What Screws Us Up Most in Life

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Little girl looking into a telescope in the mountains
Maybe she’d be super-into space. (Image/Telescope Guide)

There’s at least one missing child. A beautiful little thing I would love intensely. Maybe this would be the first holidays where she was old enough to be excited about a visit from Santa. Maybe she looks like her mom.

Of course, maybe she’s not a girl at all. Maybe my third grader has a little brother instead. Three little boys, even if one of us is disguised as an almost-40-year-old.

The house is different. The plan was to move.

Thanksgiving and Christmas Day plans are different too. What was supposed to be busy and filled with family will be something else.

Maybe my imaginary daughter or son would have just been disappointed anyway.

I always had an idea in my head about what Life would look like. It never occurred to me it would be anything but that. But then Real Life happened.

We’d always talked about two kids. But after abandoning my wife in the hospital five hours after she delivered our son via emergency C-section, and then leaving the creation and management of baby logistics to her throughout most of our first year as parents, I think I sapped her desire to go through anything like that again.

I once asked her if I was the reason she chose not to have more children.

She said yes.

‘What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.’

I read that yesterday in MBTTTR commenter Drew’s excellent blog post about marital affairs.

This is a Life Thing I had picked up on when I was still young. I always said: “Expectations are everything.”

And what I mean by that is, my enjoyment or disappointment in something—or rather, my initial perception of something’s quality—was based entirely on my expectations prior to the experience.

Things like movies and books taught me this.

I can go to the theater to see two movies of approximately equal quality, say Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Avatar; or I can listen to two new albums for the first time—say AWOLNATION’s Run and Brian Fallon’s Painkillers—and my feelings about all of them are predicated entirely on what I thought heading in.

I thought Avatar was going to be the greatest achievement in cinematic history. It didn’t achieve that for me. The Force Awakens met my expectations entirely. Both movies, in my estimation, are of equal quality, but I like Force Awakens quite a bit more, and I think that’s why.

Same with AWOL and Brian Fallon. I expected to like the AWOL album. And I did.

I didn’t have any expectations whatsoever for Brian Fallon (front man for The Gaslight Anthem). And that album kicks ass. I don’t know whether I think it’s better than AWOL’s or not. But BECAUSE it was an out-of-nowhere pleasant surprise for me, I have a major fondness for it.

Maybe everyone does this.

Maybe I’m a little extreme. Or maybe some people are much better at accurately predicting their emotional responses to things, and maybe those people have much happier and healthier relationships and lives as a result.

I only know that pretty much all of my life experiences are impacted greatly by whether Real Life meets, exceeds, or falls short of, my prior expectations.

This has implications for my human relationships I’ve yet to wrap my head around.

This Isn’t Where I Thought I’d Be

Divorce changed everything.

That’s a MAJOR reset-button push when you don’t see it coming, or are in denial about its inevitability once a certain amount of breakage and ugliness has poisoned the marriage.

Everything in the very beginning is a blur.

When everything is broken on the inside of you, the world looks skewed and it’s impossible to tell whether what you’re seeing is wrong because it’s actually wrong, or because your brain’s Reality Calibration is busted.

I had just turned 34 when Everything became Something Else.

After a lifetime of companionship and/or reliable care from loving and responsible adults, I woke up to silence and a reflection in the mirror I hardly recognized.

Everything felt unsteady and out of balance, and even now, I can’t be sure how much of that to attribute to the psychological and emotional trauma of ending a nine-year marriage and losing half of my son’s childhood, and how much was simply the radical change in environment.

Where there used to be a person making noise in the house—Being a mom. Eating dinner with me. Talking on the phone. Watching TV. Walking around.

Where there used to be life and conversation and full calendars and partnership and the pitter-pattering of little feet and the stability and reliability and comfort that comes from waking up to This Is Normal And Right… there was nothing.

A void.

I was obsessed with dating at first. Not actually doing it, per se because I wasn’t very good at it and it all felt so, just, off. Wrong.

