Here's the transcript, without our adorable banter in the intro and outro:
Flora: You’re my first interview. Yay! OK. This will focus on your marriage and divorce,share with us your age, how long you were married, how long are you divorced.
Rod: I am 45 years old; I was married for 20 years; and I’ve been divorced 2 years.
Flora: OK. Now let’s go back, let’s start from the beginning, all the way back to when you were a baby in your crib. That’s right, that’s how long this interview is going to be.
Rod: I wasn’t married as a baby in my crib.
Flora: But we must start from the beginning. No. Maybe we’ll start from the teenage years. All right, when you were a teen, what was your view on marriage? Did you think you were definitely going to get married and have children?
Rod: I did definitely think I was getting married and have children. I don’t know that I thought a whole lot about what it would be like, but it was kind of like my attitudes on college. I just… it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t. I just that’s what people did.
Flora: Before getting married, what did you think a husband’s role was, and what was a wife’s role?
Rod: My attitudes probably came from the model of my parents. My dad went to work, and my mom stayed home. There were a couple times where she had a job, and I think they were times like when he had gotten laid off from his job, she got a job. But for the most part, she stayed home, took care of the house and kids, and he went to work and earned the money. They were foster parents when I was a kid, so my whole childhood, from the time I was 6 until when I moved out to go to college, they took in babies. There were 38 of them, I think, 38, and they were almost all of them under the age of 2, so my mom was very busy with babies. So their roles were, he worked, and she took care of the house and kids. So I thought that was pretty normal. I don’t know… I know when I became a stay-at-home dad, it appealed to me a lot to flip that traditional role, and I know that when I was in college, I wrote a paper about it. The book that I read, it was a study, and it was kind of outdated, because it talked about househusbands, which is not a word you ever hear anymore. It’s usually stay-at-home dad or primary parent or you know, something like that. But it was about househusbands and about their attitudes towards what they did and how it affected their understanding of their masculinity and all that kind of stuff, and I wrote a paper on it that I found and read years later and thought, “Wow, I was thinking about this stuff long before it actually happened.” But I think as a teenager, that’s just how it was for everybody that I knew that the dad worked and the mom didn’t. How many girlfriends did you have before you got married, and do you think it’s important to have a couple of relationships before choosing to marry someone? Why or why not?
Rod: I had one girlfriend before getting into a relationship with the woman who would eventually become my wife. And that was in high school and then she was away at college and I was still living at home with my parents, so it was a long distance relationship. It was never a very real relationship. There was no real intimacy or emotional closeness or anything like that, so really, the woman that I married was the first woman that I had a real relationship with real intimacy. She was the woman that I lost my virginity to, that I gave my virginity to. I didn’t lose it, I guess. I don’t know. What was the second part? Is it important? Yes. I think it would have been good for my understanding of what a relationship could be or should be if I’d had more experience, if I’d dated more people and learned how I relate to people differently. What happened because I didn’t.. I had never dated anybody was I was too focused on what would make her happy, and not focused enough on give and take, the interplay, what would make us happy, compromise and that kind of thing, because I was very much afraid of losing her, and I think that’s why proposed to her so young and got married so young. I proposed to her at 20, and we were married at 23.
Flora: So you feel like if you had prior relationships, you would not have handled it the same way, meaning focusing on how to make her happy?
Rod: Yeah, I think I would have seen red flags in our relationship more clearly if I had more experience. My model for a relationship was the marriage of my parents, and it was long term and committed. So I thought that’s what a relationship was, even before we were married, that it was all about you stick together first, and then work on the problems. It never occurred to me that the problems would be enough to end the relationship. Looking back on the kind of problems we had from very early on, they were the same problems that persisted through 20 years of marriage and should have been a reason for us not to get together in the first place. And people told us we were too young, and we didn’t listen. And I should have. But there’s not should’ve for that kind of thing, because that was the course of my life and those were the lessons I learned, and you know, of course I don’t regret the fact that that marriage produced my son, who’s the best thing that ever… the best thing that ever came out of my life is him.
Flora: Tell me about how you met your ex-wife and your first year together as boyfriend and girlfriend.
