In 1995, after seven years of dating, I married my high school sweetheart. I was 22. As teenagers, we quickly assimilated into each other’s lives, into each other’s families, and became intertwined in every way imaginable. At our wedding, my younger brother toasted us, humorously and accurately I might add, recalling how one minute he had met my “boyfriend” and the next couldn’t wait for me to stop talking about him. I never did.
While listening to that toast, little did I know that 16 years later I would get down on my knees, distraught, and beg my cheating husband to stay. He left anyway, making his new home in Asia 8,000 miles away from our three children, then 11, 10, and six.
For years, I had supported him. Not financially – that was his role – but in every other way possible, often to my detriment particularly as it pertained to a potentially lucrative career which I put on hold to become a stay-at-home wife and mother. As part of that role, I mistakenly placed my husband on a pedestal, even during those times when we weren’t getting along. To the outside world, as well as my inner circle, he could do no wrong. Early on, I believed he couldn’t.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I had to explain to a slew of shocked and surprised people that we were not the happily married couple everyone thought us to be and, instead, a statistic. We were no different and no better than anyone else.
We did like so many divorcing couples do – we argued. Looking back, it was much more than that. We spewed venom, tapping into each other’s weaknesses and insecurities, preying on them. We wanted to hurt one another in the worst way possible and did.
While it was happening, I would often wonder how we could get to this point so quickly, but the truth is, we didn’t. Our disdain for one another had been escalating for years. As difficult as it is for some to fathom, today we are amicable. I am, on the other hand, not the least bit surprised.
For nearly a quarter of a century, my now ex-husband and I shared our lives with one another. He was the center of my universe. And, as I have come to realize over the past five years since we first separated, old habits die hard, even after the infidelity which preceded our divorce.
As is my nature, I am genuinely happy to see others do well, my ex-husband included. I continue to give him credit when credit is due him, and even sometimes when it is not, if not for any reason except to show our children that, although flawed (who isn’t?), their father still deserves their love and respect. I continue to be proud of his accomplishments, even the new ones. I still sing his accolades, so much so that a guy I was dating agreed with me that he would probably like my ex. Knowing both of them, I believe it to be true.
During our 24 years together, my ex and I created many memories – as a couple and later as parents. Those memories are ingrained in me and make me the person I am today, which means I cannot erase them from my consciousness no matter how hard I try. In fact, I don’t want to and often find myself speaking about my past life in the context of my current one, especially with men that I date. And it is with good reason.
Conventional dating wisdom tells us that we shouldn’t talk about our exes when out on dates, particularly early dates. After five years of dating, I cannot disagree more. I talk about my past marriage freely and refuse to censor myself. I am happy when the person I am dating doesn’t either, regardless of whether his words are positive, negative, or indifferent. I want to hear what he has to say and how he says it because his words tell me more about him than anyone else.
We all know that couple who harbors such ill will for one another after their divorce that they cannot so much as utter their former spouse’s name. Or if they can, they follow with some insult or epithet, one, mind you, which leaves their ex-husband or ex-wife unscathed. If my date speaks in this manner, I immediately count myself out because it means he has not yet moved on and remains rooted in his past.
From time to time, a man I am dating will express concern that perhaps I am not over my ex or the reality that my marriage has ended because of the frequency with which I reference and reminisce about my past. Such a scenario could not be further from the truth, and I would not want my husband back should he ask, which, by the way, he is not. Besides, my ex will be the first one to tell anyone that I left him emotionally long before he ever left me. After much introspection, today I recognize the truth in his words.
For me, moving on doesn’t mean forgetting. It means coming to terms with and embracing the time we shared – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and, more importantly, how I contextualize that time when looking toward a future with someone new. These days, I regularly check in with myself: Have I recognized and learned from my mistakes? Have I matured? Have I changed? Am I conscious of how I will do things differently the next time around?
We each have a history that we can never erase no matter how hard we try. During the early months after my separation, I tried and failed. Miserably. How could I not? The life I built with my husband, as well as the dismantling of that life, has shaped me into the person I am today. To deny it would mean denying my current views on marriage and relationships, subjects about which I have thought long and hard. The man who will eventually love me, and who I will love, will take me as I am with my memories of the good, the bad, and the ugly, all the while knowing the future belongs to us.