I was scrolling through the calendar on my phone, looking for an appointment I couldn’t remember making, when I scrolled across a repeating reminder.
It made my stomach drop to be honest, and I flashed to memories of a lacy white dress, yellow roses on white tablecloths, and promises that were supposed to last forever.
“For better or for worse.”
“For richer or for poorer.”
“Forsaking all others…”
“Anniversary…” plugged in to my phone because I’ve always had a hell of a time with dates, even important ones, and I need reminders. And there it was, my reminder, set to repeat into infinity, because when you get married you promise each other forever, and you can’t imagine a world where you won’t need a reminder for that date.
I deleted the reminder–I wouldn’t need it anymore–but the word hung like a shadow for the rest of the day. It would have been seven years this year, and, even though I’ve honestly gotten to the place where I feel pretty damn lucky that the marriage ended, the reminder still tagged along with me for the rest of the day.
It’s funny to me that “divorced” is considered a “relationship status,” as though it were somehow different from single. Once you are divorced, you are never again just “single”…you are divorced. Which, as far as I can tell, mostly just means single but with a shit ton of emotional baggage. I feel like I’m wearing a sticker across my forehead when I say it. “I’m Divorced” equals “My marriage failed…Try and guess who’s fault it is.” A scarlet letter.
I remember sitting watching television as a kid, listening to the adults in the next room discuss someone’s divorce, lamenting that “people just throw away their marriages these days.” Divorce, in the subculture I was raised in, is a character failing. By that reasoning, I guess I write this with a failed character.
There’s a meme that pops up on Facebook every few months of an elderly couple who, when asked how they “managed to stay together for so long” respond that “It’s simple really. We are from a time where if something is broken, we fix it; Not throw it away.”
I have to admit, the first time I saw that meme, I thought it was really cute.
“Yes.” I thought, a touch too self-righteously, “People need to stick together and fix things.”
I was raised in 90s evangelical purity culture, with its message that if you don’t sleep around before marriage, God will bless you with a happy, fulfilling relationship. In youth groups and Bible studies, marriage was the finish line instead of the starting gate. Women were framed in relation to their husbands. I was raised to believe that marriage was meant to last forever. I was raised to believe that wedding vows are sacred. I was raised to believe that, once you’re married to someone, you will always be married in the eyes of God, no matter what the courts may say.
Later, when I found myself living in what could only be described as a toxic relationship, a toxic marriage complete with abandonment and adultery, those ideas that I no longer entirely subscribe to clanged around in my head like marbles in a tin can, noisy and pointless and undeniable. I thought endlessly on those words: “throw away” and “fix.” I spent two and a half years of my life trying to repair a relationship that was fucked up beyond repair. I tried to repair it despite what my friends said. I tried to repair it despite how I was treated. I tried to repair it despite the warning of a marriage therapist who told both of us that it was obvious to her that he was not invested in repairing the relationship.
I hung on. I kept trying.
Sometimes, I honestly wish I had just “thrown away my marriage” In retrospect, it would have been completely reasonable to throw myself into a life boat when the ship started sinking, to get the hell away from something that would only prove to nearly drown me.
I thought back on those vows and wondered how they really worked. Do they become void once broken? And, if so, in what order? Am I off the hook on “for better or for worse” because he broke “in sickness and in health” and “forsaking all others,” or was this just the “for worse” before we swung back around to “for better?”
Ending my marriage was the most difficult decision of my life, but, in the end, it was my decision. I filed the paperwork. I made the call. I “threw away” my marriage. I dissolved my marriage to save myself.
And when I did it, I didn’t think about the common things that the Bible has to say about marriage. I mean, I did, but I also oddly thought about Abraham and Issac.
There is a passage in Genesis that recounts a story about Abraham. He is called upon by God to sacrifice his beloved son on an alter. In the end, with Issac waiting on the alter for his father to plunge a knife into his chest, God stays Abraham’s hand and provides a ram instead.
Biblical scholars tend to agree that this story serves to point out the differentiation between Judaism and the other religions of the time that encouraged human sacrifice.
I don’t know why exactly, but I thought about this story a lot in relationship to my marriage. In the end, I couldn’t make myself believe that the same God who spared Issac would want me to sacrifice my own life on the alter of marriage, bound and shackled to something that was eating away at my soul. I couldn’t help but believe that when we become so committed to an institution, like marriage, that we abandon the well-being of the people who belong to it, that is when we lose ourselves and our humanity.
This path has felt nearly impossible at times. Every step I took away from the man I still loved felt like a self-inflicted torture. But that didn’t make it less right.
Here’s one of the things I have learned: almost no one just “throws away” a marriage. No one dissolves the most important relationship in their life on a whim. Some things just can’t be fixed. Sometimes it’s better for your soul to let go. (I probably should have let go a lot sooner, if I’m being honest.) And sometimes the most important thing you will ever do is decide it’s time to walk away.