My Divorce Story
January 24, 2022 | 1,490 words | Personal History
This is being addressed primarily to my three brothers and one surviving sister.
They say all men are bored with other men’s lives. And there may be nothing more tedious than the awkward details of someone else’s failed marriage. So I’ll do my best to make this brief. Carla and I agreed to divorce last June, soon after I got back from Larry and Jeannie’s wedding in Sedona, Arizona.
It took a while to work out the details and get the paperwork filed. The State of Pennsylvania officially granted our petition today, January 24, 2022.
Surprised? Don’t be. This has actually been a long time coming. Assuming you would consider seven years a long time, that is.
It all started to go wrong in 2014, after Mom and Dad died. Without any warning and with no explanation whatsoever, Carla moved her things out of the master bedroom on the second floor, and took up residence in the small in-law suite we had carved out of a couple of rooms on the first floor in 2004, when they first moved in with us. And the door to that little apartment has been closed to me ever since.
There was no dramatic turn of events that prompted this relocation. No contentious knock-down, drag-out fight. No illicit affair come to light amid a torrent of tears and a river of recrimination. Nothing one would ordinarily associate with a wife turning such a cold shoulder in her husband’s direction.
In our case it was as if Carla simply woke up one morning and decided she was unhappy with the circumstances of her life, starting with her marriage to me.
Though never a particular fan of professional therapy, I did suggest counseling early on, in 2015. That idea was met with a great deal of anger on Carla’s part. An intervention of some kind may have been warranted, but it would need to be initiated by someone other than me.
Three of our four children were still living with us at the time. Their presence and the routines of daily life made it possible for Carla to ignore me without being too obvious about it, if that makes any sense. As the last of the kids have moved on with their lives, her refusing to speak to me, and actually going out of her way to avoid being in the same room with me, has gotten even more pronounced.
You may be wondering with an estrangement that has gone on this long, why did we decide to pull the plug now? Then again you may be prone to ask, what on earth took you two so long to reach an amicable parting of the ways? Both are legitimate questions, neither of which lend themselves to a glib, sound-bite answer.
Without wanting to come across as too self-congratulatory, I have always taken the ‘for better or worse’ part of my marriage vows seriously. It’s a measure of my being hard-wired for commitment and loyalty, I suppose. The role of dutiful husband has just come naturally to me, even during these last years when the feeling was not reciprocated. While trying to convince myself the ill will was only a temporary manifestation.
And every so often there was in fact a flicker of hope – a rational exchange here, a warm greeting there. Those brief reminders of better days were enough for me to keep the faith. And believe the dark clouds might soon part, just as inexplicably as they had gathered and taken hold of her.
Sadly, no such breakthrough ever occurred. Instead, the isolation and lack of communication and overt passive aggressiveness has continued to grow, as the hopeful signs have become non-existent
Another part of the explanation might be how the withholding of her affection came in the wake of Dad dying in December 2012, followed by Mom’s death in August 2013. When Carla decided to limit all conversation and contact, I guess my stoic side initially accepted it as just another in a series of major losses.
Then there is my own inbred quirkiness, complete with an undeniable solitary streak. About a year ago, Dan, our youngest, stood back and observed my domestic routines – making the bed and cleaning the bathroom and doing the laundry, fixing my own meals and washing the dishes – and declared me a “bachelor.” The iconoclast in me got a kick out of that description. Without ever considering for a moment just how odd my marital situation had become.
As you know, Carla chose not to fly out to Arizona in the last week of April for Larry and Jeannie’s lovely outdoor wedding on May 1. Even though this little trip turned into full-blown family vacation with our children and grandchildren in attendance. (Dan was the only one who didn’t make it. But our oldest Matt and his wife Susannah were there with their four children, the youngest of whom was only seven months old at the time.)
This was not unexpected, since Carla has declined to join us on any sort of family outing during this stretch of self-imposed exile. Or join me, on any solo adventure.
More than just not going, though, she makes a point to act like these trips never took place. Take my brief one week visit to poor, destitute Guatemala in June 2019, for example. I was part of a small traveling party sponsored by an international aid organization. This represented one of my very few forays outside the continental United States. Yet when I returned home you would have thought I just got back from a quick run to the grocery store, judging by Carla’s complete lack of interest.
In fact, she always seems to be a little more annoyed, and a little more unhappy, after each marriage-related or family-related activity she decides not to participate in. There is a message in there somewhere, I’m sure.
Not that I am trying to build a case against Carla. Nor do I have any interest in participating in that ever-popular national past time known as ‘trashing the ex.’ In my mind there really is no good guy or bad guy here. She is now deeply dissatisfied with this marriage, and that is her prerogative. But as I have told our children, just because Carla is unhappy does not mean I did anything wrong.
There is no denying going to Arizona last spring turned out to be something of a turning point. Seeing each of you interact with your long-term love interest (spouse or significant other) was instructive. In Sedona a simple fact dawned on me: I miss having a woman in my life.
Once home, it took a few weeks to gather my thoughts and confront the issue. I finally summoned the courage to lure Carla out of her lair, and popped the question: “It’s obvious you no longer want to be married to me anymore, so why are we still married?” She had to think about it. The next day she agreed to pursue an uncontested divorce, and said: “I never thought you would consider getting a divorce, because you’re Catholic.”
This obviously implies Carla was ready and willing to walk away years ago, but apparently felt trapped by what she took to be my religious convictions. That she never broached the subject herself is of course another avenue of inquiry that would be worth exploring. But these big important things seem to happen when they’re supposed to, don’t they? I have no regrets about hanging in as long as I did, or about the eventual timing of this divorce.
Even though trying to re-enter the dating pool at this point is less than ideal, since I am well past my prime. You, my siblings, are pretty much in the same boat, so there is no need for me to go into detail on that score.
Along with the obvious physical limitations I am now experiencing, all of us who reach this age are naturally set in our ways, and are less accommodating of another’s habits than we were forty years ago. Not to mention how so many of the things I most enjoy are essentially solitary pursuits. This alone might prove to be the deciding factor, the insurmountable obstacle to finding a new friend of the opposite sex, and fitting her into the picture.
While I may have started this process back in June with the straightforward objective of clearing a path for a different female presence to inhabit my thoughts, I am already scaling back my expectations. Chastened by just how difficult it will be to find even a halfway sympatico companion this late in life.
For now, at least, I am prepared to content myself with restoring peace and tranquility on the home front. Going about my business as the spirit moves me, free of the overwhelming disaffection that has engulfed me for so long. And being open to whatever or whomever the universe might send my way.
Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr
January 24, 2022