Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
Most horror stories start with a teenage protagonist doing something that makes the entire audience want to shout, "No! Don't go in there!" For my 19-year-old self, that creaky door was marriage. I drove seven hours to Pittsburgh from my mom's place in Ontario to settle in with a guy 13 years my senior — a man I'd been dating long distance for almost a year.
It all started pretty well. We had so much sex in the first week of living together that I had to make a trip to the emergency room with my first-ever urinary tract infection. The nurse on call kindly told me it was referred to as "honeymoon cystitis."
We moved into a new house a couple of weeks after I got to Pittsburgh, and I learned how to drywall and refinish floors. We picked out paint colors and chose between brushed aluminum and chrome for the tap fittings, and I probably could not have been more domestic without headlining on Better Homes and Gardens. We settled in, got another cat, and slowly developed routines.
Scott was from Minnesota, where, the joke goes, everyone is nice but nobody means it. He preferred to stay at home on the couch, making Hamburger Helper and going to bed at 11. I had no idea what I preferred, but my early-20s FOMO occasionally made me wonder if there wasn't more to life than getting takeout at Wendy's.
"Well, why don't I just go out and you can stay here?" I said.
He patted my hand and said, "You're not good at talking to new people."
Maybe he was right. I didn't have any friends that weren't his to start with. Self-conscious, I mostly stayed quiet when the "adults" were talking, and they were all adults: Everyone I knew was, bare minimum, 10 years older than I me.
People always said Scott was the smartest person they'd ever met; his conversational style relied heavily on logical arguments. Once I told him I did something because I felt sad. "That's not a good enough reason," he said. "Because feelings can be wrong!" Loath to admit having emotions himself, he never told me when anything was bothering him; most of the time, he'd just mope around sighing for a while until I asked what was going on.
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
We started to have problems. Scott had very specific sexual preferences, and I was willing to go along with it at first But, after awhile, it became all we did. I didn't really like it, but every time I suggested we try something else, he said no. "This is a really important part of who I am," he said. "If you really loved me, you'd learn to love it as much as I do." I tried. But, what happened instead was that I became completely disinterested in sex — so suddenly, it was like turning off a faucet. No libido. Nothing.
Concerned it was my thyroid or a brain tumor, I went to the doctor for tests: nothing. "You might want to consider seeing a therapist," she told me gently. Scott and I had gotten to the point where the only kind of sex we had was the kind he liked, and it had been so long since I enjoyed it that I couldn't even remember what that felt like; instead, I was an automaton staring at the ceiling.
For him, it all boiled down to my not loving him enough to do exactly what he wanted. For me, I felt that I desperately tried to love him that much, and I ended up feeling like a failure because I couldn't. I was miserable literally all the time. I remember waking up one morning and squaring my shoulders. Well, I thought. I'd better get used to it. Because I'll feel this way for the rest of my life.
It literally never occurred to me to end the relationship. He was my best friend, and okay, I wasn't happy, but nobody's happy all the time. I had never been an adult without him. Leave him? How?
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
Then one night, I started having a conversation with Scott about something — I can't even remember what now — and it ended with me staring at him dumbfounded. "I want a divorce," I said. I was horrified that the words had come out of my mouth, but they were definitely, unequivocally, true. His face collapsed. "How could you be so selfish?" he hissed at me, and I went upstairs to sleep in the spare room. A friend tried to mediate for us. "I just want her to admit that she's wrong for wanting to leave," he said. "Can you recognize that it might not be wrong for her, though?" our friend said, and he stared at her in astonishment. "No, but it IS wrong," he said. "I want her to admit it."
Years later, I can look back on that decision to leave as the best one I ever made. The relationship was emotionally traumatizing, but I had no idea. I thought that was just how relationships were supposed to be. I layered cynicism, regret, and denial over myself like a series of blankets, until I was smothered by them. When I somehow, suddenly, asked for a divorce, I privileged my emotions over cold logic for once. Scott told me once that I should trust his opinion about what was best for me more than my own. "I'm an objective observer who cares about you," he told me, and I believed him.
I was so young when I got married and so convinced that if you tried hard enough, you could make things work. After I announced the breakup, a mutual friend emailed me: "I guess I thought love would be enough to make things work." Despite how crushed and tiny I'd felt with Scott, I still loved him. But, I couldn't spend the rest of my life trying to fix all the things that were broken. It wasn't easy to leave. I missed all the good things. But, afterward, for the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to feel sad without having to explain or rationalize it, and that was the sweetest moment I had ever tasted.