized quickly that I was meant to endure this alone because my ex was unwilling to participate. He was demonstrating to me that he was no longer capable of being a partner, which was important for me to recognize so I could detach, but it cut me to my core. I observed that his words and actions were not matching up because he continued to tell me how much he loved me and how he wanted us to work through our difficulties. But, he never had any suggestions for how we might do that and continually insisted that we could, often accusing me of being an unwilling participant. His perception, as he shared it with me, was that I was not willing to put in the work and not willing to focus on his needs. Maybe, on some level, he was right. Maybe the evidence he showed me in his actions switched a lever in my head and I shut down. Nonetheless, I grieved. And it was painful. And it was lonely. But I did it.

Despite my disappointment in my ex, I never stopped loving him. He was such an essential part of my life for such a significant portion of my life. He was the father of my precious children. Over time, though, I started loving him like he was one of my children. I wanted to protect him and make everything ok for him. But I had long since fallen out of love with him. The realization that I was no longer in love – something that took a great deal of soul searching to accept – was an important part of the dismantling process for me. My feelings about him confused me because, while I did get angry with him like all spouses do, I never felt that deep level of resentment and dislike that I expected would be part of my experience when deciding to get divorced. I simply started seeing him as a child rather than a husband. And, needless to say, that was not a sustainable situation. During my therapy, as I was trying to figure out for myself what I wanted, I realized how much I missed being in love. I was hungering for a real partner with whom I could share that kind of love. When the man I was dating questioned my readiness, I realized that he was unable to see how real my appetite was and he looked only at the surface, seeing a woman who was in the midst of a divorce. For many men, that can be overwhelming and it comes with a lot of assumptions about the amount of baggage associated with it. Unfortunately, he never got to see that I had checked those bags and was flying light and easy. As my therapist told me week after week, I was so ready to start over.

I suppose it is hard for someone to open up their heart to someone else they believe is not ready to be open-hearted. A person coming out of a marriage generally has some work to do. They need to find themselves and discover who they are as a single person. What foods do they like to eat, what entertainment do they enjoy, what defines happiness to them? What does it mean to no longer be part of a unit? I appreciate the amount of effort that needs to go into that reclamation of your life. But I did all that – while I was married. I was married but not married for years. My ex and I had, for the most part, been living separate lives. While we operated as a family unit with the kids and sometimes socialized as a couple, I was traveling and spending time with my friends, doing the things I wanted to do and learning how to be my own person. Long before he moved out, our home reflected my tastes, I owned my choices and I was basically the sole financial provider for the family. Being separated was not a huge adjustment and I welcomed the freedom to live more authentically.

It frustrated and saddened me that the guy couldn’t appreciate that my story was different from his. And, I lamented this. It made me feel less worthy of what I so desperately wanted. It left me feeling confused because I knew that I had been coming at this new relationship with an open heart. And, it was a very valuable lesson in navigating life post divorce. Everyone evolves in their own way and on their own timeline. I appreciated that he had probably had a very different experience than me and had probably, in the many years since his own divorce, engaged with women who truly were not ready. Like all of us, he was protecting himself from the unknown land mines that are invariably buried within someone dating later in life. And, for me, I assumed, with all the years of being single, that he had done his work and figured himself out. Perhaps his timeline was different as well.

What I know to be true today is that I am unmarried and am ready to begin the next chapter of my life. And I am excited to see what is in store for me.

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