They’ve Begun To

“When two people decide to get a divorce, it isn’t a sign that they ‘don’t understand’ one another, but a sign that they have, at last, begun to.”–Helen Rowland

Our next door neighbors recently signed divorce papers.

In the ways that divorce can be awful, it has been. The husband has been angry, betrayed, wanting retribution. The wife has been sad, confused, feeling defensive.

Lately, the nine-year-old son amuses himself by putting his Lego creations in the middle of the street and watching cars run them over. When her dad starts yelling, the seven-year-old daughter buries her head under a couch pillow and sobs.

Although the marriage lasted fourteen years, its death commenced shortly after the first child was born, when the new dad experienced, for the first time, how stressful life with kids is. Rather than forcing himself to step up, he chose to absent himself, even when physically present, rendering his wife, in essence, a single parent, albeit it one with the added level of resentment that comes from having the children’s father sitting out back on the steps, strumming his guitar, while she wrestled two toddlers to bed each night.

Of course, relationships go both ways, and the dad’s story would include chapters of resenting a wife who gives everything to the kids and nothing to him, of supporting a wife who opts to stop working and expects him to pull all the financial weight, of a wife who changes her mind midstream. He feels used.

This divorce does not hinge upon blame, though. More, it pivots on a glacial growing apart, of getting married in their twenties and realizing, in their thirties, that they have trouble liking each other, that their views of the world have diverged radically, that he wants to go to Rush concerts while she wants to design little girls’ bedrooms in Shabby Chic. As is the case in many divorces, their break-up isn’t a case of flashy drama but, rather, of slow decay.


In the ways divorce can be freeing, this one has been. Although the Rush Lover is acting as though his wife enjoyed a leisurely vacation at home these past years while he hauled himself off to the office to give and give and give of himself, I daresay a part of him is relieved. He won’t have to feel guilty anymore for puttering in the garage, building furniture, when the rest of the world wants him to tell his wife, “Your job is 24/7, and there’s no clocking out, so why not take an hour here and go for a walk?” He won’t have to feel put out anymore when his wife asks him to watch the kids so she can go get her hair done. Instead, the emotional nuances that play into good parenting and spousing—nuances that have largely eluded him –are no longer a factor, since the expectations of his fatherhood have been typed out, clearly, with set hours and boundaries, on legal paper. He now knows when he can and can’t make furniture or strum “Closer to the Heart.” He now knows exactly which hours of the week he should call out, “Okay, kids, let’s go to the playground!” The murkiness that comes from sharing a household, from not being able to decode a complicated set of encrypted expectations, has cleared.

For the wife, freedom comes from the abolishment of resentment; from no longer having to tamp down her disappointment, fear, and hopes; from realizing that, if she couldn’t figure out how to be strong within marriage, then it’s time to master strength on her own.

Despite her excitement at being free, the wife existed in limbo for some weeks after the break-up became official. He got the house; she got primary custody of the kids. With no place to move with the kids and very little money in hand, she remained in the house until the final possible move-out date. Only through the kindness of friends did she land in a perfect rental, which she is just settling into.

Currently, he has a steady flow of income from his clients; she is living off past garage sale earnings and applying for public assistance to tide her over until he sells off some investments to raise the settlement money she has coming to her. Despite these financial straits, she was holding steady, attitude-wise, until her final lawyer’s bill arrived. She had expected it to be $800. But since Ex-Husband had drawn out the finalizing of the papers, asking for meetings twice a week to change a few words, the final bill came to $3,000.

As Ex-Wife sat with that bill on her lap, moving more of her things out of her previous house, Ex-Husband walked in with a trailer load of new IKEA furniture totaling well over $1,000.

The disparities snapped her positive attitude. She had known her lawyer was inept; she had realized she rolled over too easily on some agreements; she was the first to admit the marriage had been a two-way street.

But. It. Just. Felt. So. Unjust.

A feeling that had been fomenting inside of her hardened, became shiny. In the fashion of a 1987 Women’s Studies class, she became rabid about the word “empowerment.”

Eventually, she accepted that, on some fundamental level, her final step to complete empowerment entailed financial self-sufficiency. Her plan to open a shop of “gently used” clothing and household items—the kind of shop she’d started and successfully run two times previously–gained momentum. The space is rented, partially painted, awaiting carpet replacement. Up until the lawyer’s final bill arrived, Ex-Wife had hoped to keep her stock for the shop in Ex-Husband’s garage while the store’s interior was polished.

After the lawyer’s final bill arrived, she became amenable to a mass transfer of Stuff to the half-finished shop.