Rod: We met in college. She lived on the floor above me in the dorm, and we had French class together. And we pretty much hated each other from the beginning. There’s another red flag for you. She was the only person in French class that had not taken French in high school. so the professor took me aside and said that I should help her with her pronunciation. I was pretty pompous, I guess, so when I did things like that, she took it pretty badly. She thought I was pompous. I thought she was a bitch, and the professor thought the whole thing was hilarious.
Flora: Match made in heaven.
Rod: So he kind of pitted us against each other. And over the course of that year, we started to kind of become friends, like if I missed class I would ask her what the French homework was or whatever, and vice versa. She’d come down. And then that started us actually talking and realizing we kind of liked each other. And she’d come down and hang out in my dorm room with me and my roommate who was much more… actually, both of my roommates were much more ladies’ men than I was. They dated and played around and had lots of sex. And one of those roommates tried really hard to flirt with her, and she wasn’t all that interested, but she would come and hang out with us and drink and talk and everything. And that’s what we bonded over. Hanging out in the dorm room, drinking and talking. I think when I first saw her, I thought she was pretty intimidating, like I thought she had herself together and was strong and confident. I remember her walking down the hall, she was all dressed up. There was a kind of communal kitchen, and she was making dinner for her boyfriend, and I remember the sound of her heels walking down the hall and thinking, that woman is hot shit. What was the rest of it? The first…?
Flora: The first year as boyfriend and girlfriend. Just tell me how it was. What was it like? What were you feeling?
Rod: The first year, I guess that would’ve been from 19 to 20. Oh, our first kiss. That was, she worked 3 part-time jobs while going to school on financial aid and scholarships and stuff. She was and remains a very serious, driven woman. And so one of her jobs was she worked at a sandwich shop that was real near the dorms, and she worked until 2 in the morning, and there was one night when my roommate and I had thrown a party, and I invited her to come, and she said she was working, and I said, “Well, maybe you could come by afterwards for a margarita and a massage.” Which I guess was me flirting with her. I guess that was me hitting on her, but I didn’t really think of it at the time. I just thought I was kind of kidding, like I thought she’d be like, “No way.” But I found out later she thought that was pretty smooth, so she came over at 2 or 3 in the morning, and got her margarita and her massage, and we were sitting on the couch talking, and she said, “What would you do if I kissed you.” And I said, “I would kiss you back.” And so we did, and that was our first kiss, and that’s when we started dated and getting, you know. That was the beginning of that first year. It was kind of a stressful year, but it was a good year because it was the beginning of kind of the story of our marriage, or the way I understood our marriage. It was the beginning of “us against them.” By this time, we were out of the dorm, and my roommate and I had gotten an apartment together, and…
Flora: What do you mean by “us against them.”
Rod: Well this is the beginning of it. My roommate had some kind of, some kind of family issue. But he just kind of disappeared. He withdrew. He moved out of the apartment and went back to where his parents lived, and he and I had talked about subletting, that my ex-wife was going to move in with us. I mean, move into the apartment, and she would take over the lease. But the landlord wasn’t interested in that. He didn’t care, so we were going to pay his portion of the rent, and he said, “Nah, don’t worry about it, we’ll settle up when the lease is up.” Well, a couple months later, he started acting like he wanted to move back in, and it turned into a very adversarial thing. We put locks on the doors and all that. He would just walk in on us with no warning and once walked in while we were having sex, and you know, it turned into an adversarial thing. And it was her and me against him. And there were problems with her family. They didn’t like her living with me. She had been living with her grandmother. You know, there was a whole thing, but there was just… it felt kind of like the 2 of us against the world, like we were doing our own thing despite what other people did or thought, and it felt like we were a team. And I liked that a lot.
Flora: So talking about that, my next question is, did you feel loved during that first year? What did she do to make you feel loved, and what did you do to make her feel loved?
