Three divorces later, one man gains wisdom about not only marriage, but about love and life in general. Listen as he tells his story of what life has taught him about the true meaning of marriage.
December 20, 2013
Announcer: Divorce is the end of a relationship, but it can also be the start of a lot of good. You might become a better parent, a better businessman, a better person. What’s your story?
Male: Just turned 59. Not from northern Illinois, I was reared in Southern Indiana, but made my way up here through my employer. The reason why I’m here today, I’ve had 3 marriages under my belt, and all of them ended in divorce. A part of me is sad about that but a part of me also is relieved that I had to do what had to happen. I don’t think any of my ex-wives would regret it either. It’s just we wished that it could’ve happened differently, sure.
They wouldn’t regret the divorce; they did regret me, I think. I regret letting what society has dictated to me. I let them down. I did have a good fight in trying to keep it together before we decided a divorce, so it wasn’t like it was just a sudden occurrence. I feel bad about that I failed in what I thought was a good decision to make; that came with it. Looking back on it, though, the reason why I got married certainly wasn’t that sound of an idea.
My first marriage I was 22, so was my wife at the time. We had dated a couple of years. She was one of the most popular people on my college campus. She was exceptionally smart, was very pretty. She was our fraternity sweetheart, everybody adored her. I thought that would be a real trophy for me to have for myself. I did fall in love with her to the sense that I wasn’t certainly cheating on her or anything like that, but I did not marry her for the right reasons, it was just for superficial reasons. I actually envisioned myself in Hollywood going down the aisle with a tuxedo on and her in a beautiful dress and having a big gathering. I was more into that. If somebody told me, “This is a lifetime decision,” I wouldn’t have gotten it. I married her for looks; I married her for the whole package of I wanted to wear a wedding ring for some reason.
I will say this though; when I was a kid, I’d been exposed to people who cheated on their wives. Even when I was a child, when I was 10 or 11, I would deliver newspapers in our hometown and I would see adults leaving somebody else’s house early in the morning when I was passing the papers or I’d see them sitting in a parked car. I didn’t put the two-and-two together until I was watching a movie once. I was probably 13, and whatever the movie was, it was about some guy cheating on his wife, and it just dawned on me that’s what these people were doing. Unfortunately for me, I thought it was pretty cool. I thought these people are that clever to get by with something, they’re having their cake and eating it too. I distinctly remember when I got married that if that was to happen, I could do it clever enough and get away with it. That’s crazy, I know, but that’s the realization I have, what it was all about.
Only for the sake of what I thought was being cool, as crazy as that sounds. It’s like watching a card player who wins a lot of money; they’re bluffing sometimes, they have the right card sometimes. You never know what they’re doing. Those people I admired those . . . that kind of cleverness, I guess. Now looking back on it, just pure not very good role models to have, to say the least.
Because of the popularity of my first wife, my parents . . . she became the daughter they never had. They were extremely close to her; all of my friends were. She was adorable to say the least. I was just this rotten snake that I had this double life away from people, like a Jekyll and Hyde. When we divorced, I remember telling my folks it was as if I had just committed mass murder. I couldn’t have told them any worse news in their life because they were losing her. We didn’t have any children or anything.
I ran into my second marriage only 11 months later, just to shut up my mom believe it or not, because she kept wanting me to go back to my first wife. She was just nagging me to death to do it, to contact her and maybe you can work it out after we were divorced. This goes to anybody that’s thinking about getting married or is married now: If you have good close friends, like a best friend they you can actually reveal yourself to who will call you out on your behavior or at least will challenge you saying, “Are you sure you want to get married here, because here’s what you’re doing? Here’s what I’m seeing you doing.” If you trust them enough, they can help you out and maybe have you reconsider things like that, unless you hide it well enough where you’re even hiding it from your best friends. You can’t hide it from your own self. You still got to go to bed at night thinking, “Here’s what I’m doing. I’m really getting married tomorrow. I really don’t want to but I haven’t told anybody. I can make it work.” If you have somebody in your life that’s truly you trust enough, a best friend; not who you’re going to marry, it’s all different relationship, I think that’s the key at least.
It’s a whole different level of a relationship of having a best friend versus who you marry. I think that there’s some people who can evolve into having their spouse as a best friend. I think, though, having a life-long friend of some sort who really knows you that well works differently in a trust area. Everybody needs, I think, somebody they can just tell their secrets to. You just can’t tell your wife you’re married to, “When I was checking out at the gas station today this girl was flirting with me, and man, I really felt good about it.” That’s not . . . you can’t do that. If you told that to your best friend who realizes that this could be, not that . . . and if he saw I was really liking it, that’s a time for the guy to say, “I don’t think you ought to buy gas there anymore. It’s going to cause you trouble down the road; a challenge kind of thing. At least telling somebody they’re keeping that in their head and following up with you about it, too.
My first wife and I separated February of one year so I could take a tax break on a married joint return for tax purposes. If you’re married one day out of the year, whatever year it’s in, even if it’s one day, you could still file a married joint [inaudible: 05:57]. Then it was actually the next year, I got married after that on December 31st so I could still file a married return. It was a little bit longer than 11 months; it was much longer than that. That’s what I did.
