When did you know your marriage was over?
The stories were universally depressing, of the “I knew it was time to end my marriage when he wouldn’t even come visit me in the hospital after my open heart surgery” ilk.
As I read “The Moment I Knew” stories, I wanted to ask each contributor: “Are you sure you didn’t know before then?” and “If you realized it earlier, why didn’t you act on it?”
I asked those questions because those are the questions I asked myself when I finally decided to file for divorce.
Common wisdom holds that marriage is hard work. This is true. Staying married requires a commitment to being together, a commitment that transcends any and all issues that may arise during the marriage.
Staying together no matter what issue may arise, is very serious business indeed.
But when it is ok to give up? When is it futile to fight and try and work hard to stay together? When is it necessary to cut one’s losses and move on?
Some, of course, would say never. That it’s never OK to give up on your marriage; never OK to back out; never OK to say, enough is enough, this thing is dead and rotting and it’s time for us to move on with our separate lives. That level of commitment is fine if both parties share it equally.
But if your commitment isn’t equal, and you feel like your fight is futile, then it may be time to reassess.
In my case, the moment I knew I had to get divorced came, like so many of the Huffington Post contributors, after a dramatic and tragic series of events. In sum, my ex-husband kicked in the front door after I’d locked him out during a particularly nasty argument. The sound of my daughter’s scream when he kicked open that metal door still reverberates in my ear. I called the police, which further enraged him. I retained a divorce lawyer the next day.
But really, I knew before that moment. I knew on my wedding day that it wasn’t going to work. I knew for certain on my wedding night, after the party was over and the guests were gone and we could go back to being uncivilized to each other.
I was nine months pregnant with my son on my wedding day, one week from delivering our second child. I’d insisted on getting married because I couldn’t stomach the thought of having another child out of wedlock. But I knew the whole time that he was the wrong man to marry. I’d known that during the five years we lived together before the marriage.
I knew I shouldn’t have married him when he punched me in the head in the hospital while I was in labor with our first child. I knew I shouldn’t have married him when he would leave me and our newborn daughter alone every weekend while he took my car to Philadelphia to get high. Even after he got clean, I knew nothing had materially changed.
But I was stuck with this image of myself as the type of woman who was not a “baby mama.” My internal compass told me the life I was living was inauthentic and immoral, even though correcting it meant marrying someone I believed to be a misogynistic bully. I was embarrassed to be a pregnant, unmarried black woman, facing the real and imagined stares of my partners at my conservative law firm. Despite my Harvard Law School degree and my post-law school accomplishments, I felt like just another ghetto stereotype.
So I went to a Christie’s auction, bought myself a three-carat diamond and platinum Harry Winston engagement ring and planned a small wedding. At our divorce trial, my ex told the judge I “forced” him to get married. The judge was having none of it. He was a grown man – I didn’t force him to do anything. If I forced anyone to get married, it was me. And the nearly three years we were married before we both – simultaneously, as it ironically turned out – filed for divorce just confirmed what I’d known all along.
The question I asked myself when I first spoke to my divorce lawyer, throughout the divorce and nearly every day of the seven years since then isn’t “When did I know?” but “Why did I do that to myself and why didn’t I know I deserved so much more?”