A Survivor's Tale

The Awful Emptiness of Divorce

There was no one thing that ended our marriage; it was more of a slow chipping away

Photograph by Getty Images

When I was a kid, I had this idea of my future husband. He had curly dark hair, and he’d be a little bit vulnerable, and he’d make me laugh and we’d sit up all night talking. And right there is what makes me a girl. No man fantasizes about sitting up talking with his future wife.

But there it was, the vision I had from age 12 to age 20. On a fall day at the start of the school year, I met my future husband. He had curly dark hair, and he and his roommates had stolen a stop sign and placed it on the curb in front of their house. We watched as people came to a complete stop, realized they were in the middle of the street and angrily drove off. I’d say something like, “This is hilarious when you’re young and dumb,” but I still think it’s hilarious.

I was in love with my husband the second I met him. Seriously. And I know that sounds ridiculous. I spent the whole school year pursuing him, because he didn’t like me. I was too funny, too “on,” too altogether me. Listen, if I met me, I wouldn’t like me, either. Especially then, when I hadn’t yet figured out funny and sexy do not go hand in hand.

The point is, I finally did win him over, because who can resist a 112-pound incessantly chattering girl with a perm and a salon tan. And one night, after we got back to his house, we sat on his couch and talked all night. In the morning, he brushed my hair.

It’s a long story, but it took us 11 years to get married after that. We both lived in other cities and had other relationships, but there was always something about him; he just kind of fit. He’d always say exactly what I needed to hear and he’d do romantic things like hang up the phone and call me 10 minutes later. “Hi,” he’d say. “I missed talking to you.”

On our wedding day, I was hiding behind a building waiting for my cue. I peeked out into the crowd, and there he was, splayed out in a chair, waiting for his cue, looking like he was just lounging on his own couch at home waiting for “Cops” to start or something.

I mean, right there, the part where he watched “Cops,” should’ve told me it would never last. But as I peeked out at him before my wedding began, I was filled with absolute certainty that I was doing the right thing.

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And I was, for a long time. We had so much fun, my husband and me. We had all kinds of inside jokes and stupid things we thought were a high time that no one else understood. In the early evening, the sun would shine right into our living room windows, and we’d pull the blinds and take turns going outside to do shadow puppets. The person inside would have to yell out what the shadow puppet was. I could only do one kind of bird, so his guesses were what you’d call easy.

So it worked, until it didn’t. There was no one thing that ended our marriage; it was more of a slow chipping away, until 13 years in, we were eating, sleeping and entertaining ourselves separately.

He waited till the day after Valentine’s Day to tell me he was moving out, because I love Valentine’s Day. Sue me. I like the pink and the lace and the cupids and flowers. I realize this makes me a tiny bit of an asshole. I promise, my other stellar qualities make up for it.

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So he left and quickly found someone else. So quickly, in fact, that I sometimes wonder if he found her before he moved out. But it doesn’t matter, because I’d moved out mentally years ago. He deserves to have found someone else.

But the problem was, ever since I can remember, I’ve felt kind of low-level awful. Do you know what I mean? Is this just me? If I didn’t keep distracted, there was a kind of terrible sadness that had the potential to pull me in. So I had friends and boyfriends and pets and chaos and — God love it — wine to keep the darkness at bay. But when got I married? That feeling was completely absent. I noticed it right away. I didn’t HAVE to keep myself distracted, because there was nothing dark inside of me to avoid.

And when he left, that feeling reared its ugly head again. It’s a sort of awful emptiness that I’d rather not deal with, thank you.

So you know what I did? I sat still. My safety net was gone. I had nowhere to turn, so I sat still, in my now-quiet house. If I felt bad, I let myself feel bad. If I felt angry, I got angry. I didn’t run all over yonder, trying not to feel anything. And hey! Here I still am. That empty awfulness did not pull me under. I lived through it. And got out onto the other side. And yes, I cried and got scared and felt just rotten, and had a swollen terrible rotted jack-o’-lantern face sometimes. But so what?

So I guess that’s my how-to-survive-divorce tip. Get through it by getting through it. The hole in your soul is not shaped like a new boyfriend or a lipstick or even a bottle of wine. It’s shaped like you.

And it’s waiting for you to catch up.

This is the latest in a series of stories this month about how we cope with various types of tragedy and loss.

Tags: divorce