In the months after D-day, I started to realise that what I was feeling was more than just “a bit upset,” or, “having a bit of a sad moment.” I was grief stricken. And it took me a little while to process why. Fully.
I had been very young, but very deliberate and communicative about the start of our relationship. I told Roger, when he invited me to move in with him – as the lease on my flat was up, it was late summer, my “summer” job had been offered to me on a permanent contract, and I had decided to take some time out from trying to find what it was I wanted to do at university (I had already tried two different unis and three different degrees, two were conjoint) – that I wasn’t the kind of person to just take the easy way out, to just move in with a guy I had only known for a few weeks, for fun. Living with a man was something I only wanted to do once, and do it with both of us fully committed. I think I knew I never wanted to marry, and that this was my version of what so many people do in getting married. So, I discussed it in a fairly serious way with him. He said he wanted me to be with him forever. So. We did it. I moved in. I was “hitched.”
See, I always knew that happy relationships are one of the keys to longevity and contentment. I was absolutely sure he was the right guy for me. Since that day, we had always planned and discussed how our lives would be, and how lucky we were to have found someone who “got” the other. We were really in love. And we stayed that way for twenty years. I stayed that way for even longer. I knew that I wanted to grow old, to watch him change, mature, age, etc. I wasn’t scared we would find each other unattractive as the wrinkles pressed themselves into our skin, the grey hairs sprouted (everywhere!) and the bodies started to sag. I wasn’t worried he would find someone else. He was not about appearances, our bond went far, far deeper. I KNEW we were one of the lucky couples.
This morning, I read an article entitled, “Single Again.” About death of a partner later in life. And how soul-destroying it can be. It was a piece on social networks as life savers to the elderly on widowhood. The first widower interviewed spoke of how he met his wife – a little later than many of the era at 37 – and proposed to her after meeting her only two or three times. They went onto share a wonderful marriage that lasted until her death 13 years ago, after 34 years of very happy marriage. “It was heartbreaking. It was hard. I’ve got no advice on how you cope. It’s your own fault for being happily married.”
Friends matter. Studies have shown that a life spent among friends is more important than losing weight, exercise, or giving up smoking. The loss of a partner can disrupt social networks that couples have created together over a long period of time. “If you have some sort of damage to your social network, then you have higher rates of isolation and loneliness; if you have higher rates of isolation and loneliness, you are more likely to experience low mood; low mood has a strong correlation with depression; and depression has a high correlation with morbidity and mortality.” Men tend to have less complex social networks than women, and their tolerance to loneliness is higher, whereas women require more extensive and established social networks.
Reading all of that was no surprise to me whatsoever. I am not the most social animal on the planet, but I had a sure and select group of friends, whom I spent a great deal of time with, caring for them, loving them as my “family” that, due to the nature of small towns, white, middle class coupledom and parenthood, had a strong correlation with Roger. I instigated some of the friendships, he some of the others.
After D-day, I drew on the select few within the select few, that I felt would be most supportive and understanding of my utter desolation at losing the primary relationship I had left in life. My bloody fab mother had tragically died almost ten years earlier, and I had pretty ordinary relationships with my other family members. A depressive, absent father, an alcoholic, absent brother, and another this-time-physically-absent brother who lived far away. I didn’t tell any of them. I did eventually email my sister, who had recently divorced in very painful circumstances (no cheating that I know of) and told her. She lives quarter of a planet away, and has done since I was ten years old. She was comforting, but distant (as usual.) So, I had adopted Roger’s family as my own. I was close to his sister and his mother. But two years prior to D-day, he had made business decisions that tore us apart from them, the sister raged, spat and spewed lies about us all over town. In his betrayal of me, he had ripped me away from the only support systems I knew. And none of my friends really got it. He had been naughty, he was sorry, he won’t do it again, end of story, get over it love.