I loved all 3 of my wives to a degree that I love anybody I’m close to, I suppose. No, I don’t think I ever experienced love in my life until a few years ago where I finally . . . where it makes a difference. Of course I said, “I’m in love with you. Let’s get married.” How are you going to get married if you don’t say that? I finally got it; that to really be in love with somebody you don’t take unnecessary risks of the relationship and you’re devoted to them, you’re proud of it. You’re proud of what . . . you’re not proud of the relationship, I was proud of what I was doing myself in this relationship, that I wasn’t flirting or cheating, or I wasn’t being irresponsible. I was right there with it the whole time. I admired that about myself for the first time. There was a big difference than just saying you’re truly in love and feeling those little butterflies and stuff. It’s a lot deeper and much more long-term than that.
I think it’s a matter of reflection on just relationship as a whole. My third marriage produced my son who’s now 20. I saw love a different way for another person that happens to be my son, and how that evolved into who I was and how I could actually do this with an adult outside of somebody not being my child. Could transfer that love, not quite the same way of course? Had I known that is required to that deep devotion for another adult, then I probably would have saved my first marriage, looking at it that way. I didn’t know that things were like that. It makes a difference. I felt sorry for her. That was a part of my love I was going to express as crazy, as it sounds. I know many people who’ve been down that road before. Not that she didn’t have anything to contribute in the relationship; she did, and our commonalities were good enough that we enjoyed each other’s company. If you target somebody that you actually feel sorry for or you think can share your life with, it’ll uplift their spirits and make them a better person, if it’s not already there, it’s not going to happen. It’s rare. You just can’t expect that to happen. It just doesn’t work out that way.
The woman I fell in love with a few years ago, I still have deep love for her without a doubt, and have convinced myself that there’s probably nothing she could ever do that would ever change that simply because it feels good and it still does, even though we’re not together anymore. It feels great that I still love her and she knows that. You know what; if you’d ask her, she would say she still loves me. It’s an age difference; I just turned 59, she’s in her young 30’s. When we first met, I will tell anybody, it had nothing to do with her being that young, the reason why I was attracted to her. She was just somebody that I could laugh with and made me laugh, I could make her laugh, and we had many things in common. Unfortunately, the age thing, especially for her, was not that easy for her to have to contend with. It was that she has been uneasy about it forever, even with her family and her friends. We dated in the closet for a very long time. Only a select few people knew that we were even dating.
When she would try to explain it to people, it was difficult for them to hear, particularly in her family. Unless we’d go to California and that’s where it’s accepted; you see a lot of older men with a lot young women there. We’d fit in. I made the decision . . . it’s more joint I guess, that I’m not getting any younger. I don’t want you in your 50s while I’m in a wheelchair; that’s not fair. She’s okay with that; she understands it that way. I don’t have any regrets for it, that’s for sure, for what I learned about myself in that relationship. I don’t have an agenda now of having to have to get married again.
Will I fall in love again? I don’t know. I’d have to have the opportunity, I suppose. I’m not shopping. I’m not lonely. I’m lonesome sometimes, but I’m certainly not lonely. I know what I want because of what I experienced.
I wasn’t ready for people’s reactions on my first divorce, even though I was this Jekyll and Hyde and I was a real snake; I’ll be the first to admit that. Everybody thought we were a happy couple. We had people at our house all the time, we had numerous potlucks, we would travel with people we knew. When it happened, no one could understand. That all changes, how people look at you. It was hard, especially in my family. Like I said, it was just devastating to my folks. Then getting married again . . . and that divorce, I really didn’t care at that point because I knew why I got married the first time. I knew this was the one you could time with a stopwatch; this wasn’t going to last long, the second marriage. I knew that. That was another one simply for vanity’s sake. She’d been on the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine, and there again, I was somebody on my arm that I wanted to show off to people, and people would look at me like, “What’s he got to get something like that?” Little do they know that she was an emotional wreck and had countless problems. It didn’t matter to me at the time.
I’m also a recovering addict, but not from drugs; Gamblers Anonymous in 1988. I’ll describe your question this way: It’s like all those gambling episodes of cards, race tracks, and all that. You have to get there in order to feel that bad about yourself before you get help; the same with these marriages. You have to go through this somehow before I can wise up myself and figure out that something’s not working here, I need some help. To turn to professional help, that’s exactly what I had to do.
You’re not going to get a divorce until you get counseling; you can’t do that, although I did. I told my first wife that we didn’t need it; that this was the way it was going to be and she fought it for a long time. She was heartbroken. She could not figure out why I wanted to get a divorce because we’d just been married 5 years. Because I didn’t want to tell her the truth, same way with my second marriage. My third marriage, we went through a lot of counseling and I got that part of it. I think that’s absolutely necessary. When people go to couple’s counseling, if their marriage is really in trouble, they have to separate out and go individually together and then together. You have to do it 3 different ways; her, him and then together, both. That’s essential in my book.
