Lessons learned from my shitty marriage (and the years that followed)

Cross posted from Medium

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Photo by Malloreigh Hamilton

For the most part, I have not been what I would call successful at romantic relationships. I’m working on it, as many of us are. But despite the fact that I still have some lessons to learn in the realm of courtship, a recent experience caused me to reflect on where I’ve been, and made me so incredibly thankful to have learned so many lessons during my youth, and to not be repeating them now. So I’d like to share with you – the lessons learned from my shitty marriage and the years that followed:

1) Sometimes romantic love is not enough. Romantic love is wonderful, and being “in love” is a pretty important component of a romantic relationship. But there are also many other things to consider when you make a commitment to a life partner. My husband and I had some divergent views when it came to our actual day to day life, and what a successful life looked like. Do you both want kids? Does one of you want to live in the city, while the other wants to own a farm? Do you love to travel, but your partner would rather never leave the neighbourhood? All of these things add up over the years.

In my case, my husband wanted a lot of the same things that I did, but was not willing to put in the work. He wanted to go out for fancy dinners, but didn’t have a job. He wanted to travel, but was unwilling to make any of the travel arrangements. Slowly, I realized that to achieve the life I wanted us to live, that I would also have to do all of the work for both of us just to bring him along. More and more, we fell into a cycle where I was disappointed in his lack of ambition, and he was hurt by my judgement. The day to day became overwhelming. I still loved him a great deal, but it was clear that the way that we wanted to live our lives was incompatible.

I’m not saying that this is everyone’s story, or that you shouldn’t get married to someone you are bonkers for. I hope that you are completely head over heels bonkers for whoever you end up with, and I absolutely wish the same for myself. But just make sure to consider the long game, and know that if you have a lot of differences, your marriage may be a lot more work than you’d anticipated. Differing approaches to your family’s finances can be particularly detrimental. Of course these things can be overcome if you put in the work. Just be prepared.

2) Marriage isn’t over until it’s over. Telling people that you’ve broken up. Dating other people. Being separated. These things are steps towards ending your marriage. But they are not the end of your marriage. Until you get that magic piece of paper saying that IT’S OVER, it is not actually over; any rationalization you use to say that it doesn’t matter is just you kidding yourself.

Over the two years that I was separated, my ex and I would play this game where we were with other people, but would have teary kiss filled conversations while out at the bar about how it was so sad that we couldn’t be together. I convinced myself that being separated was enough, and divorce would happen whenever, but that it didn’t really matter, and anyways the paperwork was too much of a pain. Deep down, I think that I was holding on to a small thread of belief that there was still time for him to get his life together, and for us to live happily ever after. I don’t know what changed, but one day while I was downtown, I walked into the courthouse and decided that I just couldn’t take it anymore. That afternoon I filed for divorce. When I finally received the divorce certificate in the mail, I felt so much relief, and so much closure.

It’s not over until it’s really over.

3) They are not going to leave their partner for you. In the years to follow my broken marriage, I was involved in a series of other peoples’ open relationships. My friend group at the time was all about reading the ethical slut, and being super open-minded, and really cool. Caveat – sure, open relationships seem to work really well for some people, and kudos to them! But for a large portion of humans, they are a horrible exercise in making yourself feel like a piece of insecure garbage for most of your life.

Anyways… one of these open relationship things happened to be with a close long time friend of mine. His girlfriend at the time was also a close friend. I don’t even remember how, but one night something between us “just happened” (see point (4)). We had this insane chemistry that made me feel like my skin was on fire just being near him. My whole body would vibrate. But he was still with his girlfriend, and I was still dating and seeking my own primary person. Then one day, my current fling and I were crashing at guy and his roommates house, and he went BONKERS. He flung himself into a fit of jealousy, and confessed that he had really intense romance feelings for me, and would date me in a second if he were single, and that it made him crazy to see me with other people. Over the months that followed, we continued to torturously secretly confess our feelings to each other, have sex in bathrooms at parties and bars, and cause drama for the people around us. He and his girlfriend did eventually break up. I remember thinking, “This is it! We are finally going to be together now.” We spent that Christmas together, and it felt to me like things were finally falling into place. But here’s the thing… if you start off a romance as a set yourself on fire, dramatic horror show, then when you decide to get your life together, you probably don’t want to bring that horror show with you. A few months later, he was in a monogamous relationship with a new person, and as far as I know, they’ve been together ever since. Again, maybe your relationship came out of an affair, and it’s going swimmingly. Good for you (kind of). But in most cases, it will end as a sad puddle of bullshit.

4) Nothing “just happens”. People say this all the time when they are talking about missteps, affairs, poor decisions. “It just happened!” “I don’t know how I ended up sleeping with him! It just happened!” “OMG! I know he’s in a relationship! But it just happened!” I’m sorry, but if things keep “just happening”, you need to get really real with yourself. “Just happened” is something that we tell ourselves to rationalize unhealthy behaviour to make ourselves feel like we’re not being terrible; it allows us to feel like we’re being guided by fate, and we are simply pawns of the universe when it comes to matters of romance, sex, and love. “It” might have just happened, but usually the road to “it” is paved with a series of uneasy, deliberate steps that set the stage for “it” to seem as though you weren’t deliberately meaning for “it” to happen the whole time. You exchange numbers, you have one too many drinks, you stay until everyone else has left, you go to their place for a night cap, you sit too close on the sofa… these are all decisions. And in the moment, you know that they are bad ones. But you choose to deliberately make them anyways.

