Appearing here Wednesdays, Turning The Screw provides existential crisis counseling for the faint of heart. “Because even Bumbles bounce!”
I met my husband when I was 26 in 2003 and got married in 2006. In short, we’ve been together for 11 years now. The first five years were great. Then bit by bit he started getting comfortable to the point where he wouldn’t take care of himself like he used to. And due to work-related and financial stress, he prioritized that over our relationship. He hasn’t worked from the time we met and takes antidepressants for his vertigo which kills the sex drive.
It is impossible to communicate with him about matters of the heart. If I bring up the fact that I’m not happy with how things are going and we need to find a way to meet halfway, he gets all defensive and tells me if I’m not happy I should find someone else. Or says he’s not a girl, and if that’s what I need, then I should go out with a girl. Oh yes, and as I’m pouring my heart out to him, he just keeps on playing games on his iPad.
He’s always on the iPad, has tremendously bad breath, and doesn’t keep in shape. One minute he is nice and then gets quite rude and it hurts. It’s like walking on egg shells.
We have been living like roommates for the past five and a half years and we haven’t slept in the same bed in five years. I remember in the past telling him I hope we can sleep in the same bed soon. He would say that he is a bit restless and edgy but soon when things get better, everything will go back to normal. Go back to normal? I agree that plans can be put on hold but not a relationship, not for so many years anyway. Guess when a couple doesn’t focus and work on their relationship year after year, shit happens. I lived under his stress and tried to relate to it for so long I feel as if I lost my identity. I don’t even want to mention what it’s like when and if we go out. He drives like a maniac. Gets road rage, gets agitated around people, always complaining about something. It truly gets stressing and I feel so relaxed when I go out alone.
He is a good-hearted man and has so many good qualities but the other stuff just smothers his good qualities. We don’t have kids, by the way.
When I told him I want a divorce, he did get very upset. But he told me he basically didn’t make an effort because he never thought I would want to leave. He never discussed anything regarding the divorce and just skimmed over it. Asking for sex here and there, like nothing.
I am fully aware that it takes two to make things work, but I do literally everything around the house. Laundry, groceries, cleaning, cooking, taking care of the cats, their litter boxes, etc.
So Sad & Frustrated
Dear So Sad & Frustrated,
Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You’re married to an out-of-shape guy who hasn’t had a job for years, doesn’t clean or cook or run errands, has bad breath, has terrible road rage, and spends most of his time fucking around on his iPad. When you try to talk to him, he insults you and tells you to find someone who gives a shit, because he doesn’t.
Does he also snack on live frogs all day long? Does he force you to wear a metal bikini? Does he lick you with his stinky tongue, then fall asleep and snore loudly? Because it sounds like you’re married to Jabba the Hutt.
I guess it’s not all that surprising that you had to whip out a thermal detonator just to get his attention. Since then, though, he’s just hanging out, hoping that this whole “divorce” charade will blow over. So the real question is: Why haven’t you left yet?
You know that Jabba basically can’t survive without someone to fill his tank with live frogs, right? He needs someone to hire his live band and someone to point spears at people’s faces and someone to wrangle the Rancor, too. But for some strange reason, right now you’re playing the roles of Bib Fortuna, Gamorrean guard, Rancor wrangler and Salacious B. Crumb combined. You’re working and buying groceries and doing laundry and changing cat litter and stocking up on frogs and tolerating scary driving and laughing at bad jokes, and for what? For some immobile slug who’s basically lost all confidence in himself and his ability to, I don’t know, speak and walk and wipe his own ass. And when you try to discuss it with him, he says stuff like, “So I’m not a person who likes to earn money or move or brush my teeth! So what?! If you don’t like it, then why don’t you go out and find yourself someone with a toothbrush, and legs?”
But here’s what happens to Jabba when everyone throws down their spears and their saxophones and their drink trays and says, “To hell with this boshuda. I’m outta here!”: Jabba gets very hungry and very lonely, and eventually, maybe, he loses enough weight that he can find his feet and walk out the door in search of food. Maybe he puts away his iPad and empties the fucking cat litter. Maybe he learns to stop laughing in people’s faces when they talk about how they feel, and maybe he wipes the frog intestines off his chin after he’s done eating his afternoon snack.
By staying with Jabba, though, you’re essentially keeping him helpless and angry and dependent on you. You’re hurting him, and you’re hurting yourself. Why are you doing that?
Take a minute and ask yourself why. Why do you want to be loved by someone pathetic who depends on you for everything? Are you pretty sure that’s the best you can do? Are you so disgusted with yourself that you can only feel secure if you’re with someone who’s helpless and angry and lost?
You need to gently explain to your husband that a divorce is the only way that either one of you is going to change. He’s not going to listen or get a job or do a thing to become a better person until he has to do so to survive. You’re not going to understand your own worth until you remove yourself from the company of someone who doesn’t like or respect you.
It’s time for you to learn to like and respect yourself again. It’s time to break free and start from scratch. What are you waiting for, exactly? Stop making excuses and start mapping out a life that doesn’t include imperious layabouts with frog breath.
What is this “it takes years to get over a divorce” thing people talk about? Am I going to have some terrible backlash? I divorced my wife about a month ago, and I don’t recall being happier. I don’t get guilt-tripped for going out dancing every other night, I am not criticized for changing my mind, there is no passive aggressive stonewalling every day, I can have company over any time I like, and my sex life is better than it has been for years. I feel bad for being over it so quickly, though. Some of our mutual friends who are in touch with both of us are basically pissed at me for being happy while she is going through hell sporadically. One of them is a psychologist, and is somewhere between pissed and confused when he asks me how I am doing and I respond by telling him about all of the fun I am having and the new productivity I have found. How the fuck do I convince people that this sweet, caring, diligent girl they all love is miserable for me to live with, and I am incomparably happier on my own?
You’re happy, right? So don’t try to convince anyone of anything. The more you try to convince people, the more suspicious they’ll become. Your ex is in pain, so don’t add to her misery by walking around telling everyone how awful your life was with her. You’ll only make a lot of enemies that way. Maybe you’re on a high right now that will subside once the excitement of being free wears off. Maybe you’ll have nothing but dancing and hot sex for the rest of your life—in which case, more power to you. But you really don’t know how you’ll feel in a few more months, so try to remain humble in the face of this major life change. Show some respect for this woman who cared about you and loved you, even though it didn’t work out, and show some respect for the people who love her. If you’re having a great time, why do you need for them to understand how unhappy you were before?
Their anger might upset you and make you feel misunderstood, but it’s not surprising. Mutual friends are likely to find it awkward, if not downright jarring, to see you acting nonchalant about ending a marriage, because it makes them feel bad for your ex AND bad for themselves, imagining that their own spouses could dump them out of the blue and not regret it one bit. It’s fine to revel in your newfound freedom privately, but try not to lay it on quite so thick with the people who care about both of you and actually feel sad about your breakup even if you don’t.
If you’re truly happier, they’ll see that over time and adjust. But in the meantime, don’t wage any kind of campaign or tell any sweeping story. The truth is, you don’t know how you’ll feel a week or a month or a year from now. You don’t have to feel guilty, but if you’re doing well, that’s all the more reason to treat your ex with consideration and embrace a spirit of humility and gratitude.
Does your misery love company? Does your happiness demand an audience? Write to Polly and find out!
Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Jabba the Hutt photo by Jen Sadler; divorce celebration photo by Alvin Howard.