It was like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was afraid.
I’d never felt anything like this before. I stood over the bathroom toilet and vomited even though I wasn’t sick or drinking. But I felt seasick. Like a guy in a row boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico with no oars and no way to signal for help.
It was the first time I’d ever experienced anxiety so badly that I threw up. It’s a feeling I got to know well during the run up to, and the aftermath of, my divorce. I puked a lot. I still do sometimes. You might say I’m a little unsteady.
I was 23 the first time she left. It was just for a week to visit her family. I was totally alone for the first time ever. And I just lost it. That’s the first time I realised how reliant I was on other people and how much I needed an anchor.
I grew up in this safe little town with a close group of friends, my mum and stepdad (who I met on my 5th birthday) and a big extended family. When I wasn’t there, I was with my dad who I only saw a few months out of the year 800 kms away. I think maybe when your parents split up when you’re 4, and live 800 kms apart, it messes you up a little no matter how great the rest of your life is.
When you get married, you officially leave the nest and build a new one. The most intimate of inner circles in your life (your parents—and siblings if you have them) moves out one rung on your circle, and your partner takes that place in the centre. She’s your new safety net. Your new normal. Your new foundation.
So when she flew back to her family for a week, leaving me alone far away from anything familiar for the first time, it was my first taste of isolation. It didn’t take, I realised, staring into a toilet and recognising just how little control of myself I had. That’s the part that scares you the most. I’m not in control. What might happen next? I had always thought I was strong and steady. But really, I was weak and fragile.
My mum left my stepdad while my wife was pregnant with our son. Mum called to tell me when I was on my lunch break. She cried. I cried. Then I vomited some more and called my wife because I needed something steady. She left her office to come hug me. I felt like the biggest pussy imaginable. I was almost 30, for God’s sake. I’m supposed to hold HER. And I’m crying on her shoulder?
I was just smart enough to know shit I’d been carrying around for 25 years was rearing its head. I didn’t visit my mum for about a year after that. But I had my wife. She’d always be there.
When we met, I was strong and confident. But now I was something else. I wonder if that scared her. I wonder sometimes if the fear and anxiety that started to build throughout my late 20s and early 30s made her feel unsafe. Like she couldn’t trust me to make everything okay, no matter what.
You can’t know it until you know it: When your insides break, you need more than another person to make it okay. The only certainty I ever had in life was that I would never get divorced and put my children through what I went through. That’s it. That’s the one thing I was sure of.
I had plenty of time to get used to the taste of failure while I slept in the guest room for 18 months feeling it all slip away one failed attempt to save it at a time. I’d like to tell you I spent most of that time thinking about how hard it would be for my young son. How he could end up feeling so many of the same uncertainties and co-dependent tendencies I did if his mum and I divorced.
But I was mostly thinking about me. That I was about to lose the only thing I was sure about. Maybe it’s not the same for everyone, but when I got married, I thought of my wife in the same way I’d always thought of my parents. The person you can count on to love you unconditionally and always be there. But then you realise it’s not true. I guess I really don’t know anything. And then you’re back in that oar-less boat in the middle of the ocean, and the storm is kicking you around, and you want to start paddling but you don’t know which way to go because there is no home to go to anyway.
I hear a lot of people say that staying together for the kids is a bad idea. If there’s heavy dysfunction like infidelity or physical abuse or addiction problems, I can co-sign with that. Exposing children to those things is not in their best interest.
But what about the rest of us? The ones who just die from a thousand little pinpricks? The people who are bored. The people who are angry. The people who are scared. The people who are sad. The people who are confused. The people who are lost.
Those people need a good reason to fight for it. If you won’t do it because it’s the right thing, or because you vowed to do so, I think doing it for the kids is a pretty legit reason.
People always say (including me): “I would do ANYTHING for my kids!”
But we won’t love for them.
Maybe it’s because we don’t know how.
Because no one ever showed us.
Because they didn’t know how either.
This article is an edited version of Must Be This Tall To Ride’s post, Staying together for the kids is good enough for me.