Recently a mom emailed me:
“I feel so guilty for leaving my marriage. My husband is a really, really nice guy. He is a great dad, loves me a lot, has a good career. There was nothing really wrong with our marriage. I just didn’t love him any more and wanted out. Now, our divorce is almost finalized, and we have all been so devastated — especially our kids. Now they have to schlep back and forth between two homes, go through the pain of having divorced parents, my ex is devastated, his parents and our friends are devastated, and we are both poorer having to support two homes. Even the dog looses since she stayed with me and misses her ‘dad’!
Listen to my Like a Mother episode on this topic:
Of course I am very sad about all of this, but I just could not be married to him any more. We are not intellectual or professional peers — I am growing a digital business I am passionate about, while he is 100% content in his middle-management corporate job with good benefits. I stopped being sexually attracted to him years ago, even though he is still a very handsome and fit man. Instead, I find myself fantasizing about and/or flirting with men in my professional circles who are mentally stimulating to me, understand my career and creative drive and ignite in me something I think I never experienced with my husband — deep, feminine PASSION (some of these guys are fat or old or not handsome — and I still find them so, so sexy!). These are men who jibe with my own growing social circle of equally driven and creative people — people who my husband never really connected with or felt comfortable around (even though, in all his decency and devotion to me, was always kind to and made an effort for).
I don’t have any commitment to any of these men, but simply feeling that way around them made me realize that by staying in my marriage. I am missing out on something I deeply crave and long to nurture. Now, on the other side of my marriage, I see that I may not ever find that kind of romantic connection that I crave, and I may be lonely. I see those I love most suffering because of this decision, and I am left feeling selfish, guilty and all-around rotten.”
I have heard many similar stories, all of which resonate on some level. I am glad I am not married to my ex, even if he is a good guy. Lots and lots of reasons, including some mentioned above by my emailer. But there are times when we are getting along, when we are chatting like old friends at the kids’ T-ball game, the kids are exhausted from schlepping back and forth between our apartments, I remember all his good qualities and all the benefits of marriage, and I think:
Can’t we just be adults and make it work? Can’t we just agree not to fight any more? Be in one home, be practical, get over this trite, adolescent notion of forever soulful romantic love, have no expectations your husband will fulfill you and just be realistic already – FOR THE KIDS’ SAKE?
Then he will blame me for my kid tripping in the hallway of my apartment and getting a bloody boo-boo on his head, or cancel a visit with the kids last-minute because he wants to see a concert and all those cozy notions are thrown out the window quicker than a Las Vegas divorce.
Maybe it means I’m selfish. Maybe it means I can’t control my anger. Maybe it means I am a indulgent adolescent artist, but I don’t want to be married to my ex-husband so I am not married to my ex-husband. We were great together in many ways, but we also bring out the worst in one another — something that neither of us are committed to overcoming. Also: I just don’t want to be married to him.
Also, also: That is OK.
I want to explore my sexuality in a way that is impossible with him. I want to be with people who support my huge professional ambition and creative pursuits without competing — again, impossible with him. I want to be with someone who easily forgives, and easily laughs, and easily picks up his fucking dirty clothes and just puts them in the hamper.
I just don’t want to be married to him.
And that is OK.
The end of that marriage was not my decision, though in hindsight I knew what I could have done to make him stay (beg), and I didn’t. I never visit the idea of a reconciliation with him (I even sold my engagement ring to make a point of it). I’m done, and it is because I know I am so, so much happier outside that marriage.
Even if it means that I am not in a relationship.
Even if it means that we are both poorer.
Even if it means that things are much harder on the kids in many ways.
All this is OK because it is way, way, WAY better for me. I am happier than I could ever have been in that marriage. I am thriving professionally in a way that I was impossible for me in that partnership. I am creatively free and fulfilled, which could not have happened in that marriage. Dating at this stage of my life, I know, is part of a much greater plan for my life that of course could not have blossomed inside of a traditional marriage.
The end of that relationship was painful for so many people. And being divorced is hard for him, me and my kids in lots of practical ways.
But the net result for all involved is positive. I am thriving and my very best self now — and I, my kids and those in my orbit benefit. Is that selfish? Adolescent? A mentality of post-feminist, navel-gazing Gen X/Y/millennials?
I don’t fucking care.
I am glad for it.
And I free you to be glad for it, too.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.