But at age 34 the ticking clock was louder than I’d realized. And I felt like filling the new void in my life quickly should be a priority.

After all, I was clearly the kind of guy who got married and lived that kind of life. Which meant, I faced the monumental task of finding someone who fit what is probably an impossible list of criteria, that I then loved along with any children she might have, and was loved by her (as would my son be), and felt secure enough in all of that to get married again.

When you’ve never been single and divorced before, it’s easy to imagine that happening in a three- to five-year window (which I did).

But then Real Life happened.

The clock ticks.

The calendar pages flip.

The seasons change.

You mark another line higher on the wall where you measure your child’s height.

You tell him to put on a pair of pants only to discover they no longer fit.

One Christmas turns into two, and then three with a fourth fast-approaching.

And then you wake up, and it’s today.

Divorced and Single Four Holiday Seasons Later

There was a part of me during the early days of this blog that believed I’d eventually have a relationship to tell you about.

Not all the nitty-gritty. I keep too much private for that.

But at least a birds-eye view of giving Round 2 a genuine shot while armed with what I believe I’ve learned about life and love and relationships. I thought maybe that would help people. I thought maybe that would help me.

But that’s not where things are.

That’s not Real Life.

In actuality, I’m just a guy who read a crap-ton of New Zealand travel guides so I can tell you all about the country, but I’ve never actually forked over the money nor invested the time to experience it myself.

(That was a metaphor. I haven’t actually read a bunch of New Zealand travel guides.)

But I’m not even sure that’s right.

That suggests fear. And I’m not afraid.

I guess I feel more like the tired old man coaching basketball (even though I certainly don’t think of myself as a “coach,” or that I’m qualified to instruct others in any way). I know what good basketball is supposed to look like, but am not inclined to get back out on the floor to play in any games.

Maybe I feel too tired. Or too old. Or too busy.

I don’t know.

I also don’t know whether to feel good, bad or indifferent about it.

As in all things, there’s some good and some bad.

But I’m learning to have fewer expectations. Less disappointment, you know? Maybe less joy, too.

I wouldn’t know.

I’m trying to remember what my daughter’s name would have been. The one I never had.

Julianne? Julie Anne? A J-name that stopped mattering the second I held my son.

Or did it?

I think about that little girl a lot. The one who never was.

And the family that isn’t. The one I used to know. And the one I’d imagined with them. And the one I was forced to imagine for a reimagined world.

But I wish I would stop. Because in The Way Things Are vs. The Way They Should Be, I’m not sure we’re always smart enough to know the difference.

And with these little ones involved, real or imagined, how much can we afford to get disillusioned by reality falling short of what we’d expected or hoped for?

Thank God she didn’t die after birth or from miscarriage.

Or that she didn’t fall ill.

Or that she never ran away or went missing.

Or that the courts never said I couldn’t see her.

Or that her family never lost her precious life.

Or that my son never lost his little sister.

And that we never had to sob over that too.

Maybe I don’t make it to today, had that not been the case.

But there’s still a bit of tragedy in Never Was.

And I can’t help but wonder sometimes about an alternative life where I chose other options and turned to different Choose Your Own Adventure pages with entirely different outcomes.

Because that would have been cute, right? Watching the Thanksgiving Day parade? Showing her massive balloons? Reminding my eldest to be kind to his sister? Putting up the Christmas tree and watching her face as we plugged in the lights for the first time?

I’d have liked that, even if the real-life version would have gone an entirely different way.

I’d have especially liked the part where I told her about that first night in the hospital where I stayed awake all night holding her so mommy could sleep.

Many years later, we’d teach older children how things that seem innocuous in a moment can redefine everything in the future.

We’d talk about having expectations. About the bad. And the good.

About regrets. And triumphs.

About fear. And hope.

We’d all show up, and just be.

Because that’s everything, really. Showing up. Being present. And being invested.

The reason my life is as it is today is virtually 100% because I failed to show up because I was too ignorant to know I was supposed to, too irresponsible to actually do it, or too selfish to actually want to.

It’s not always Life and Death, but maybe just Life and Never Was.

But sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.

58 thoughts on “What Screws Us Up Most in Life”

  1. ‘I’d have especially liked the part where I told her about that first night in the hospital where I stayed awake all night holding her so mommy could sleep.’ ~ so beautiful, Matt. Xo Anne Marie

  2. Hey Matt, I think expectation completely shapes actual experience. But at the same time, I will never claim expectations are a bad thing. I think expectations are essential in life, and healthy. Expectations allow us to know ourselves, and to know what our boundaries are.

    Expectations are really different from entitlement though. Just because I expect something from you (or anyone) doesn’t mean that I am at all entitled to it.

    But yeah, that quote you listed above about life being screwed up by the picture in our head of what it should be is really true, and I suspect the source of a lot of unhappiness (in both relationships and life).

    I’ve been actively practicing the idea of “enough”, as in – what is enough for me? It doesn’t matter what you have, there can always be more, or better. So that shouldn’t matter.

    In order to be happy I think you need to be able to appreciate what you have today, and accept that it is enough.

    1. No doubt , sir. Vigilant gratitude – the prerequisite to human happiness.

      I agree that expectations are healthy IF our expectations are rooted in a healthy reality.

      When they’re based in Fantasy Land, as you astutely pointed out in that post, a lot of bad things can result later.

      I didn’t necessarily have the kind of unhealthy and unrealistic expectations you were writing about, but I think I DID have inaccurate ideas about the future and what was required to actually achieve such a thing.

      And there’s a lot there to sort out.

      A lifetime’s worth.

      1. Don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault you can capture emotions that others are feeling. You have a gift.

        I am just wearing my feelings on my sleeves these days. After 21 years, I’m experiencing my “first of manys”…last week was spending my birthday alone. Since my children were born, I’ve spent every Thanksgiving/Christmas with them. This year, he gets them for Thanksgiving, I get them for Christmas.

        Like you’ve said before…this stuff is hard.

        1. I don’t know whether it ever stops being hard, but I’m fairly certain the stomach-turning, heart-ripping, breath-stealing weight of the universe stops pummeling you.

          I would never tell you how to feel, but I found that was worth looking forward to, and worth enjoying once it arrived. 🙂

          I am incredibly sorry about the birthday and holiday situations you and your family are facing.

          It’s not how it’s supposed to be.

        2. I’m right there with you Startingover – this will be the first holiday I have spent without my son ever. It sucks. I’m fighting not to be bitter that he chose to have an affaire and walk out and I have to give up time with my boy. I know he has to have time with his dad and I have to put his needs first. That’s what being a parent is. And I really really do not want to spend Thanksgiving day on being bitter – but on being grateful. I’m not sure how I’ll do it yet – but I am going to keep on trying.

  3. “We fall down. We get up. And the saints are just the sinners who fall down. And get up.” Bob Carlyle

  4. I almost hate to write anything, because it seems like it’s a requirement that I say something on every post (ugh!) . ..But, that really isn’t the motivation…just to say -something.
    I get this. I totally get this. It’s unbelievable how much you can miss something you never had.
    But, I do think that space there- that little idea, or dream , that is unfulfilled still means something. You may never know the reality of having your own daughter (or who knows- maybe you will…) but that love that you have there that’s holding that space, that thing that makes you desire whatever you desire, that can be given out. And, that can mean a lot.

  5. I’m always a little leery of this sort of thinking. It can go too far, ya know? It’s OK to have certain expectations, such as, having an expectation that your neighbor won’t shoot your dog while you’re away for a couple hours watching the fireworks on the 4th of July. So when it happens, I’m not supposed to say to myself in a clinical way, “Well, I guess I had a wrong expectation there. OK, I feel better because now my expectations are lower.” It just doesn’t work that way.

    As far as your daughter… I get what you’re saying, but on the other hand, souls aren’t waiting to be conceived. They don’t pre-exist. Not sure if that was what you were alluding too, but just thought I’d mention it.

