I have written a couple of deeply personal posts about my divorce and all that surrounded those circumstances. My divorce was the one reason I came back to writing, to connect with my emotions about the whole situation, to help grieve the loss. Right or wrong, I laid it all out there.
Here’s one notion that I didn’t touch on about my divorce: I do not blame my ex for our failed marriage. I failed him just as much as he failed me.
We all have a difficult time accepting responsibility when anything goes awry in any situation, professionally or personally. At least I do. Blaming comes so much easier. Accepting responsibility requires a lot of energy and self-reflection. I’m certain we are all guilty of finger pointing. It’s natural. But how do we grow from placing blame and not going through the process of self-reflection?
When I got married, he was a perfect partner. He was my fairytale. He was the definition of who I needed by my side. We were together almost 6 years before we got married. 6 years of a wonderful relationship that people envied. I had never been more sure of anything in my entire life the day I married him.
But here’s the thing: I married someone 8 years my junior…And that’s on me.
I dare you to tell me that age doesn’t matter in a relationship. Relationships and marriages are difficult regardless of age, absolutely, but a sure fire way of having an additional mountain to climb- add a significant age difference, especially if you’re in your 20s.
He was 23 when we got married, I was 31. There was no ultimatum, there was no gun-to-the-head moment, there was no “well, I’m getting older and I need this to happen soon” discussion. Sure, I wanted to get married and I knew I wanted to marry him, but I was well aware of our age difference. Mostly because everyone continually reminded me about it, as though it never occurred to me. There were plenty of discussions about it but literally no red flags.
I thought we were different. I thought my immaturity and his maturity balanced out this numeric equation that didn’t add up for everyone else. I thought we beat the age difference odds, but here’s where age does matter and what I failed to ignore: he wasn’t ready.
Certainly there are many 23 year olds that make a life-long commitment to someone and they have a happily ever after outcome. He wasn’t one of them. But how was I supposed to know this if this man willingly proposed to me, married me and knocked me up on our honeymoon? How was I to know if he didn’t say a word about the fear of all of this? How was I to know that he proceeded with all of this because he thought it was the right thing to do and he was too afraid to lose me? I gave him so many opportunities to walk away, to live a more independent life in his early 20s. How was I supposed to see through this bullshit he was feeding me about being ready for all of this?
The answer to all of this was so simple but too difficult for me to grapple with. The answer was this: I was significantly older than him and I should have let him go.
I remember watching an Uma Thurman movie, back when my ex and I were dating, called Prime, I believe. It was all encompassing of our situation. She was 37 and he 23, so a larger age gap, but they fell in love. I was rooting for them the entire movie thinking, “YEAH! This is me! This is exactly why age doesn’t matter!!!”… only for it to end super horribly with her realizing they’re on much different paths and ultimately…she let him go. Once the movie ended in such a way that didn’t match what I was hoping, I was dismissive of the plot because, after all, it was just a movie. Only, I should have applied the principles to my own situation.
I should have let him go experience what I was able to in my early 20s. I should have recognized that allowing him to figure out who he was without me was necessary for him to assess what he needed and wanted out of life. I should have looked at it on paper and saw that this person was with me from the age of barely 18 and that not much life experience came with him at that age.
I should have stopped being a control freak for two minutes to realize that life was laughing hysterically at my “plan”. “If he says he’s ready, he’s ready. Face value. Let’s move on with THE PLAN”. I always had to have a plan. We both had a semblance of a career, we both wanted to get married and have a baby? Then THAT’S what we were going to do right.that.moment. Maybe that’s why I chose someone so much younger, because I have a controlling personality and he was malleable? I’m sure that’s part of it, but I digress.
It wasn’t until our daughter was a little over the age of 2 that things started to unravel. Reality was setting in for him, while I remained in denial. He wasn’t ready to be a husband and a father. I saw, and felt, how he wanted less responsibilities in life instead of more. He didn’t make any of our family decisions, I did. He was barely participating in our relationship. I was suddenly parenting two people, navigating everything for all of us, watching my “plan” fall into this pile of disconnected fragments of a relationship. We were both more lonely by our third year of marriage than we are now as a divorced, co-parenting couple.
I ignored the obvious for a long time as our arguments increased and he started turning to drinking more and more and coming home less and less. I wanted to blame the symptom, not the actual disease. I’m not talking about alcoholism, I’m talking about denial. I was in denial. I wanted to blame him for the unraveling. I wanted to blame the drinking, the cheating, the lying, and yes, shame on him for any and all of those things that applied, and double shame on him for not being honest with me about so many things. However, this was a part of him that went undeveloped. He didn’t know how to be honest and true to himself, let alone to me, because he didn’t get to explore outside of his comfort zone and his comfort was me.
It was my responsibility to him, as the woman who loved him, the older woman that loved him, to have seen the forest through the trees, or whatever the hell that saying is. He needed more than a plan derived by me and me alone. He needed independence and self worth and he needed to find that on his own. I failed him by not giving this to him. I failed my marriage by being too controlling and not taking a step back to realize that one of us was just along for the ride. That was my portion of the responsibility. That was how I failed.
So, what’s the point? The beautiful, amazing, self righteous point is that I’ve grown and I’ve learned. I’ve learned that relationships and life do not thrive on a plan. I’ve learned that by attempting to control any and all situations in a relationship, you’re setting yourself and your partner up for failure. I’ve learned that age does matter but it’s not a deal breaker, it’s a challenge that cannot be ignored. I’ve learned that independence, even within a relationship, is so important. I’ve learned that letting go is truly necessary so many times throughout life.
I can only apply all of this knowledge in the future, obviously. My marriage failed and that is what it is. This was a priceless education and I don’t regret any of it for one single moment. Failures are far more beneficial than successes sometimes, aren’t they?