… When I heard from Michelle again we were in our twenties; she was getting married and had a little baby girl. She was ready to live a life she’d dreamed of: not one of extravagance, like one might think, but of simplicity. She would have a home in the country, a husband, a beautiful, healthy daughter, and she would enjoy being able to help provide for her family by tending their small garden and fishing in the stream behind their home.
The next time I heard from Michelle she was in the midst of a divorce. She was exhausted, afraid, and angry, and learning how to deal with lawyers earlier than most women should have to – especially a woman as caring and dedicated as she was. We spoke a lot over the next year. We spoke about her divorce, her daughter, our career aspirations, and our mutual hope for a future with the seemingly elusive “soul mate”.
As I expected, she eagerly agreed to share her story. That’s the great thing about being a caring person, like she is: you want to share your story so that others can draw parallels, understand their own situation better, and provide hope for women going through the same thing.
CB: When you were younger, at what age did you think you would be married?
M: Honestly, I remember not putting much thought into it, I figured it would happen when I thought I would be old enough to be a good mom. However, I do remember having a crush on my friend Amy’s older brother and thinking about that. I think I was in grade 1 or 2.
CB: How many long-term relationships did you have before you were married?
M: Long-term? Probably only one. It was one of the most important relationships I’ve ever had. I learned a lot about myself. He encouraged me to try new things. When I think back to all the experiences I never would have had if I hadn’t met him, it scares me and makes me super grateful.
CB: How old were you when you got married?
M: We were both 23.
CB: How long were you together before you tied the knot?
M: Twenty months – a year and a half. We were living together at the time. When I gave birth to our daughter, I was 22 and my husband was 23. I was told less than a year prior to our marriage that I wasn’t ovulating, and I also knew I had endometriosis (medical condition that causes pelvic pain and reproductive complications). We were only sleeping with each other at the time and [we] used protection. I thought about my options, but I also thought that if I waited until later in life and couldn’t conceive, that I would never forgive myself. Having children was always important to me.
CB: Why did you want to get married?
M: I loved the things we did together. I loved the fact that he was the kind of person to get things done. He was a hard worker and a good father.
CB: What expectations did you go into marriage with?
M: I expected to have our fair share of disagreements. Probably more than two people who waited much longer to get married, but I thought that there was enough mutual respect between us to get through them.
CB: When did your relationship begin to deteriorate?
M: We went through a rocky time after our daughter was born. We weren’t married yet. He didn’t help me as much as I needed [him to], and he expected too much of me. It was rough. We almost broke up then, but I felt like I had gotten through to him and he showed improvement in his attitude towards me.
CB: How long were you married before you decided to divorce?
M: After we were married things changed significantly. He became increasingly controlling and mentally abusive. Eight months later, in March, we had mutual friends over for a get-together. We lived far enough out in the country that friends would sometimes spend the night; we’d all sing and play guitar and drink to the wee hours. Our daughter always went to one of our mothers’ for the night. Anyway, I like to make sure that everyone has had something to eat and a proper place to sleep before hitting the hay. I had asked Murray if he would go and get the blow-up mattress from [the] cupboards on top of the basement steps [because] I didn’t want to fall. I asked him a few times and was getting tired, so I told him I guess I would go get [it] myself. At which point he told me in front of a lot of our friends that he wished I would fall down the basement steps headfirst.
The next morning he cried and begged me to stay. He said he was sorry, he said he would change. He normally wasn’t mean when he drank, which was a regular occurrence. The problem was that alcohol is a depressant so if he wasn’t drinking he was incredibly irritable and aggressive. I stayed for another month.
The Thursday before Easter I woke up, got the baby’s breakfast and then made myself toast and coffee. When I was through I set the saucer my toast was on beside the sink. There were two sippy cups from the day before in the sink, and after my coffee and cigarette I was going to do the three dishes that were there. My house was always kept clean. I believe your home is a reflection of yourself. My husband woke up and saw the saucer beside the sink. He opened the dishwasher and threw it in, slamming [the] door shut. He would do things like that and then refuse to speak to me. Nothing I did was ever good enough. This was the last of many, many times he made me feel inadequate. That was the official end.
I left Easter Sunday. If it hadn’t been Easter weekend I would have left that very minute. I believe as a mother it is your obligation to lead by example. I feared if I stayed that our daughter would grow up believing it was all right for a man to treat a woman like that.
CB: Were there any so-called “red flags” when you look back? If so, what were they?
M: Oh yes, there were plenty… I tried my best to nip every one in the bud. One that sticks out in particular in my mind was a day at his mother’s. We were looking in the fridge for something to eat. I don’t know where his mom and stepdad were. Anyway, he pointed out leftovers that had been in there for a little over a week and said that his mother was lazy. I’ll also add that his mother had severe OCD and kept her house spotless. Already being pregnant, I naïvely thought that I could help him as much as I had been helped [in my previous relationship]. I would never try to go into a relationship again trying to “help” or change someone. Although Murray has changed more than most people think is possible.
CB: What has been the hardest part of the divorce so far?
M: Dealing with his anger after I left. He’s calmed down now, but in the beginning he made some of my worst nightmares come true. I was in a constant state of anxiety and stress. Dealing with lawyers was stressful in the beginning too but I think now that I’ve experienced it, it’s not as foreign, so it doesn’t freak me out as much.
CB: What other effects has it had on your life in general?
M: Well, I’m divorced now. It’s not a friendly-sounding label. In the beginning I think I worried more about our daughter. I worried that he was going to be a very negative influence. That anxiety, for the most part, has subsided. I know he doesn’t want any harm to come to her and he’s a good father. I think a father-daughter relationship is important.
CB: If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what advice would you give her?
M: I don’t know, it would be easy to say “if I did it all over again…”, but the truth is I was pregnant, so I felt obligated to give it [my] best shot. I don’t regret it. When things were hard I thought about what it would be like to run away, or that maybe when I was pregnant I should have moved away so that he wouldn’t have the power to make me stay here. When everything is said and done though I’m glad I didn’t. I got a taste of something I really liked: simplicity. I had a garden and I kept a house. I baked and fished in my backyard. I got married in a way that I wanted to get married, with wildflowers in the sunshine, with our kind of music, and to a man that I know still loves me. He just hasn’t learned how to love himself. I sometimes hope for his sake that he’s getting there. But then he’ll do something to show he can easily revert back to his old ways. He’s refused counseling.
CB: What would you say to other young women who are considering marriage?
M: Don’t bother having a wedding; it’s a waste of money. Instead have a party in your own style, send out invitations, pick out a nice dress and have a party to celebrate your relationship. Instead of gifts you can donate to a charity of choice! But, if you’ve found someone who appreciates you for you, and you know yourself and each other well, never let that go. Keep it alive. It takes work – anything that’s worthwhile does.
CB: What did you gain from the experience?
M: I learned that when you feel like you’ve lost yourself its okay – it’s only temporary. I want to believe that there are smart, funny, kind guys out there, but I’m not convinced.
by Allie Masson