Rod: Well, I was 20 when I lost my virginity, so it was like FINALLY! And that made me feel loved. Sex was good. And besides that, there was again a kind of “us against them, us against the circumstances” kind of thing. Like I couldn’t afford to keep going to college after the first year, so I ended up working a job as a security guard, so we didn’t see each other all that much. But she would go to school, she would work her part-time jobs, and then she would stay up all night on the phone with me while I was a security guard sitting at the desk in an office building, and we’d talk on the phone all night long. I don’t know when she ever slept. I don’t know how she did it. But at the time it was great. That felt like love, that she committed that to me. And we would meet on the subway platforms. As she was coming in to go to school or work, and I was going back home after working, she was taking one train line, and I was taking the other, so we’d meet at the station where the 2 lines crossed and, you know, have a little moment, a little kiss or something before we went our separate ways, and that felt like love. And we were writing letters to each other, and that felt like love.
Flora: How old were you guys at that time?
Rod: 20 and 21 probably. She’s 4 months younger than I am, so we were about the same age through the whole thing, but we were probably 20 and 21 during that time.
Rod: There’s always been a lot of drama in her family, and one of the ways that I expressed love was to be there for that and be supportive and her family was from western Massachusetts and we were living in Boston, so we would take the bus out there every month or 2 we would be going out there to see her family, to have dinners with her family, to just participate in her family dynamic, which was from the beginning extremely different from mine and hard for me really to understand. She had a completely different history than I did. Her family related to each other very differently than I did. To me, from the outside, it looked very antagonistic, that they were not nice to each other and not nice to her, and she kind of dealt with all of that by being a caretaker. She took care of people. She took care of her mom. And I participated in that and helped and was supportive and listened and, you know, when she talked about it. And that was love.
Flora: All right. How did you know that she was the one you wanted to marry? How long did it take to figure that out?
Rod: We started dating in October and on Christmas a year later, so 14 months later, I proposed. I put an engagement ring in her Christmas stocking, and on Christmas Eve she said, “Well maybe we could open just one present each.” So that was the one that she opened.
Flora: So how did you know that she was the one you wanted to marry?
Rod: Because she was willing to have sex with me I guess. I don’t know. See it’s hard to recall at the time. It’s easy to be cynical now after everything else that happened. I felt like we had something special. There was… it seemed to me like there was a real fairy tale quality to the first year, and that’s where another… like more experience in dating would have been good for me because I didn’t understand that that was typical, like there’s a period of euphoria and everything for couples that get together that has nothing to do with compatibility or how you’re going to handle problems down the road. And it’s all the endorphins and everything because you’re all over each other, just that in love period, if you extrapolate too much out of it, it could be dangerous. But I was in that and thinking, “This is the best thing ever, and we have something special that other people don’t have.” And it was really that us against the world, like she was a very, and always has been and always will be, a very solid, very capable person, someone who makes plans, who has contingencies, you know. And I didn’t have any of all that. So I thought that we complemented each other very well. She had aspects that I didn’t have; I had aspects that she didn’t have; and that we fit together well.
Flora: So talking about that, because she is a planner, my next question: did you talk about finances and household duties and how many kids you were going to have before getting married?
Rod: I don’t think so. We moved in together pretty quickly, I think within 6 months of starting, we had moved in together. I don’t think we talked a whole lot about roles and division of labor. We certainly didn’t talk about money, because we didn’t have any.
Rod: Yeah, we talked about kids from early on, and she was absolutely adamant that she didn’t want to have kids. She was never going to have kids. She said that from the beginning.
Rod: And I didn’t believe her. And my mom picked up on that. She had expressed concern over the fact that she didn’t want kids, and I just said, “She’ll change her mind.”
Flora: Did you want children, and how many?
Rod: Yeah, I wanted kids. I wanted 2 kids. I wanted kids from the very beginning because that was how I’d grown up. My mom was the responsible one for all those foster kids, but I participated. You know, I changed diapers and gave bottles and played, and it felt like a real natural thing to me. Plus, that’s again, just like going to college and getting married, that’s just what you do. That’s how I saw a normal life progressing.
Flora: So the first 2 years as newlyweds, what was it like?