There’s too much baggage people bring into a marriage; not so much baggage, but there’s just too much background that’s different. My first wife, I adored her for this reason: I grew up in a household that was loud. My brothers and I fought all the time, never a moment’s peace. Everybody was yelling; my folks were yelling at us and we were yelling back at them. My first wife was very quiet, very reserved; wouldn’t say a word unless she knew exactly what she was going to say; not animated that much. 3 months after we were married, we’re watching a movie and I looked, “Don’t you ever say anything?” Because I missed that, what I’d had. It was driving me nuts, this part of her that was once attracted to, that I thought, “Wow. That’s really cool, her being this calm,” but then it became something I despised in a certain way her being that quiet, as crazy as it sounds. She was great. She was professional; she worked for one of the largest law firms in downtown Chicago and had a great career. She had been exposed to many things that how to process, including relationships. Because I hid my true self from her, she was just a real puzzle for her.
I distinctly remember, though, feeling first that I’d let down everybody in my family and our friends, even though I wanted my divorce the first time. It didn’t hit me how it felt to me, how I let myself down, until after my third marriage. That was a big difference. That’s where I woke up, that here I am, my third marriage is now over. I didn’t date anybody for . . . didn’t even think about dating anybody for 2½ years. I never went out. I’d watch a movie by myself. I had to get myself together, but I had good counseling and I had great supportive friends while I was going through that.
I didn’t mind it, actually, because I knew I had to take care of myself. I woke up to the fact I had to stop being the person I was that wasn’t working. Obviously it wasn’t working. That was almost in all of my relationships, even with other friends, of how I operated. I didn’t take too much seriously, I just didn’t. As time goes by, you start looking back, plus now I had a son who was 6 when we divorced. I did not want him to, as he grew older, see me as somebody that couldn’t make good decisions. It affected me that way. If he was here, he’d say, “You still don’t make good decisions,” I’m sure. It’s not like they’re not involved. I woke up knowing that I had to be careful now. It’s like I said, once you get hit by a Mack truck, you begin to look both left and right before you cross the street. I had 3 Mack trucks hit me before I learned that lesson.
I don’t think marriage is that necessary; maybe unless you’re going to have kids, then it becomes a legal matter to protect yourself. As I was saying earlier, I’m not that convinced that just because you’re in love with somebody that you should get married. In fact, I don’t think that at all. I’ve known people who are deeply in love who have their own children, never give a second thought to getting married. Been together for years, for many . . . for 25 or 30 years. It’s never crossed their minds to get married. It’s odd when you hear that, but when I see people in their late teens or early 20’s who can’t wait to get married, they have all these visions in their head of what life is going to be like or all those bells and whistles that are still going off. That’s pretty young and it’s going to take a lot of work. Can they make it? Of course they can, but it takes a lot of work. It’s hard; it’s not an easy thing to do.
If somebody said, “I think I’m thinking about getting married,” I would immediately say, “You need a therapist.” Seeking out a professional counselor before you get married, and I just don’t mean a couple of sessions, I mean . . . this person could evaluate your communication skills with each other, how they can ask the right questions about why are you actually want to get married, and then have that person then help you and let you know that, ‘You might want to wait a while, here’s why. You guys sound like you’ve really got it going here and it looks like you do love each other, let’s talk about your future here and let’s have an understanding of what this is going to be 20 years from now.’
I think a professional counselor can come in handy on many reasons, particularly, they can identify what you are bringing from your family of origin upbringing into this marriage. Again if a professional counselor was told we know opposites attract, and that’s why I like him. He’s just a complete opposite of me. There’s a stopwatch marriage right there; it’s not going to work. People love to say that, but hockey players don’t hang out with chess players; they don’t. It just doesn’t work, it’s just an impossibility.
I brought this with me, and this really helped me a lot. There are 8 things, 8 different areas of your life that if you match with a partner 6 out of these 8, you can make it. If you can relate to your partner recreationally, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically, sexually, and aesthetically; if you get about 6 out of those 8 you’re going to make it. If you only up to 2, I think you’re going to have big problems. That stuck with me. It’s not like whenever I meet somebody I pull this out and see how we’re doing here, see if we’re going to match, but it makes sense. You’re looking at vast differences of such a meaningful thing to me. If you’re not getting it as my wife or husband, then it could lead to problems.
50% of marriages end in divorce. Love has nothing to do with marriage, and I mean that sincerely. You cannot equate those two, and to make that as somehow a need now that since we’re this far in love then we should get married; it makes no sense to me when I hear that. It doesn’t make any sense, at all. What’s the point? You can still own property together, you can still have all this together, you can still draw up papers legally to keep you happy if that’s what it takes. That’s just how I look at it. I’m one of the 8% of the people in the world that has this, not a deformity, but I laugh in my sleep. 8% of the people in the population do that, and I think it’s broadened my sense of humor in a certain way because I have to look back at what my role in all of this was and how immature I was, how unbelievably naïve I was going into marriage thinking this was an okay thing to do. I just didn’t put any thought into it, and no one challenged me on it either. I didn’t trust my good friends to challenge me on it either.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to Divorce Redemption. Tune in next week. What’s your story?