So now her future Empowerment is stacked in a heap on the ratty old carpet in her will-open-one-day-somewhat-soonish store.

It’s dingy, it’s mottled with the splotches of decades, but that damp, smelly rug feels like a less toxic place to risk her future than her husband’s arms ever did.






25 responses to “They’ve Begun To”

  1. secret agent woman Avatar
    secret agent woman

    I always find it appalling when a man will allow the mother of his children to be cheated in a divorce settlement. I don't know the whole story, of course (and I would say that NO ONE outside the couple ever really does) but the fact that sh'e son public assistance while he's living in their home and buying new furniture twists my gut.

  2. Becky Cazares Avatar
    Becky Cazares

    These are the stories you never hear. One might walk into a newly opened resale shop (as I have many times) and not ever know the history that led up to its opening nor the underlying symbolism of the OPEN sign. Sometimes I make up the story in my brain. But it's never quite this good!

    I cry for the children, though. And I wish I was a good lawyer.

  3. Erin Avatar

    Oh. That is a story to ponder for a while.

  4. kmkat Avatar

    I ache for the children. And for the mother who has custody and no money and has to apply for public assistance while asshat husband keeps the house and buys new furniture. How did that happen? He really is an asshat, to keep the house and make the rest of his family — his family! — find another place to live, without money.

  5. Jocelyn Avatar

    Thank you for being appalled and calling him an asshat, friends. He IS. I'm trying to remember he's a person and has his side, but he pisses the mo-fo out of me.

    In my efforts to remain somewhat equitable in the telling, I left out most of his asshattery. Maybe that'll be my follow-up post: the behind-the-scenes Rat Bastardy.

  6. christopher Avatar

    It's not like pulling off a band-aid, that's for sure!

    Given that I don't know the couple…you seem to have surmised their plight extremely well. And I like your analogy of gradual decay.

    On another note, I tagged you, as I had been last week, to consider sharing your thoughts on 'happiness'.

  7. SQT Avatar

    I hate to say it– but this story is all too common. My husband is a financial consultant and whenever clients get divorced, it seems like it's the wife that gets screwed. Unfortunately, the wives let themselves be put in this position because they allow themselves to marry asshats in the first place. Chances are, this guy didn't change over the years. Extra responsibility probably just intensified his personality until it became unbearable.

    Maybe I'm wrong. But, I bet this guy's asshattery was noticeable a looooong time ago.

  8. chelle Avatar

    I am totally intrigued by people that get a divorce. I am just entering the years of knowing couples that end it.
    I.cannot.imagine.I agree with secret agent woman. A man that allows his wife to get screwed and in turn his kids deserves nothing but loneliness and misery as he grows old.

  9. Lady Christina Avatar
    Lady Christina

    I happen to live in your fair town Jocelyn, I'd be interested in supporting this shop when it opens. My story is remarkably similar to hers and us empowered women need to stick together.

  10. Meg Avatar

    I was a divorce lawyer for 16 years. I don't do it anymore. Too much pain. There is an old maxim that goes like this, "Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best, but divorce lawyers see good people at their worst." I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that over 75% of divorces filed after 5 years of marriage are filed by women. Women will basically leave everything behind to get out, whereas men will fight to the last $$ to keep it from ending.

  11. Jazz Avatar

    I can think of much more colourful words than asshat…

    Saying he let his family be screwed in the settlement is, I think, taking some of the responsibility from him. He screwed his family. That is beyond asshattery.

  12. Pam Avatar

    An aquaintance of mine went through a similar situation. Her ex-husband repeatedly taking her back to court well after the divorce, over trivialities,when, as she tried to point out to him, the money needed to repeatedly engage their respective lawyers would have been much better spent upfront on the well-being and education of the children, something she had, and has, always worked very hard for.As in this account, he too was a very absent father during the marriage, preferring hang-gliding most weekends, while she battled on in the country. On the few occasions I have seen him, I try to be pleasant for the sake of their children, and I believe,most importantly, his parents are good grandparents. Not to forget that grandparents play such an important role supporting children and youth in situations such as this while hearts, including theirs, are breaking.

  13. lime Avatar

    i hope all his toys and things keep him warm on cold, lonely nights…..the asshat.

    more power to his ex-wife and the children. the legos in the street, what an image of a kid working out pain and anger. that kills me.