Rod: We had been together for 3 years by the time we got married, so some of that honeymoon stuff had worn off. There was from early on, probably even that first year that we were living together, signs that we were not deeply compatible. Like, what was important to her was not important to me at all. And it was order that was important to her. She did not like the feeling of being out of control, and what made her feel in control was control of her environment, and that meant a clean home. She liked to have a regular schedule. She wanted to have a clean home, clean bathrooms, clean kitchen, clean floors, you know. And it was from the very beginnings of our relationship straight through the end of it always my intention to be better about it. I was always going to get better. I was always down on myself for not being better at it, but I just couldn’t make that a priority. It wasn’t a priority to me. There was always something I’d rather be doing than cleaning. And so I did, and then I would beat myself up for it and be like, “Why can’t I be like this for her?” And that went on for 20 years. By the time we were married, all of that magic and us against the world, a lot of that had faded. She was very certain, she was determined to break the cycle of her family history. She was not going to be like her mother. She was going to change, and so I spent 20 years being supportive of her as she dealt with those family dynamics and put all my hope into, “It’s going to get better. It’s going to get better.” And you know, we had our ups and down, and sometimes it was better, and sometimes it wasn’t. But over the long term, all of those red flags from the beginning, and all of those reasons that we could have thought, “This is not going to work for us,” ultimately didn’t work for us.
She was very supportive of me, and I think we were both supportive of each other as far as what we were trying to accomplish at the time. She was moving forward in her career. She graduated the same year we got married and began the process of building and growing a career. By that point, I was back in school and working full time, and it was extremely stressful. I don’t know why we did all of that so fast, why we piled all that on there. I was working full time and going to school full time. She was working full time, going to school full time, getting ready for graduation, we were planning a wedding. And that was a cause for friction, too, planning the wedding. But for all the school stuff and the work stuff, we were a team going through really difficult stuff. And on top of it, all of the stress of relating to her family. It was a hard time. I was drinking Pepto Bismol straight from the bottle for a good solid year through that.
Flora: So the first 2 years of marriage seems very very challenging. Were there any things that you felt synced with and just flowed? But I guess supporting each other through all of that. And when it was challenging, you guys were still there for each other. Was that where you synced?
Rod: Yeah, it was like we were doing it together.
Rod: But there was still, you know, lots of fights about separation of duties, sharing of labor, and most of that was that I was not doing my share.
Flora: Was there anything… because you voiced what she was unhappy about. Were there anything that you were unhappy about?
Rod: I don’t know that I felt this way in the very beginning, maybe I did. I felt like the emotional weight of our relationship was all on my shoulders. The practical day-to-day weight was all on her shoulders.
Flora: So were you happy about the part that you were taking care of? The emotional side?
Rod: Yeah, until, you know, over time, and I’m sure that’s how it happened for her too, over time resentments grew about, “This is what I do, and it’s all my responsibility, and you don’t appreciate it.” Like I didn’t get credit for what I did, and I’m sure she felt the same thing. The household stuff, and the practical stuff, and the responsibility stuff was all on her shoulders, and I’m sure she felt like I didn’t appreciate that.
Flora: All right, let’s move on to sex.
Flora: Fun topic. How was sex, and you don’t have to go into details obviously, how was sex the first time, and how did it change as the marriage went on?
Rod: I think sex was… as a teenage boy, you think about it all the time, and you imagine what it’s like, and you want to have it. And for me, there wasn’t really any opportunity to have it, so it had built up into this big thing in my mind. So I had a lot of anxiety about it when we finally did have sex, as I remember, the first time was good, and it was fun, and I think we both enjoyed ourselves. I had a lot of anxiety about my body, or… I don’t know if I should talk about details, but there was something in particular about my body that was unusual that I was sure she would notice, and I had some nervousness about that. Like, what would she think when she saw it, and you know, would she think it was weird, and all that kind of stuff. And after the first time we had sex, I said, “So did you notice?” And she was like, “Notice what?” Like, it wasn’t on her mind at all even though it was on my mind the whole time. She was super concerned about pregnancy. She was very concerned about taking steps to prevent pregnancy, and all of that stuff kind of took away some of the spontaneity of sex. I mean, she had redundant preventive measures in place. Birth control pills and condoms and spermicide, and the condoms I think even had spermicidal lubricant. I mean, it was a lot of stuff,but I do remember, the first year, we had a lot of sex, and we would have, you know, weekends where we would just stay in bed for 24 hours straight and have fun.
Flora: And how did it change as the marriage went on? Did it become less frequent? Quality-wise, how did it change? Quantity-wise, how did it change?
