Leaving a Marriage — For Love, But in Shame
A man grapples with the painful and enduring consequences of leaving a good wife and loving family for another woman. Tweet
People hate me for what I did, because I broke my promise and broke my ex-wife’s heart
I knew what I was doing was wrong within any moral universe—and I did it anyway.
If I had it to do over again I would at least do it the right way—right away, and not tell a single lie
People tell me this is the most romantic story they have ever heard — because I leave out the part about destroying my family to make it happen
What is the price of taking a perfectly good marriage—with someone you really love—and stuffing it down the garbage disposal, shit-canning friends and family alike like so many leftovers?
I have a step-son, a step-daughter, a step-grandson, and an ex-wife who will never speak to me again. Our best friends, two couples—four people who would have done anything in the world for us—have not talked to me for five years.
People hate me for what I did, because I broke my promise and broke my ex-wife’s heart— and then destroyed my second family. I gave all of them up, friends and family, for a final chance at happiness with my first love, the woman I have loved every day of my life.
I know your next question: was it worth it?
The answer: absolutely. To me, anyway.
But was it worth it is not the real question. The real question is what is the price of your own happiness?
Was my happiness worth the loss of my immortal soul? Not on your life. So I went to Confession, even though I think the Catholic religion is a bunch of hooey. Telling the priest I was sorry was easy because I’ve never been so sorry for something in my life. Saving my soul was a simple matter of telling that priest the horrible thing I had done. According to Church canon, I won’t be going to hell just yet because I had wiped away my mortal sin with the administration of a Sacrament I admit I don’t believe in.
Hey, you can’t blame me for hedging my bets to save my immortal soul from hellfire for eternity.
Still, for these five years I have lived in a hell of my own making, full of self-inflicted punishment and nut-cracking remorse. My ultimate punishment is having been forced to admit I was the kind of person—a bad person—who would make the wife who loved me want to die, and that five years later I would still say it was worth it.
The idea of being the kind of person who would inflict such damage blows up the personal narrative I have been carefully crafting for years by helping those who need help, treating friendship as a sacred trust, and being kind to animals.
Now all of that is out the window. I knew what I was doing was wrong within any moral universe—and I did it anyway.
I’d also tried to undo it. There is that. I went back to my wife and my life not once but three times. But every time I lied. I told my wife I was not talking to my new/old love when I was actually talking to her every day because in my heart I knew I could not live without her. I was walking our two dogs so I could talk to her. I was driving around our neighborhood so I could keep talking to her. After I left the third time, I was planning to go back to my wife/life again, for a fourth time, because I could not live with myself—until she got sick of my dicking around and emailed me pre-signed divorce papers.
She made it easy. I didn’t even have to pack.
She made it easy. I didn’t even have to pack.
I doubt I will ever talk again to my friends and family. I won’t even set foot in the state where she lives with my stepdaughter and step-grandson. I really don’t deserve to see them again, and if I did, what would I say?
Love means always having to say you’re sorry.
I tell myself if I had it to do over again, I would at least do it the right way—right away. If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well / It were done quickly. And I would try like hell not to tell a single lie. Maybe if I had done those two things everything would be different. Or, who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have had the guts to leave in the first place. I will never know.
What I do know is I’m still being punished for what I did and I deserve to be punished.
At the same time, I have become very good at making excuses and giving explanations. I have found ways to fault my ex-wife to make better sense of my narrative. After five years, I don’t even hate myself so much. I sometimes take off the hair shirt for days and weeks at a time.
People can’t wait to tell me this is the most romantic story they have ever heard, and they will be right—up to a point—because I jostle the chronology and leave out the part about destroying my family to make it happen.
But I also see what they mean.
Yes—I have paid a price. I was the cause of great suffering among those I once cared about more than anything in the world. But I got the win: Had I not reached out to my new/old love, I would have missed out on a life so much better than I ever could have imagined.
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