  6. Hi Matt. I can identify with a lot of what you say. I had once imagined 2 children as well, as part of a larger family unit. And now I am single and I split custody of my son. I am recovering my balance from the change in life directions and I hope for positive things in my future, but it is hard to give up dreams. Cheryl Strayed wrote about this idea too. http://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/

  7. Denise in Austin

    As a divorced woman for well over 10 years (longer than I was married) I find that I am more okay with what my life is these days. I was bad at marriage. So was my ex-husband – even though he tried it again for a 3rd time (I was his second wife). He is still not good at it but it is different because the children are no longer children and he is not having anymore. My life is definitely not what I thought it would be. We all have this picture of adulthood & parenthood and being alone was not in it. But it is the reality of my life and many others. And I am okay with it. Others do not settle into as well or easily as I have. Some will always continue the quest for a partner no matter what that ends up looking like. I would rather be comfortable and not have to work so hard to please someone else. I have not given up (whatever that means) or stop trying in life to be a nice and good person. I do not depend upon anyone but myself though and that feels good. I am enough. My kids are enough. My life is enough. It is not the picture I had in my head for so many years, but it is becoming clearer everyday and that is enough.

    1. Hey Denise,
      It is a worthy triumph to come to that conclusion. I still vacillate between trying to get what I want, and accepting what I’ve got. The latter is by far more fulfilling most of the time.

  8. I didn’t say earlier, but your comment about a daughter really struck a chord with me. When I met my wife and we talked about having a family, we always said we wanted two kids. That was the plan, and that’s what we did. I had never really thought about gender, and when we ended up with two boys I was fine with it.

    A few years later, some friends had a daughter and my wife told me she really wanted a daughter. The plan was two kids, and I already felt like I was past the baby stage. But it mattered to her, so we tried. And got pregnant. And then three months in, had a miscarriage.

    We were both really hurt/disappointed/whatever (it’s hard to articulate the feeling), but she took it worse. She asked the doctor if it was something wrong with her, and he assured her no, these things just happen. If we were to try again, we would probably be fine.

    So we tried again, got pregnant again. And three months in, had another miscarriage.

    And in my mind, that was when I lost my wife.

    I don’t think she ever really came out of it. And I guess I failed her then, by not realizing how hard she had taken it, and how much it impacted her.

    After that, she started drifting away. I tried to give some time and space, and be supportive, but nothing helped. A year later, she told me she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore. She loved me, but wasn’t “in love” with me anymore.

    I tried holding on, thinking we were dealing with what was likely depression issues. But no, to her the issues were “us” and our bad marriage.

    For four years I tried keeping my family together. For our children. For me, And for her.

    And then, finally everything fell apart.

    Now, we’re into our second month of separation and facing a divorce.

    And like you, I think – if I was able to hold my daughter right now, would all of this be different? Would my family be together, and my wife “whole” once again?

    But “what if” doesn’t really help me. All I can do is move forward day after day, the best I can.

    Still, I can picture her in my head.

    And she would have been beautiful.

    1. I’m so sorry you have to go through that Drew. My husband and i had a stillborn at 29 weeks. His birthday is 3 weeks from today. He would be 11. We also had a miscarriage 3 years later. It is devastating. I felt so bad for my husband. He was really disappointed that he never got to hear our baby cry. I got to feel him kick and move and i was the only thing he ever knew this side of heaven. I’ll have that for the rest of my life. I got to bond with our baby. So, while I’m not a dad, i can only imagine what it’s like for men to lose a baby.

      I also understand that moms and dads experience that grief differently. Sometimes, moms feel the grief, accompanied by guilt. They ask themselves what they did wrong? What could they have done differently? The answer is usually nothing, but it’s hard to know that in your heart.

      I am so so sorry that happened to you guys. I am at a loss for words of comfort, because there are none. Life can be so hard sometimes. We can have all these plans, and life just does cooperate. I wish there was something to say to magically make it all better. But there’s not.

    2. And i hope i didn’t upset you. Since losing our son, I’ve felt such a weight on my heart for families who have also lost a baby. And its hard, because the loss is so personal. Its different for everyone, even both parents going through it together.