  14. furiousBall Avatar

    as a (recently) divorced dad, I can tell you firsthand. it sucks. I don't care how "cut and dry" an attorney tells you the divorce will be, it's horrible.

    this guy does not sound like a great example, but rest assured ladies – there are great fathers that are divorced dads. not calling myself by any means a great dad, but since the separation and subsequent divorce, i live for these kids. every single day.

    again, not trying to defend this asshat at all, but please know that a divorced man does NOT mean that i have a scarlet letter upon me as a dead beat father.

  15. SQT Avatar

    FB– We know you're the real deal. Never fear. And karma must like you– Abbe is awesome.

  16. ds Avatar

    Why is it that women always come out financially worse in these situations? (not that any amount of money or goods could make up for the emotional damage to her, her children–I ache for them)I hope his Ikea furniture falls apart. I hope her store is immediately successful. I hope their children can grow up to forgive them…but she is strong, she will (and has) raise them well.

  17. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    This breaks my heart, but I totally get it. I've seen the exact story play out, only it was baseball instead of music. The poor kids.
    Once, only once, I told my husband that if we got divorced I'd actually get every other weekend off, no strings attached, and suddenly he clued in to how he'd left me so alone.

    And then there's HOW you tell this. Jocelyn, you have a mighty gift.

  18. Jeni Avatar

    I will agree with the male commenter here that not all men come out smelling like roses in divorces cause yes, there are some who do get the shaft too but sadly, more often than not, it is the woman who bears the brunt of the hardships -financial and physical as well as emotional with employment that frequently is sub-par, children to be raised on a pittance all to often and the emotional wear and tear that all brings about too. And attorneys who don't do anything to bring about a fair resolution too -well, I'd like to see them drawn and quartered right there alongside the parent -male or female -who can't see any benefit to benevolence, sharing and common decency to help another pick up their lives and be able then a little easier to move on.
    Hope life soon brings a lot, not a smattering, of ease to this woman's circumstances!

  19. Logophile Avatar

    I wish her all the best and I hope one day he learns how to be a real boy.

    I happened to read Van's comment and I just want to say, if I ever had to get divorced I would want to be divorced from someone as awesome as him…wait, that doesn't sound quite right.
    Anyway, he IS awesome

  20. Deborah Avatar

    While I'm very sympathetic to the wife in this situation, and sorry for the entire family that they have to endure the awfulness that so often accompanies a divorce, I appreciated just how well-written and insightful this piece was.

    You're very even-handed, even if it's obvious where your own sympathies lie. I distrust wholesale slaughter, and wouldn't have expected you to give in to that impulse anyway. Bits and pieces of what you wrote brought to mind aspects of my own marriage and divorce, particularly the part about him resenting a wife who gives everything to the kids.

    I know I've said this before, but I can't help but be aware of how you write as much as what you write about, and that it's such a pleasure to read you. I hope your friend is successful in her venture – it certainly sounds like she's got experience on her side – and most of all, that she and her soon-to-be Ex can avoid emotional damage to their children, even if the grown-ups are in major conflict with each other.

    Very thoughtful, very perceptive writing, Jocelyn. I am utterly content just to sit back and read you instead of doing anything of my own.

  21. actonbell Avatar

    Um, how did he get the house? Since they have two children together, and she was a full-time mother and homemaker (with all the FUN than entails), she should be entitled to child support and alimony, enough to keep her off public assistance…I wish her the best of luck with her new venture!

  22. geewits Avatar

    I've put off commenting here because no one is going to like what I have to say (and I hope my husband never sees this) but I believe the vast majority of men have to be taught how to be a good husband. Why did she put up with that behavior all those years? She should have put her foot down at the beginning. She sounds like an overly passive person to have tolerated his aloofness and let him have the house. I think men are pretty easy to control, so I have to wonder why she let that part of her life slip away. But that's just how I see things. Hopefully they will both grow and learn from this.

  23. Steve Avatar

    Men are pigs. Guitar strumming putterer that I am, I should know. Go Gently Used Clothing!

  24. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar
    Jenn @ Juggling Life

    My momma didn't raise no fool. I have been happily married for 23 years, but my husband knows I have a chunk of money that it is untouchable and would be used to protect my interests and those of our children in the event I ever need an excellent divorce attorney.

    I don't think I'll ever need it, but I never say never about anything.

  25. heartinsanfrancisco Avatar

    How perfectly horrible. The guy sounds like a complete rat. The visitation time allotted him will probably prove too much to deal with and he'll start breaking dates with the children. Your neighbor is much better off without him, but freedom comes at a tremendous price for her AND the kids.

    I agree with furiousBall that some dads are better parents than the moms. I was not married to one of them, and your neighbor wasn't either, but they're out there.

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