In December 2012, Dan and I, recently engaged, went to see the film version of Les Miserables. Afterward, when we were on the sidewalk outside the theater, Dan broke down and started crying. He had never done this before. I asked what was wrong. The theater was close to where he went for therapy and he said that being here reminded him of something that came up in one of his sessions. He didn’t want to talk about it but kept saying repeatedly that he didn’t want to lose me, that he was scared of losing me. I did my best to calm him down and we went home. He never brought it up again.
This was five months before our wedding.
I now believe that at that time, Dan became aware of his illness and withheld the information from me. I’m further convinced because when I became aware two years later and approached him about it, he was not surprised by the news and was more worried about how I was going to respond. If he had been responsible and respectful enough to share the information about his illness with me in real time so that I could make informed decisions for myself, I would have called off the wedding. He knew that, he was terrified of losing me and so he chose not to tell me.
It was not okay for him to do that but I can understand it. Put yourself in his shoes. Imagine you found out something about yourself that you could not change. Or worse, you actually made a horrible mistake that affects your relationship. Your partner deserves to know, has a right to know, but if you inform them, the love of your life may decide to leave you. It’s terrifying and it takes a lot of guts to do the right thing. Not many people can.
I’m not angry at him but I think that’s because I went ahead and got divorced, I exerted a healthy level of selfishness, I took care of myself. If I were still married to him and found out, I would be throwing things all over my apartment.
Dan is mentally ill and had gone his entire life undiagnosed and untreated. His illness was triggered on a daily basis by multiple factors, including our relationship. In fact, I think his symptoms were exacerbated by getting married. His illness strained our relationship and pulled me into depression with him.
Although I won’t go into detail about how his symptoms frustrated, drained and hurt me, I will say that along with the heritability of the illness, Dan’s inability to take responsibility, to adapt and his chronic negativity are what ultimately ended our marriage. He held on to an infantile notion that he should be accepted and loved just as he is with no effort on his part – not an uncommonly held belief (see Chapter 11 of Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel). I spent years asking Dan for what I needed in the relationship and offering potential solutions. Being confronted about his room for improvement overwhelmed him and instead of making a real effort to improve – efforts that could potentially be uncomfortable – he chose to respond with “Why can’t you love me just the way I am?”
I’m writing this for anyone who wants to know how it feels a year after getting a divorce that important people in your life did not support. I’m writing this especially for desi women who need courage to take that step.
At no point have I regretted my decision. Every hurdle I have jumped has been worth it. I am constantly grateful that my home is a place of peace and tranquility now. There were times early on when something would trigger a bad memory. Usually grocery shopping, when I’m buying bread or milk because they are $1 more expensive than at Costco and my ex-husband has severe anxiety with money. So I would come home and end up having an imaginary argument in my head with him that would drain me and I would have to go lie down. That doesn’t really happen anymore, at least not consciously.
While my dad was not supportive of my decision, my brother and my mother made significant efforts to at least get us all to a point where we could be civil around each other for the holidays. Not an easy task, I inherited my stubbornness from dad. I do need to say that this is probably the first time my mother has come through for me when I needed her. My father is not easy and she has had to live every day of the last 40 years with him. I really appreciate that she made the effort on her own initiative. You will be surprised by who will step up to the plate for you during this ordeal.
If I could go back and do things differently, I would have waited longer before getting married. While there were clues to all of his issues before we got married, they were not enough to reveal what was really going on. If we had taken more time, they would have eventually come out. Also, things don’t need to be perfect before you get married and there is always going to be some doubt. Marriage by default is a risky endeavor, things need to be okay enough to have the confidence to make that jump and things with Dan were okay enough before we got married. Except he withheld very important information from me and his issues got significantly worse after we got married.
Dan is better off because he can now focus completely on managing his illness without having his resources being pulled in any other direction. He deserves to have that opportunity. He needs the time alone to take care of himself and become a stronger person so that he may one day be able to have a healthy romantic relationship and be a positive role model for his kids, if those are indeed things he wants. With time and hard work on his part, this could absolutely be his future.
I’m better off because I can focus on me again. I’m no longer distracted by having to manage someone else’s emotions for him, having to compensate for him, being distracted from my goals and dreams to manage his anxiety or being drained by his emotional breakdowns. I no longer have to keep bending over backwards for someone who could not meet me half way. Most importantly, I have protected my potential children from being born with a mental illness that would have to be managed with medication and therapy their entire lives and spared them being raised with a parent who would constantly struggle to be enough for them. I make no apologies for that.