As a young boy, I grew up as part of a large Greek family, my father being one of six siblings. Like most people, I imprinted from my surroundings. I noticed that all the members of my extended family married around the age of eighteen. Each appeared genuinely happy and, to me, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do: make it to high school, meet a young lady, fall in love, and start your life together.
The story of how my parents met didn’t help either. They knew each other since elementary school—my father would shoot spit balls into my mother’s hair. He pined for her in ninth-grade, though she was uninterested and took retribution by causing him to fail French (story for another time). Junior year of high school, she’s walking home with a friend who happens to like my father, when he pulls up in his car, offering a ride. Naturally the friend wants to accept and convinces my mom to do so as well. Funny enough, my dad goes out of his way to drop the friend off first so he can ask my mom out… and the rest, as they say, is history.
In high school, I never considered myself a “looker”, and by no means was I popular. Being a bit of a loner, I focused on academics and did some sports in the latter years. There was no high school sweetheart, although I pined after my fair share of ladies. No girlfriends, no prom dates… in fact, it wasn’t until my early twenties that I brought my first girlfriend around family, to which my grandmother exclaimed, “Thank God, we thought you were gay.”
I guess you could say I was a late bloomer, or at least I felt like one. When I looked at my relatives and heard everyone’s “story”, I just didn’t fit the mold… but I wanted to, and felt like I should. The only solace I took was in my Uncle Dave. More of an older brother than an Uncle (we’re seven years apart), he didn’t marry until his thirties. But, then again, he was something of a ladies’ man; so it wasn’t from a lack of prospects.
The Blink 182 song “What’s My Age Again?” came out as I was turning twenty-three and it became my theme. As I struck out on love in the work-place (high school for your twenties), I kept repeating to myself its lyrics: nobody likes you when you’re twenty-three. So it was probably natural, being relatively new to intimacy with women, that I found it rewarding to sleep with those few who actually were interested in me, even though I lacked much interest in them as a person. But the trap I laid for myself was not to be that guy—the one-night-stand. So many relationships would drag along as I deceived myself that there was some sort of emotional attachment when, in fact, it was purely physical.
Like most men, I loved the sex. But, more importantly, I loved the intimacy; and the way it made me feel. Somehow I felt that, by being with someone, I was that much closer to being married, and therefore closer to being like the rest of my family. Then along came my first wife (never thought I’d hear myself say those words).
I always knew I wanted to be married. And I felt like I missed the mark considerably when eighteen came, then went, and I wasn’t… not even close. I know many women think about their age, when they’ll be married, and having kids (Sex in the City has to be accurate, right?). I mean sure, their biological clock is ticking, there is an expiration date on their eggs, and they only have so many. But here I am, a man, and I’m worried about similar things. I wanted to be married, I wanted kids, and I didn’t want to be too old to enjoy their grand-kids. And, for the record, let me say that I always thought I’d marry once, and would never be divorced; I believed in commitment. But let’s face it, my track record with women leading up to this point has sucked. I was a nice, well-meaning guy who (at the time; and probably still to a degree) was also a bit naïve.
My first wife (referred to from here on out as “the ex”) started working at my job. The girl there who I was actually pining after, being uninterested, finally left work (or was she fired?), so my friends and coworkers thought it would be cute to try and set me up with “the ex”. I was told the new-hire liked me (so juvenile). When she was pointed out, I truthfully didn’t mind much of what I saw, but there was no “moment”… you know, where time slows, music plays, and everything else melts away letting you know that she’s the one (I mentioned I was naïve, right?). What can I say, I was a hopeless romantic, had my fair share of crushes, and so I thought I knew what love was. So how did we end up together you ask? Essentially, I’m a glutton for punishment; that, and I later realized my perspective on love was kind of adolescent, and I convinced myself that being happy was being in love.
Over a period of a year or so she continually made her intentions known while I tried not to be rude and inevitably led her on… as she said (years later), “I look back at our courtship and I see where I forced myself into your life.” To be honest though, I too had my fair share of blame. Knowing my own past, I let things get physical and, although I tried to break it off a couple times, I never completely severed ties (men are horn-dogs). After a couple years, I felt I owed it to both of us to give the relationship serious consideration. And there was a point that I was happy, and felt that I could continue to be happy, seeing a future together. Let me clarify, you can be in love and therefore be happy; but being happy does not necessarily mean you are in love. I know that now, but not then since I didn’t have any personal experience I could base it off of.
To make a long story short (and not steal any thunder from my other writings), we were married for four years, had a son during the last year, and she must have realized what I’ve now learned, because she took our six-month-old son and left me. We divorced almost a year later.
But what is right, and who is wrong in that kind of situation? I mean, I was blind to the fact that there were issues in our relationship. I missed the signs. I guess I should’ve known when she wanted to take Dr. Phil surveys to inspect our relationship. I figured he was a “quack” who couldn’t make it as a proper therapist and used his connections to get a daytime show—another Jerry Springer. Now he’s a household name. It took her getting verbally abusive and antagonistic, trying to provoke me physically, and then finally the “D” word (Divorce) before I realized we had problems. We practically separated around our third year of marriage and were seeing a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. The writing should’ve been on the wall, and yet we stayed together and decided to bring a child into the mix. I felt the issue with our relationship was in our dynamic. She came from a previous marriage that ended due to her man’s multiple indiscretions, so she naturally had trust issues and became insecure. When I couldn’t comprehend her concerns, it was as though she needed to become independent and therefore leave or force me to. I, being inexperienced with marriage, felt I couldn’t live up to her extreme expectations of me and would shutdown when she exploded. When we were apart, I would be confident and in control, and she would come to trust me again. In this way we lulled ourselves into a false sense of security, thinking the relationship was salvageable.
Now I believe it is always the best approach to stay the course and work at being together as a family unit; but not just because you hope it’ll benefit the children. It must also take into consideration the parents and their interaction. A healthy relationship is a healthy environment for the children. In my opinion, an unhealthy relationship can many times do more damage to our children in the long run. And sometimes it requires work to make a relationship healthy again. Could we have tried more to make it work and stay together? Possibly. Would we have been happy, and would it have been a healthy environment? I think not. We teach our children by example, which includes our relationships. That also means in the way that a relationship is dissolved. There is a “right way” and a “wrong way” for a relationship to end. I’ll go even further by saying that my circumstance would probably lend more towards a “right way”. We went through mediation and sought the expertise of a Licensed Psychologist who specialized in divorces with children. We tried not to involve our own lawyers; but I believe, although costly, we both could have benefited more from their involvement towards the end. In contrast, I believe that deliberately destructing one’s relationship by being physically abusive, emotionally abusive, viciously attacking one another through lawyers, cheating on one’s spouse, or worse; are prime examples of the “wrong way” to end a relationship. There were definitely minor “wrong way” elements in the dissolution of my previous marriage. And some tend to still occur through interactions I have with “the ex”. But those are stories for another time.
So I have since remarried and have been with my current wife for almost three years. We have a beautiful three-month-old baby girl. I am truly in love, and therefore very happy. I do have joint custody of my son, Iain, from my previous marriage to “the ex”. And when we finally did separate, I tried to reconcile and do whatever it took, but by that time it had become too late; which was for the better in the end. Although, I must say, I didn’t think so at the time. She had already determined to be apart, and knew that to be the best course of action for our son. It has been a difficult situation, but I honestly think it has been for the best and therefore the healthiest approach for Iain.
So what is right, and who is wrong? Well I’m right in the end, for doing everything I could to try and save my marriage. And, then again, so is she for knowing we would never really be happy. So who is wrong?