I felt desperate and suicidal. I attempted twice. You see, I had never seen myself as needy. I was independent, I ran committees, businesses, charities, kids, a partner…… but I had always envisaged loyalty and love from the man I loved truly, madly, deeply, and to whom I gave all my love and loyalty. We often talked of how cool it was going to be when the kids were all launched, and we would be back to us, the older, but still avid lovers who shared so much, talked, laughed, made gorgeous and passionate love…..
We nearly got there. The first was about to launch, I could see the travel destinations, the food, the wine, the fun, the quiet times just holding each other, knowing that this time a child wouldn’t knock on the door, or squeeze their body between ours. We had worked our arses off for this. But he stole that away from us. My grief is at the loss of my worldview, I am deeply suspicious of even “friends” now, I don’t see the best in every situation, or every person. I am watchful, ready to run, to protect myself.
I had a night with an old friend, her twice divorced sister, and the sister’s divorced-and-happily-remarried-to-her-AP (brief, she left her husband and a marriage they had both decided was over five years earlier, but hadn’t separated, a week after meeting this guy)-for-thirteen-years friend. The conversation, after several wines (I was not keeping pace with them, I am a quiet sipper these days, keeping my guard up) turned to relationships, as “girly” nights can. The friend, J and the sister, C (who is closer to me than any of my own biological family) talked about sex, and relationships, etc. I was very quiet. I had nothing to say, and I was not thrilled to discover yet another cheater in the midst. After about two hours of chit chat about “girls’ shit,” I quietly spoke up. “Why, after being married to your first husband, whom you knew you didn’t love, whom you saw as needy an weak, whom you had discussed that your marriage was over with, didn’t you leave him? Was it economics?” She looked at me, kindly, (not knowing my own history) and said, “yes, I think so, that, apathy and lethargy. I just couldn’t get my life sorted on my own, so I lazily stayed. Until I met H, and I knew straight away that I had to leave. I left the week after I met him. I should have gone years earlier.” She has a very workable relationship with her ex and his wife. They have co-parented their three now adult children well.
I know this post isn’t saying what I sat down to write. I was trying to elucidate that I had this future of happiness, warmth, fun, connection, and love taken from me. I might have even had my other social networks, and important friendships severely disrupted, at the expense of my health. Roger talked with me this morning about some stuff, and I spoke quietly with him about this, the long, loving relationship that was important to me. He apologised again, and later quietly said that he had also robbed himself of that “dream” that he saw us as a pair of happy old coots always – and it hurts him every day that he can’t right it. That the eco-bach and the veggie garden, the chooks pecking away, the trips off to intrepid destinations, those things are gone, and he understands and is so very sorry. I told him that the girls had had a bit of a chat. And that I can never explain this to anyone, because they think it is about me just not getting over his little mistake. He changed my whole view of who I was, who WE were. He took my agency over my own life, not just by fucking a whore, but by discounting me, by leaving me out of big life decisions he cut me off at the knees. Everything I worked for was wiped out in one fell swoop, by the person in the privileged position, him. He has recently admitted that maybe he wouldn’t have been so dismissive of me being more involved if we had been legally married. He says he never thought of it that way, that he just believed that what he wanted, I wanted too, and he saw it as him acting as my advocate. He had to fight hard to get things done, family committees are bloody slow-moving! His focus was narrow, he had his eyes on the prize, and my feelings and empowerment was only in his peripheral vision really. He had always been adamant that not being married had no effect. But the more he has analysed it, the more he can see that all the negotiations he had over buying property off family, sorting our Family Trust issues, all of that stuff, he did very nearly alone, and I was screaming at him to think of me, to include me, begging him to name me on more land titles, to have me more present at legal meetings – but his parents also discounted me. And all because I never wanted a stupid piece of paper. A marriage certificate is legitimacy to those in positions of power. I hadn’t calculated about family businesses and power politics when I refused to marry him. I just wanted to be with the man I loved because we chose to be together. Not because we were legally bound to be. I underestimated things really badly. All because I didn’t want to have to do what everyone else was doing. I didn’t want to have to have the stupid white dress and be someone else’s legal “property.”
What a naive little girl I was.