      1. Hi Molly, no you didn’t upset me at all.

        When I first read Matt’s post, I just keyed on the parts about the image of life we have in our head being what screws things up.

        It wasn’t until later, last night that I re-read it and the memories of what could have been came back – and they hit damned hard.

        My life seriously fell apart 4 years ago, and even back then I was convinced that the miscarriages were the root cause. I tried getting her to at least accept the possibility, but she wouldn’t. Instead blaming “us”, even though she was unable or unwilling to articulate what was actually wrong with us. And it’s hard to fix something if you don’t know what you’re fixing.

        The last few years I’ve just been trying to hold everything together, until I realized there was nothing left to hold onto. And during this time I guess I had put my beliefs on the root causes of things out of my head. In some ways they didn’t matter anymore, because they didn’t change the outcome.

        But thinking about Matt’s (non-existent) daughter got me thinking of my own, and how different life potentially could have been. And damn, that hit hard.

        I believed in the fairy tale. I believed in growing old together. And I did everything in my power to ensure I had that. But I still lost her. And now my life moves on to a chapter I’ve known has been coming for a long time, but still one I never wanted.

        I guess not all stories have happy endings. Or maybe they do, and it’s just up to us to write our own.

        1. Drew,

          I’m just so sorry and disappointed that you are facing separation and divorce. Look, I don’t know your wife’s side and I’m sure you weren’t perfect, but from what I’ve read that you’ve written, it seems like you really really tried, you really did do so many of the “right” things, you accepted your wife’s influence, did your fair share at home and all of it. Seems so unfair.

        2. Drew,
          I’m sorry to hear about the miscarriages, and of course what you are facing with the separation and divorce.

          Since my late teens and early adulthood I have had a strong aversion to lies/lying..
          to me when you lie to someone you are altering their understanding of reality and it just isn’t fair.

          Small “white-lies” are one thing, sometimes I don’t want to explain everything so I just let people assume an easier explanation. But I don’t like to even do that too often.

          I don’t mean to sound glib or discount the pain at ALL- but I cant help but think that pouring your energy and effort into feeling and healing the loss is better than continually pouring energy and effort into trying to keep it alive. The latter is just never ending and doesn’t give back in return.

          I am so sorry this was the outcome. I applaud you for loving as well as you have.

          You are truly a prince among men 🙂

          1. Hi Lindsey,

            Don’t worry – I’m not pouring any energy into trying to keep it alive anymore. I did that for four years, and all I have to show for it is four years of my life I will never get back. No matter what the causes are, she’s made her choices and driven down her own road. It’s definitely time to move on.

            But this post did resonate with me, and raise the “what if?” question. Maybe things would have been different. And although I’m hugely biased, my boys are adorable and will grow into good men. And this post made me wonder what that daughter would have looked like, and if she would have changed anything.

        3. Oh, Drew.

          I feel so much grief for you.

          You have given so much to so many of us. If there is anything we can do, please let us know. You are to many of us like a brother or a sister.

          Still, at the end of the day, we all face these things individually. You wrote: “I guess not all stories have happy endings. Or maybe they do, and it’s just up to us to write our own.”

          I think there is great power in that. One of the perspectives through which I have been looking at life this year is as the author of my story. That doesn’t mean I have control over what comes into my life, but I can control how I respond and most importantly to me it means I do not have to see myself as a victim, as a passive recipient.

          Or, I am thinking about it this way for the first time as I type this, maybe I am the composer of a line in a symphony. Perhaps I am the cello part. The other sections have their own lines and will play what they will. But my part in the score is my own. I choose whether I am harmony or melody, whether my beat is even or uneven or syncopated. I may sound in a major key, or a minor. Sometimes I rest, in silence. I choose how my own part will work with and sound with the rest of the score.

