#5. Behind Closed Doors
This weekend I attended a Single Parent Group social event in mid-town Toronto. I had never attended any kind of group like this. I had joined the group many months ago, but made one excuse or another to not attend any of the events. In the interest of finally moving on with my life, I thought meeting others who shared a similar past would perhaps bring clarity to to the closure of one chapter and offer support for the next.
There is something liberating about having your own sad divorce story shared by others. Tragic that there are so many of us, but comforting to know that we are not alone. As we shared out tales of disappointment and disillusionment from our marriages and the various challenges of single parenthood, the wisdom that each person brought was eye opening. Specifically, hearing the men tell their stories. I admit, whenever I met or even heard about a man who is divorced, I wonder what he did that made his wife throw him out. I have been convinced that these ‘throw-away’ divorced men were all adulterous sociopaths. I mean, why else would a woman voluntarily become a single mom?
Apparently, these guys had suffered through their wives adulterous relationships and bad behaviour too. The same stories that we women had, were spoken with great sincerity and self reflection through the male perspective. These men still tried to make their marriages work despite the broken vows. They were willing to forgive their wives and went through extensive marital counseling, until they realized that their relationships were not salvageable. Not just because of the cheating, but they came to realize that the relationship was always unhealthy and as a result they did not like who they had become. Like many of us women, they married in their 20’s and didn’t have a steady handle on who they were and what they wanted. They too got swept up in the trend of marriages around a certain age. Perhaps they married because they thought the time was right rather than the relationship. Whatever the case, we all found ourselves playing the role we thought we should in our marriages, rather than roles rooted in reality. Many of us were blindsided by cheating, and others just couldn’t get along.
I started to reflect on a moment about nine years ago when I had just left my son’s father. I remember taking my son to see a “Bear in the Big Blue House” theatrical production. Before the show began, I looked around the auditorium to see a barrage of happy couple’s reveling in their toddler’s excitement. They all found what I would never have. Tears streamed down my face throughout that show. They had the families I so craved. How was it that they found the fairy tale that had eluded me? Why weren’t my expectations met with a lifetime of joy, milestones and an intact traditional family unit?
Fast forward eight years to this past summer. I had the occasion to attend a family type event with the same sort of families that I saw years ago at the same Theatre. Although this time I wasn’t feeling envy when I looked upon the barrage of married parents. In fact, I was so grateful not to be them, I was bordering on smug. Grateful that my marital misfortune saved years of profound unhappiness. Many of these parents barked at each other, bickered and looked downright miserable. I get that there is a shorthand that develops between couples, but I’m telling you, many of these people looked like they had just given up on life altogether. Resigned to the reality that this was their lot in life and that was that. Was I just seeing it now through clearer eyes? Did I just romanticize the Norman Rockwell scene of happy families at the Theatre years back? Was I now being a cynical, jaded and a harsh judge? I don’t know.
But the courageous folks that I had the great pleasure to meet this weekend reminded me of one very certain reality. Until our splits, outsiders would not have guessed the degree of misery and strife that had become our marriages. We hid that from the world. We played the parts that we wanted others to believe for some reason.
If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that you never know what’s really going on behind closed doors. We single parents have the best part of ourselves in common. The strength to open that door, and walk out.