Rod: It became routine. It became something that I wanted more than she did. And some of that, you know… There’s aspects of this story that are not mine to tell. It’s stuff about her that’s not my story to tell, but there were periods in our marriage where we were not having sex, and that was a point of resentment for me.
Flora: How long was the period when you went without sex during this time that you’re talking about?
Rod: There’s a couple different times, maybe 2 or 3 times in our marriage where we were not having sex at all, and I want to say like that first time, it was probably, I don’t know, probably a good solid year. And maybe we did now and then during… but pretty much no sex for a year, and there was a later period in our marriage where maybe, you know, 6 months or whatever. I don’t really remember exactly the details, but yeah, that was… part of the deal was, “we just can’t right now,” and I had to accept that, and it was difficult and put strain on our marriage.
Flora: During the marriage did either one of you think of being with anyone else while you were still married?
Rod: I don’t think so as far as cheating goes. There was a period in the mid to late ‘90s when the internet was starting to become a thing, and we were participating in a chat room. It was one of those things where I came home from work, and she was like, “Oh, you gotta check this out! I found this thing!” And she’d been playing around in it that evening, and it was a chat room. And it was called “The Tunnel of Love,” and it was a place, you know, where most of the people were there were going to have cybersex, but she and I kind of discovered a circle of friends there, regulars there that weren’t so much into cybersex as they were just hanging out in this virtual space and goofing on everybody else and laughing and joking and talking with each other and everything. And it was fun. But there was one guy in there that she had sort of an ongoing cybersex relationship with, and I think she felt it more as an infidelity than I did, because I remember she, you know, made a big deal of telling me about it afterwards and, like, she would never let that happen again and all this stuff, and I kind of had mixed feelings about it because I thought, well, it’s kind of what people do there. You know, I’d fooled… I’d goofed around with cybersex, but it’s… cybersex is so dumb. It’s just so dumb. It’s, I don’t know. Maybe if you have the right partner it can be fun, but it’s just so goofy. So whenever I did it, it was just kind of silly and funny, but I think she kind of got serious with one guy, and she was emailing with him and had developed kind of a friendship with him. And I guess the fact that it was sort of behind my back, sort of hidden, made her feel like it was cheating. And she swore that would never happen again, and she cut it off and everything. And I never really thought of it as cheating, but I think she did. Other than that, I don’t think there was any… I certainly never… never would have. It was important to me not to cheat and not to be seen as possible that I could have cheated. And I don’t think I ever had any situation after that chat room thing where I thought she might have or could have or whatever. I think we were both committed to each other and not cheating.
Flora: All right. So let’s move on from sex to making babies. So you mentioned that she did not want any children. How did you convince her?
Rod: I don’t know that I convinced her. I think I just waited long enough until she started thinking about it. We were 35, and I think, you know, it was probably largely just that biological, and maybe it’s not biological, maybe it’s psychological. I don’t know. But you know, women talk about the ticking clock, and the biological clock, and all that. At some point, she and I had been through ups and downs in our marriage. We had just really gotten through, and were really solid after a bad patch where she had left me, and we ended up getting into couples therapy, and we worked really hard over the next couple of years in bringing our marriage back from the brink. And I remember the lessons from that were, just be nice to each other. You know, when we had disagreements and we fought, we would be really nasty to each other, and the lessons out of couples therapy was, you know, all the I statement stuff that is pretty common, but also just be nice. And that helped a lot.
Flora: You said she left you. How long did she leave you for?
Rod: A couple of days. She didn’t stay gone very long. She came back because she was worried about me, and if I was eating, and you know, stuff like that. But…
Flora: So then how did the conversation begin that you guys were ready for a child?
Rod: Well, we got through the bad period, and went… you know, worked really hard on our marriage and got to the point where she said, “I think we’re ready. I think we’re financially in a good position to do it. I think our relationship is solid. We are ready. If we’re going to have kids, now’s the time.” So we went on vacation in Mexico, and when we came back, we started trying. And it took 4 months, I think, for her to get pregnant.
Flora: How did you guys feel when you got the news that she’s pregnant?