          Sometimes the orchestra loses a player and it’s so hard because I had come to know, for better and worse, how they played, what they liked, how they sounded. And when they leave there is a spot that cannot really be filled. Another player may come to the seat left vacant, and playing with them may be brilliant and ecstatic but I will always have the empty space left by my friend who left the orchestra and how is playing somewhere else. My music is melody and harmony even though it is different.

          It’s so hard. I think we have to be thankful for what we have had and what we have and what we can create.

          I even think we have to be thankful for the exquisitely painful hurt and pain, and I do not say that lightly, because I have always wrestled with the dark side and always will, sometimes with intolerable, unbearable pain. But at least I know I am alive and that there is joy as well as grief and they are all bundled together in this thing we call this life. So I bow my head and accept it and let if wash over me as if I were a rock in a great river and the pain does flow downstream and I am still there. The rock that I am is a little more worn but I can be steady in the flood and fury of the torrent.

          May you find the same. I am actually crying into my keyboard typing this 🙁 May whatever you believe in bless you and hold you and give you strength for each day as it comes.

          1. Hi Jack,

            Thank you. Sincerely, that means a lot to me.

            “One of the perspectives through which I have been looking at life this year is as the author of my story. That doesn’t mean I have control over what comes into my life, but I can control how I respond and most importantly to me it means I do not have to see myself as a victim, as a passive recipient.”

            I’m not sure if you are familiar with the concept of learned helplessness. I’ve written on it a bit in the past, and to me it’s a really important concept, and also a concept that is at the root of people who are chronically unhappy.

            The perspective you mention above it how I live my life, each and every day.

            No, I can’t control anything around me. But I am in full control of my own response to events. That’s how I know that I will never do anything like have an affair. I control my own choices, and my choices are always ones I believe to be right – for me.

            I’ve always seen life as a journey, and although I always have a vision or a plan of where it’s going, that vision is somewhat fluid because things happen. And when they do, I need to respond to them as best I can, and adapt my vision accordingly.

            And for me, life is never about the destination. I have goals I’m striving towards, but really, all I ever have is the present. So I try to live in the moment, and appreciate all the little things – good and bad.

            Pain is important. It allows us to grow, and helps stave of hedonic adaptation, allowing us to appreciate the good in our life.

            I’m reminded of a line from my old philosophy classes – if the whole world was red, would we even be able to see red? Would we even be able to conceive of it?

            We need pain, we need hurt, and we need struggle.

            That doesn’t mean we want them, but they help shape us into who we will ultimately be.

            I know I will be fine, and I know I will come out of this well. A little bruised and battered perhaps, but dammit – I’ve grown a lot these past few years. And I don’t ever intend for that to stop.

            All the best

        4. Drew, you wrote: “I guess not all stories have happy endings. Or maybe they do, and it’s just up to us to write our own.”

          This is a challenge for me, but it is one that I have made some progress on. I have genuinely begun to be able to look at the present moment and realize that that’s just what it is. It is all that we have, but it is not all that we will be.

          Or as I sometimes say to people, I used to confuse location with destination. I assumed that however things were now was how they were going to be, forever and ever, amen.

          Of course it was never true, or at least it didn’t have to be. But I had a hard time realizing that.

          It’s actually sort of odd, I think? It’s so hard to get your head really into the present, into NOW. But then you have to remember that NOW is not THEN and certainly not FOREVER.

          Good stories sometimes – probably necessarily – have tough chapters. You know that – I’m just reminding you.

          1. “I used to confuse location with destination”

            Oooooh, I LIKE that. Jack, I think I’ll have to steal that one from you at some point in time in the future.

    3. “A year later, she told me she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore. She loved me, but wasn’t “in love” with me anymore.”

      What she doesn’t realize is how tough it’s going to be for her…playing the single, divorced mom. Either all alone, which will get pretty lonely…or jumping onto the carousel. If she’s expecting to “trade up” by locking down the stereotypical “hunky millionaire handyman”, who will sweep her off her feet and also be a great stepdad to her kids, all I can say is good luck to her. She’s gonna need it. And she will learn that very few men want that responsibility, but instead just want her for sex. She can expect to get played, used, ghosted, etc., by men who really don’t give two schits about her or her kids. But hey, that’s what she wanted, right??

