A man considers the social pressures that led to a bad marriage and, ultimately, divorce.
The likelihood of a North American marriage ending in divorce is 40-50%. I’m already at the top end of the scale. 1 for 2.
Eighteen years ago, I met a girl, “Emily”. I was twenty-two years-old, she was two years younger than I. She was the General Manager at our college radio station; I was a DJ with long hair and an immature beard. After my shift, I would sit in her office and admire her stories of uphill battles against this little college radio establishment which she felt wanted no part of a woman occupying the station’s top spot. She was strong-willed, intelligent, motivated and attractive. We grew very close.
Eventually, I met her family. The dynamic in that household was everything I had heard families could be: her parents were well into their second decade of a loving marriage, her older brother and younger sister were jovial, warm and welcoming.
While I got along decently with my own family, our tree had a history of ugly divorces, conflict, and a long list of idiosyncrasies. I quickly adopted Emily’s family as one I wished I had grown up with. Despite having two older brothers of my own, her brother and I shared natural connections: music, movies, humor. Her sister had a sense of maturity and lightheartedness which made for effortless conversation. Her parents treated me with love and respect. Before long, I was treated as a son-in-law. I joined them on family vacations to Carribean destinations (at their expense), joined her father on buying trips for the family business, and eventually joined their work force as an insider; she, too, joined the company a short time later.
Throughout this two-year courtship, Emily and I got along well enough, though her strong will—which was so attractive in college—seemed to become combative. She seemed to be in competition with most people she came into contact with; including her own family as well as my closest friends. Still, being so entrenched in—and smitten with—her family and my new lifestyle, the relationship progressed. Eventually, she would joke about engagement rings and marriage proposals. It was clear we were headed for a wedding.
I cared for her, though arguments between her and me, as well as between her and her family, became regular occurrences.
“It’s normal to have fights” I was told.
“You work together and live together. There’s bound to be conflict; give it time.”
I was twenty-four, working full-time for a lovely family, living with their daughter, and not having much of a life outside those surroundings. The progression, I felt, was unavoidable. Less than a year into the relationship, I proposed marriage; she accepted. Both our families celebrated.
The wedding preparations were even more stressful. “Planning a wedding is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life” I was told. Though I felt there was little room for my input, I accepted that this stress as normal, and would pass after the ceremony was done. Besides, her family was footing the sizable bill for more than one-hundred and thirty guests; the least I could do was to buck up and follow along.
After the marriage, however, little changed. The pressure in the relationship built to a point where I felt angst even putting my key into our little apartment door. What would be waiting for me on the other side? What form would the conflict take today? I had also settled into a cocoon of my own; the relationship with Emily had developed to the exclusion of my other friends. I had no-one to vent to. Even when I did find an outlet, the advice would invariably be: “You’re not happy, and you need to get out of there.”
I was twenty-four, I had stood in front of more than one hundred people—everyone I knew, and then some. I had cost both our families more than ten thousand dollars proclaiming a life-long commitment to this woman. We went as a couple to Christmas after Christmas, event after event. Eventually, as with all couples, our names became synonymous with each other. We had no identities of our own.
But as the arguing intensified, we grew physically and emotionally distant. Ironically, I think one of the aspects of my personality which frustrated her the most was my lack of personal fortitude. I wouldn’t stand-up for myself. I knew this was true, but—like my divorced father before me—I preferred to acquiesce and keep the peace. Our families began to speak openly of the children we would have. Neither of us argued differently; we even continued those conversations at home. It was as if each moment of calm could be heralded as a ‘new beginning’, and each argument was just a ‘natural side-effect’ of a young marriage. I was truly miserable and depressed. I felt trapped, helpless and weak.
Then, one afternoon she simply stated: “This isn’t working out.”
“What to you mean?” I played stupid.
“This. Us. It’s not working and I think it has to end.”
That was all it took. “I agree.” I said.
Nearly four years after the wedding, we were separated. Less than one year after that, we were divorced. Like my mother, father, grandfather, and my grandmother twice before, I had an ex-spouse.
When, if ever, would I have found the strength to walk away? Would we have had children had she not had that fortitude? Probably. What upbringing would those children have had? Probably one similar to mine: two parents arguing so constantly that their sons and daughter would have no memory whatsoever of their parents sharing a moment of happiness together. That pain would have been the result of my weakness. Shameful.
I have since remarried, and have two children. I never knew how to answer when someone asked if their particular relationship is worth a ‘forever’ commitment, until my wife vocalized it to my sister, who is getting married in two weeks: “The relationship should be easy.”
That’s all she said, that it should be ‘easy’. It’s so simple, and so perfect. My sister’s relationship with her fiancé is just that: ‘easy’. She’s 37 years old, and has been pressured her whole life to marry. But those early relationships were never easy, and she was strong enough to walk away.
Nearly half the people on this continent walk away from their marriages.
How many of them, I wonder, knew they should never have walked the aisle in the first place?