Rod: Thrilled. I was thrilled. I mean, it’s scary. Like, you know, the thought of being responsible for somebody else for a change. But for me it felt like I’d been waiting for it my whole life. Like, it seemed like that was my destiny, and… The time that we started dating to the time we had a kid was like 15 years, which is a long time. So it was, for me, it felt like, “Finally!”
Flora: So how did having your son change your marriage? Tell me about the good stuff, the bad stuff, after becoming a parent.
Rod: Well, again, it was back to kind of, her and me against the world in some ways. The pregnancy was difficult for her. She’s small, and I’m large, and so, from the beginning, the Ob/Gyn was like, “I hope you’ve considered the fact that this is going to be a big baby.” She used to joke, a long time ago, she would tell people she married me to get tall genes in the family, because she’s short, and everybody in her family is short, and I’m tall. But then when she was pregnant, she said, “This better not be a big baby.” And it was a big baby, and she had different health problems through the pregnancy that made it hard for her. The first 5 years of my son’s life, we did really well. Like, there was the difficulty in the beginning, when he was an infant, and especially a newborn. That’s a really hard time for any parents, and it puts stress on any marriage.
Rod: It took a lot of work, and she took all of that very personally, very emotionally. It was, you know… she felt like a failure as a woman because one, she had to have a C-section because he was a big baby, and he was transverse breech, and it was part of the experience as a woman that she didn’t get to have. And then the breastfeeding was very difficult, so she felt like that was a failure as a woman, you know. So she took all of that very personally. She had a lot of emotional stress over it. But after that, when we really got into a rhythm where I was the stay-at-home dad… I think I was good at it. I think I was really good at it. And I think I did well with him, and it got into a rhythm, and it was us being a team. She would go to work, and I would take care of him. I was working part-time, one as a copywriter, I would do that from home, so I had found ways to supplement the income. I was also working, I had a part-time job that I did on the weekends, so you know, she had her time with him, got to do all her mom stuff on the weekends. It was very much a team operation, I think. And I think we both felt that way about it, that we were in it together again and doing really well at it. Doing good.
Flora: So when did you think things started falling apart in your marriage?
Rod: Things fell apart when he got into school. I mean, during that period, we still had problems with I wasn’t doing enough, like I wasn’t doing enough of the housework. I spent a lot of the time during the week going places and doing stuff with him. He and I went all over the place. We did play dates with a dads group, and you know, when he was napping, I was working on the copywriting stuff, and the housework just still, after all those years, was not that big a priority for me. You know, I guess maybe that was a resentment for her that I was home and not doing the home stuff, so she felt like she had to do it when she got home. I wouldn’t always have dinner waiting for her when she got home, so she felt like sometimes she’d have to come home from work and then cook dinner. And from my perspective of, you know, I was working too. I was taking care of the kid. And I was doing the copywriting, so it was like, yeah, but I worked all day too, and now I gotta make dinner. You know. So there was friction and resentment there. But where it really went bad was when my son got into kindergarten, which freed up a lot of time for me. And she and I agreed that I would continue to be stay-at-home even though he was in school, and it would be a great opportunity for me to pursue creative pursuits, to do more writing, creative writing, and that I would be able to take care of the house better while he was in school. And I… none of that happened. I went into a depression that lasted for a couple of years until the marriage ended because I didn’t have a clear idea of where my life was going. For some reason, I never did commit to doing the writing. I had no idea how I was going to enter the workforce, because I’d been out of it for 7 years. I didn’t know how I would get back into it. I didn’t know how I would represent those parenting years on a résumé, my job before that, my full-time job was not so much a career as a job, so I didn’t know that it would make me more marketable in the workplace, so I was afraid of the changes that were coming, and I reacted to that fear by just going into a depression and not doing anything about it. And I would take him to school and come back and go back to bed. I watched a lot of Netflix, and I just went into… it was a depression. I went into just, like, hibernation. Just waiting to see what the next thing would be. And that lasted for a couple of years until she finally I think got sick of it and said she wanted a divorce.
Flora: How did you guys handle all these challenges? I mean, I know you talked about going to marital therapy, individual therapy. How else did you deal with these challenges? Did you try to change yourself? What did you do?