      The miscarriages are tragic, but still no excuse for what she’s done. I hope you make it clear that after this betrayal, there’s no chance of you two remaining “friends”. And your former circle of friends that you shared needs to shun her. Not to mention, just wait till your kids are old enough to realize what she did and turn their backs on her!

      So bottom line is: she just f@cked herself a lot more than she did you. Maybe there’s some cold comfort there for you. But doesn’t change the fact that she will have to carry on her conscience blowing up her family, and putting your kids in a broken home. They will suffer for her actions. Sad.

      1. Jeff, I suspect your intentions were good here. But the delivery definitely was lacking a bit of empathy here.

        Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had a lot of the thoughts you’ve listed, at least in regards to where her future will take her. And I suspect you are right that it won’t be pretty for her.

        But I definitely don’t take any comfort in that.

        What you don’t seem to understand is, I love/loved this woman. I married her, and fully believed we were going to grow old together. I brought two children into the world with her. And the past four years, as I’ve watched her fall apart and self destruct I’ve done everything in my power to (in my mind) protect her from herself.

        I failed her. And me. And my kids.

        Not from lack of trying, and truly I never had a chance unless I could get her to buy in that there was a problem.

        But it’s still a failure, and I don’t celebrate anything here. I see someone who was sick, and needed help. And I wasn’t able to reach her.

        Yes, I suspect I will be able to move on from this and rebuild. And yes, I suspect things will get a lot worse for her before they can ever get better.

        But to me, I’m just sad, and disappointed for everyone involved. And for a life that could and should have been so much more.

        1. Drew,

          Of course it’s sad and tragic. And of course you loved her and will always have feelings for her. But she made her choice, and she will have to live with the consequences. The real tragedy is for your kids.

          Stay strong brother!

    4. Drew– I can’t help noticing the timeline in your post. You’ve been on this blog for awhile now– at least since late last winter– and that’s way more than two months. I’m so sorry things have crumbled for you, and all while you were here with us. We are an odd and tenuous “community,” but please know that you are in our–or at least in my–heart(s). I hope the voices here help mitigate the silence, “day after day, the best (we) can.”

      1. Hi ttravis, thanks for the kind words. I’ve been blogging for almost 3 years now, and Matt’s was one of the first ones I found and followed. So I guess I’ve been here a lot longer than that.

        And believe me, the community here has been invaluable for me. For years, as she withdrew she wouldn’t listen to me. Anything about relationships, trying to improve things, hell – simply anything with emotions or feelings – she didn’t want to hear it.

        It’s been pretty lonely actually, because I’m not the *stereotypical* guy and I think about this stuff, and it means stuff to me.

        With no outlet in my relationship, I turned to writing. But that’s largely a one way road, so the group here has been a way for me to “speak and be heard”.

        Really, a lot of you guys have kept me sane. Giving me an opportunity to say something and feel like there’s at least someone out there who cares and is listening.

        So to everyone, thanks.

        1. For reasons no normal/responsible human could ever explain, I’m just remembering from seeing this comment that I owe you an email. Ugh. That will happen!

  9. Pingback: Day 298 – Drifting | myworldshattered

  10. completelyinthedark

    Wow, this one was a tough one to read, my friend. There’s a photo somewhere of my late father cooking with the daughter of a Florida neighbor who became his little “cooking buddy.” I know my Dad would’ve been delighted if I’d married and had such a daughter that he could’ve been “grandpa” to. I don’t have that photo handy, but it wrecked me when I first saw it, just after he’d died. Your post reminds me that’s fear and regret and not useful, but it’s as you say Real Life, so you gotta live through it. Who knows what the future holds? I still have strength and will and moving forward. Anyway, thanks for sharing that and best for the holidays, Matt. —Mike

    1. Always a pleasure to hear from you, Mike. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I’m certainly grateful for what has now become years of support and thoughtful contribution from you here.

      I really appreciate that you still pop in now and then. I hope you have an excellent long weekend, good sir. Cheers.