As mentioned above, at some point in my marriage, my then husband and I made the idiotic decision to have a semi-open relationship. While it was easy to follow the rules at first, as things in our marriage began to fall apart, the rules began to slip. I would deliberately go out with my emotional crutch non-boyfriend, and stay out too late, and flirt too much, and I knew that it made my husband feel like garbage, and I didn’t care. And he did the same thing to me. Eventually I confirmed my suspicions that he had actually slept with a 19 year old who he’d been partying with, and that was it for me. The next day I told him that it was over.

The remainder of the lessons learned are less from my marriage, and more from the time spent out in the dating world since then – they’re reminders that I think that we all need from time to time.

5) Chemistry is not the same thing as love. Chemistry is a crazy thing. I have had one or two relationships in my life, that made me absolutely insane with lust. The kind of relationship where you don’t sleep, and you ignore your friends, and you forget your own name, because you just need to be touching that person. RIGHT. NOW. I am glad that I’ve experienced that kind of lose your mind, sexual fire, but make no mistake, it is NOT THE SAME THING AS LOVE. And having amazing sex with someone does not translate to having an amazing relationship with them. In one of these set-yourself-on fire-with-wanting instances, the object of my obsession and I would spend literally the entire day sexting. We would then spend hours staring into a screen at each other doe eyed, and telling each other how much we were losing our minds for each other (it was long distance). A month in, he told me that he was falling in love with me, and he booked a flight out to Vancouver to visit. We NEEDED to see each other. The plan was basically to spend 4 days locked away in a hotel room fucking. The problem with this plan, is that he had been ignoring all sorts of real life responsibilities for the past month in favour of paying attention to me. Booking his flight was the final pin in the cap of shunting his entire life, and finally caught up with him when he arrived. His friends were fuming that he had been planning to visit town without seeing them. And he almost lost his most important client, because he hadn’t told them that he was going out of town. He ignored everything that mattered. JUST BECAUSE OF CHEMISTRY. Our visit ended up being a confused mess of sex and anxiety, and we did not proceed with any sort of relationship afterwards. It took me a long time to get over this one.

If I thought about it rationally, I knew that we weren’t REALLY that compatible. We might have dated briefly for a few weeks if we’d met under normal circumstances. But because of our overwhelming physical connection, we convinced ourselves within a few short weeks that without having ever actually met in real life that we had definitely found “the one”. In summary, incredible chemistry is a magical experience, that literally makes you feel like your body and mind are high on another person 24 hours a day, and like they could give you ten thousand orgasms just by looking at you. You might even fall in love with someone you have amazing chemistry with. I don’t know what advice to give you to be able to tell the difference when you’re in it – because let’s face it, that connection can make you convince yourself that just about anything is rational behaviour – but don’t confuse chemistry with compatibility. Try your best.

6) When someone who you are having sex with needs you for constant emotional support, this is not the same as them being in love with you. This one might seem idiotic to some of you. I don’t know. But for me, as someone who always wants to try to help people, it is hard for me to say no when I see that they are going through a rough time, even if I know that spending time with them will be detrimental to my own emotional integrity. This has played a factor in a few relationships that I’ve had where the dude was clearly not into me romantically, but relied on me heavily for emotional support, and we were also involved sexually, so I confused the whole thing for being a real relationship, or moving towards a real relationship. Bottom line – if someone wants to be with you, they will just do that. There is no bad timing, or it’s complicated, or I’m so messed up right now. If someone won’t give you the respect of their full attention while you are sharing both your bed and your feelings, then they are not worth your time. The end.

7) Noone will be everything that you want and need them to be. The world that we live in today often shows us a really fucked up view of relationships where it seems like everyone who is in one’s life is like the best rom com mashed together with a Kinfolk magazine spread. They are SO IN LOVE, and living their #bestlife, and are #soulmates, who also have amazing sex every night, and just love to #elevate the shit out of each other. THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE. Picking a life partner is a compromise. I love love LOVE this project by photographer Dita Pepe in which she imagines her life with different partners through self portraits, because it shows how different one person’s life could be depending on the partner they choose to create their life with. Each one has its benefits and drawbacks compared to the others.

While a lot of these experiences were tumultuous at the time, and some of them might also have you thinking “YEAH NO KIDDING, DUMMY!”, it feels really good to know that I am ready to not make the same mistakes again. I’ve grown enough that I can see one of these danger signs coming from a mile away, and it’s nice to know that when I see one of them approaching, that my reaction is to move away from it, even if part of my gut is screaming at me, “But you liiiiiiiike hiiiiim. Maybe it will work ouuuuuuut.” It is empowering to move forward without having to worry about repeating the same mistakes that caused me so much grief. And though I know each person has their own lessons to learn, I hope that this list of lessons might give some of you out there the tiny nudge you need to say “NO MORE” to some of these terrible dating pitfalls. You deserve better.

We all do.