Seems that nearly everyone agrees that 2016 was a front-to-back wack-ass year for a lot of wack-ass reasons. For me, the year took a sharp-left shit-show turn in its very first seconds. Literally.
During an otherwise wonderful New Year’s Eve wedding with my family in Detroit, my wife and I descended into the worst fight we ever had. Which is saying a lot, because we got down.
The fight ended at dawn on January 1, with her leaving me asleep in my mama’s condo to take a flight back home to Chicago (we’d driven together). A little more than a week later, my marriage was effectively over after two and a half years.
The End came not as a result of the “Big Three” – no abuse, no money problems, and, to my knowledge, no physical or emotional affairs. The events that led to our dissolution, as is often the case, are related to problems we had since the beginning of the relationship and would take longer to explain than the space I have here.
Untangling lives is an inherently traumatic experience – like sorting through the remains of a fire to see what remains intact. To this day, I miss my father-in-law and my puppy more than anything else. But even as started over in the dead of a Chicago winter, I knew losing the love of my life wouldn’t ruin me so much as it would evoke some valuable lessons.
Indeed, I credit 2016 with bringing about a personal and professional awakening unlike any that I’ve had in my adult life: I’ve learned so much about myself from being single for the first time in my 30s. Last summer was one of the best I’ve had in years, as was this past holiday season with my friends and loved ones.
But, barring my sudden and unforeseen death from a bad case of DoingwhatthefuckIwantitis, I still have a lot to learn from my “conscious uncoupling,” especially as it pertains to future relationships. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
1. No regrets
When we almost broke up 15 months into the relationship, shortly after we moved in with each other, I was literally on my knees in tears, begging her not to leave.
This time around, my last-ditch attempts to save us were disingenuous – her rejection of them met with internal relief. Packing up and moving out in the weeks that followed was like a dog being let off his leash, one link at a time.
The expected sleepless nights and loneliness in the first month or so never obfuscated my belief that the parting was the right thing. But even as I look back and acknowledge the early warning signs in our union, I never for a split second regretted my decision to get married. We had some fantastic times together, and I wish for all married people the finest of what we had.
2. Fuck the opinion of others
Since failed relationships happen to damn near everyone, I’m impervious to being shamed by mine; it’s like being ashamed by passing gas.
Most people have been respectful of my divorce, offering me solace (that I never truly needed) and suds (that I was always willing to take). Anything remotely approaching judgment has come not from people who are divorced or have been married for years, but from single people still hopped up on the happily-ever-after narrative of shitty Kate Hudson romantic comedies and the divorce-is-not-an-option mindset that conveniently ignores actual divorce statistics.
Marriage requires work and effort. But when shit falls apart like a house of cards, divorce is always an option. Don’t grow old stuck in a vortex of misery because you care what people will think.
3. Dating is different now
In my 20s, I was dating to find my would-be wife and babymoms. Now, it’s much different: I’m not looking to walk down the aisle again anytime soon, but while I’m still figuring what I do want out of future relationships, there’s liberation in not being encumbered by the path to the diamond ring. It allows for a more honest flow, and I’ve experienced the most refreshing candidness when date fellow divorcees.
There’s also a maturity and swagger that develops through living with and sharing one’s life with a woman. It manifests itself in an increased degree of patience, more deliberate use of words and – in my case – a heightened awareness of overall cleanliness (I’m still scared to leave my shavings in the sink and I live by my goddamn self).
She always said that if we ever broke up, I’d be better for the next woman than when she found me. She was right about that: my conditioning has been conditioned.
4. I’ll never again sacrifice who I am
No one’ll argue that compromise is a foundational component of successful relationships, and some would say marriage ups that ante. It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between good and bad compromise, but while you can be more mindful of scraping your plate in the trash or making sure your streaked-up draws actually land in the hamper, you can’t be less social, less introverted or extroverted; or less you at the behest of another.
I made sacrifices to my personality, privacy and writing in order to stay in my union because I loved her dearly. But I came to quietly resent her for it, and slowly rebel in a way that wasn’t conducive to our marriage. Marital counseling was only a temporary fix, because not even someone who’s paid $300 an hour has the magic fairy dust to change a nigga’s constitution.
5. Marriage is a-changin’
“My parents/grandparents have been together for 40 years and I’m looking for that.”
I’ve read some iteration of this in quite a few online dating profiles. Sounds adorable, but it doesn’t acknowledge that the connubial paradigm is rapidly shifting in America. For starters, women are no longer financially yoked to their husbands as they were generations ago, when they couldn’t reasonably divorce. Combine that with an overall more gender-progressive society, and women are far less likely to endure bullshit from their husbands just to stay married. This dynamic is especially pronounced in the black community.
Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, the most enlightening book that I’ve read in my adult life, examines marriage and monogamy on an anthropological level. It explains that the first humans were egalitarian and non-monogamous, and that we really started worrying about what (and who) belongs to whom with the advent of agriculture a few thousand years ago.
Essentially, the reason we struggle through making it through decades with just one muthafucka day in and day out is because we’re literally not wired to do so. Just check the success rates.
I didn’t need a book to realize that far more people get married than are actually built for our societal expectations of marriage. Gassed up on a childhood worth of fairy tales and shitfest Kate Hudson romantic comedies, far too many people learn the lesson that this marriage shit ain’t checkers the hard (and expensive) way. But I strongly believe that it’s going to continue to evolve (or devolve, depending on your perspective) in successive generations.
6. Extended mourning is a waste of time
The week or two before I moved out was the very first time in the better part of five years that I actively avoided going home. One evening during that time, as I drove through southwest Chicago, I called my mother to ask her, “Why do you think I allowed this to happen?”
Reflections on my role in the end of the marriage persist to this day, driving me from time to time to seek counsel from my mother and closest friends. Perhaps my most present ongoing fear is how I would handle truly falling for another woman, or if that’s even possible right now.
That said, I’m well past the grief and mourning period of it all. I look at people who spend, say, a year “getting over” a two-year relationship like I do people who put sugar in their grits: with pure befuddlement. We both hit these streets relatively quickly: I found her on Tinder a month after I moved out, and had a nice laugh at the knowledge that she was moving on with her life.
It’s all a far cry from the vision I once had of us: white-haired, wrinkled and watching our grandkids frolic in the grass, still as in love as we were in the beginning. Indeed, I still love her, and I always will to some degree. But there’s placidity in the knowledge that everything ends and everyone dies. We just need to rock with the good times as long as we can.
I’m too young to permanently write off marriage. And I know my capacity for love wasn’t extinguished – I still get butterflies when I’m excited about a woman, and I realize there are few greater joys than loving a woman and having her love my stankin’ ass in return.
But since walking down the aisle again sounds like the equivalent of shoving a knitting needle full of termites up my urethra right now, there’s probably a hell of a lot of time, learning and personal experiences separating me from shopping for another overpriced rock.
Which is fine, because there may be no better time to be single than one’s 30s. So say the stamps on my passport.