Rod: I went through a lot of beating myself up over the fact that I couldn’t be better for her. Why couldn’t I be better for her? And it wasn’t healthy for me, you know, resenting myself, resenting her for having expectations of me that I couldn’t live up to, resenting myself for not living up to them. Resenting her for not valuing the contributions that I did make. And I was drinking. A lot. I was numbing myself, really, to the pain of a marriage that was just not working. I wasn’t happy. I don’t know if the alcohol caused depression, or if the depression led me to drink, or they just went well together, but yeah, I was drinking a lot, and that helped drag the marriage on even longer just being numb. We, right before the end, when she said she wanted a divorce, right before that, we talked about getting back into couples therapy, because we remembered that, you know, years before when we’d done it, it had helped a lot, and it had helped us get back to being more partners, and just being kind to each other again. So we talked about doing it, and instead of that session being positive and helpful, I surprised myself and her by using it as an opportunity to unload all of my resentments. There is a lot that had gone on over those 20 years that was about her family, and I didn’t feel like everything that I had done to support her was very valued by her, and I went into that couples therapy session and said all of that. Like we sat down, and the therapist said, “So what’s going on?” And I looked at her, and she didn’t say anything, and the therapist didn’t say anything, so I started talking, and it was 15 straight minutes of me just unloading. She cried the whole time, and the therapist told me that I was really mean. And it didn’t go well, and we left it… I was pretty angry at the therapist for not… she didn’t manage the situation. She didn’t take any leadership in guiding the discussion. She just sat there and listened to me unload and then gave me shit about what I said. And then when we left, my ex-wife said that she really liked her, and she thought she might do one-on-one therapy with her, and I thought, “Oh, that’s not a good sign. She wants to do one-on-one therapy with this woman who clearly hates me and thinks everything’s my fault.” Which I’m sure wasn’t the case. But we never went back as a couple to that therapist or any other, and within a month or 2 of that appointment, my ex-wife told me she wanted a divorce.
Flora: How long since she told you she wanted a divorce, how long did you work on your marriage after that?
Rod: I guess I talked her into trying longer. I told her that I could change. I could change. We can do this. Give me another chance. And from her saying she wanted a divorce to her saying, “Yeah, it’s not gonna happen” was 3 months, I think. I think it was January to April. And I think by April it was clear that the marriage was not salvageable. It was not going to come back from the brink. It was really over. And from that point it was working the details of how we were going to split up. What happened in April that made me stop trying to fix it was her finally being straight up direct and honest, telling me that even though she’d said, yeah, we can try and fix it, she didn’t want to. She had a lot of anger towards me, and it was then that she finally really showed me how much she had and unleashed it on me, and that was an eye opener of, “Oh! She hates my guts! This is not going to work.” And I had a lot of resentment because I thought for those 3 months, she had lied to me. I thought we were working. I thought we were trying to fix it. And I found out that she was just riding it out until came to the same conclusion that it wasn’t going to work. And she got tired of waiting and unloaded on me.
Flora: Why did you want the marriage to work?
Rod: Because we’d been doing it for 20 years. It was what I knew. It was a promise that I made. She… that was another reason that I thought, “Oh. Yeah.” in April, that this is not going to work, was there was something I said about, “But we promised each other,” and she said, “Not that marriage vow shit again.” And I was like, “Oh. We are not on the same page as far as this whole, ‘I promise to stay together for the rest of our lives and you know, work through the problems, whatever they are.’” I believed that. I believed the, “We promised to stay together and work through it, whatever it is, always and forever until we’re dead.” I made that promise, and I believed it. And I thought she did. Until April. And then it was clear that was not the case.
Flora: How do you let go of the past and heal not only a broken heart but a broken dream of spending forever with someone? How do you let all that go?
Rod: It was not easy. I did a lot of angry walking. I walked at night. After we put my son to bed, we would fight. And I think we did a pretty good job of keeping it away from him. Like I don’t think he knew how bad it was, how much we hated each other at that point. But after he went to bed, we would unload on each other, and it was bad. And so to avoid that, I would just leave, and I would go walk and listen to music. Angry, fast music and angry, fast walking. And I would do it every night, for a couple of hours, hoping that she would be in bed asleep when I got home. And a lot of times she wasn’t, and we would start fighting again. Or she would start, you know, texting me or calling me while I was out walking to start fights again, and it was really, really bad. But that kind of, at least for me, that intensity of anger and sadness and resentment and regret, and it just, all of that, the intensity of it isn’t sustainable, and at some point, you just have to start to let it go and start looking forward. And I think when those questions began to be answered for me that had sent me into a depression in the first place, those questions of, “Is this going to work out? How is it going to work out? Am I going to be able to find a job? How am I going to manage the next phase of my life?” At the time it was about not being the stay-at-home dad anymore when he went to school, but at the point of the end of the marriage, it was, “what’s the next step after the marriage?” And when, you know, I spent a couple of months of sending résumés out and not getting anything and worrying about how am I going to move out of this house where there’s nothing but bad feeling? How am I going to do that? And when I got a couple of job offers and really started the process of finding an apartment and making the arrangements and all of that, and then had the job and had the apartment and realized, “This is my life, and it’s MY life, and I’m in charge of it.” And, like, having a space of my own. I went from living with my parents to living in a dorm to living in an apartment to living with her. I had never in my life lived alone. And having an apartment where there was nobody to give a shit if I didn’t wash the… if I didn’t clean the bathroom. There was nobody who would be like, “That doesn’t go there. It goes here.” It was all mine. It was my space. I was in charge of it, and I could do anything I wanted with it. She and I split custody, so it was half and half. It was every other week. So one week I’d be the dad, and one week I’d be the bachelor, and having that freedom and having that agency over my life that I’d never had before was what really started me thinking, “This could be a really good thing for me. This could be not the end of my life, but the beginning of my life.”
Flora: What did you learn about yourself through the marriage and divorce?
Rod: I learned that I had a pretty deep capacity for putting myself second. The marriage was all about her and her family, and I spent 20 years of that marriage just putting myself second. What she needed, what she wanted was most important, and it came first. I really deeply internalized it and thought of myself as a bad person because I couldn’t live up to those expectations. You know, I beat myself up about it and had really serious self-esteem issues over it. So I guess what I learned through the divorce was my life could be about me and what I wanted. And it was possible to find relationships that fit better. She and I were not compatible and never had been, and 20 years of being with someone with whom I wasn’t compatible put a lot of stress not just on our relationship but on me personally. And one, discovering that I could continue to live, that I could be in charge of my life, and also that I could find relationships that fit better and didn’t cause so much pain, that weren’t so hard. That was huge.
Flora: Were you afraid to fall in love again? Did you think you would find someone to love again?
Rod: I totally believed the things that I heard about relationships after divorce, that it’s very much like you shouldn’t date for a year after getting into AA. And I believed all that, and that was totally my intention was, “I am not doing that again.” Because I didn’t have a positive view of long term monogamous relationships at that point. You know, I was completely colored by the last, you know, the last couple years of the marriage and the time of ending the marriage and all of that anger and resentment. I thought, “Marriage is the worst thing! Why would anybody do that to themselves?”
Flora: Did you think anyone would love you again? Did you think you would love anyone again?
Rod: I guess, like, in an abstract, some day kind of way, I thought maybe. But in the right now, I didn’t want to try. I didn’t think… I had a very negative view of myself, and I was still… I was at the beginning of the process of changing that view of myself. And so, at that moment, no, I thought, there was nothing there to love. There was nothing in me to love. I was a mess. I’d screwed up the most important thing to me. I was in the middle of a lot of fear about… there was hope about my life, like, you know, having the new opportunity, the new space, the new everything, but I was also living in terror about how the actual divorce would go, how the custody arrangements would go. I thought, and I think unreasonably now, having gone through it and having talked to a lawyer through all of that and everything, unreasonably I was afraid that because I was a man, I would have very little power or leverage in the divorce. I’d have very little right to him, and if she chose to, she could easily get full custody of him. And I was very much afraid that she would, because she was so angry at me through that period of ending the marriage that I thought she would take my son away from me. So I was terrified, thought if I continued to build my life back up again maybe someday there would be something there, but I didn’t think I’d be in a relationship, and I didn’t think anybody would love me.
Flora: So what happened?
Rod: I had a friend who…