      1. completelyinthedark

        Thanks, Matt. I totally quit social media (FB in 2009, Twitter, completely, last weekend) which has given me LOADS of time to get back to ghostwriting a nonprofit’s first book ms., marketing blog writing (both for $$), and my own blog, still publishing every Friday since 2010. Output over all the noise, I say. Keep working, get out in the world among real people, stay hungry and curious. And cheers 🙂 MM

  11. It’s okay to wonder about the “could have'”. Just don’t torture yourself over it. Onwards and upwards my dear.

  12. A woman who blew up her family and divorced her disabled husband with MS because LITERALLY he didn’t wash the dirty dishes:


    Now the little boy sees his dad every other weekend and some video calls during the week. The ex-wife writing the article smugly goes on about how she is the victim here, and more women show follow her example and blow up the family. Because house chores. Or something.

    This is all having an effect and resulting in a marriage strike by young men, and older post divorce men. Could you imagine marrying this woman? And why would you? You don’t have to get married nowadays for female company and sex.

    It’s a mess, ain’t it?

  13. Holidays are so hard. They never meet the magical expectation in our heads – especially when they’re so vastly different that they were during the first half of life.

    I’m looking forward to a day off tomorrow to chill and watch football, but truth be told, I miss warm family dinners and the opportunity to blend those traditions with my new, fractured, scattered family.

    Life is generally good, but it’s not what I planned and certainly wasn’t what I intended.

    1. Tomorrow, my family (hubby, 4kids and me) are going to my step mom’s for breakfast, and then My dad’s family thanksgiving dinner. My dad divorced her after 20+years. She’s basically been kicked out of our family and she’s pretty sad. So we’re going to go see her, along with My 2 sisters before the big dinner.

      And at the dinner, I’ll probably get to meet my new step mommy, who’s like 3 years older than me. I have barely talked to my dad in the past 3 years. He blocks me out and stone walls me over and over. We are dropping the kids off with my aunt in my mom’s side, so at least they’ll be spared from the awkwardness.

      I’m really dreading Tomorrow.

    2. “Holidays are so hard. They never meet the magical expectation in our heads – especially when they’re so vastly different that they were during the first half of life.

      I’m looking forward to a day off tomorrow to chill and watch football, but truth be told, I miss warm family dinners and the opportunity to blend those traditions with my new, fractured, scattered family.”

      I totally hear you. Families tend to be smaller nowadays, and much more scattered geographically. Combining those 2 traits make a big difference, compared to the old days.

      I grew up in a big city up north in the 70s and 80s. All the relatives were in that same area, and families were bigger to start with – my maternal grandparents had 3 kids, who in turn produced 10 grandkids. How well I recall (with fond memories) going to my Aunt and Uncle’s every year for Christmas Eve dinner and opening presents. The whole house would be packed with family…I’m guessing like 30 people or more. There would be folding tables set up in every every room when dinnertime came.

      And while some of you reading this may have big get-togethers at your house from time to time, nowadays this is only possible by having lots of FRIENDS over. In the example I was giving, it wasn’t friends…it was all FAMILY!

      After dinner, the men would all get together around the big dining room table to play cards while the women cleaned up after dinner and gossiped, and us kids played. And by “played” i mean we used our imagination…there were no “devices” like iPads and smart phones to stare at. We interacted with each other.

      Sad my kids won’t have this experience. Different times.

      1. My grandparents had 8 kids (#7 was my mom), and almost 20 grandkids. My grandma has since passed, but every year we get together for Christmas, on new years day. Now, some of us have moved away, but we have since added some spouses, the grand kids have gotten married, some have had babies. We’re up to 34 great grand kids by now. The first great great grand baby is due right before Christmas. We still pack at least 40 people into my grandparents 3bedroom, 1 bath house. Food spread out in the kitchen, foot ball game or movie on tv. Everyone talking and laughing. Kids playing. It’s a beautiful thing. And it all started with 2 people who met, fell in love and devoted their lives to each other. My cousin Ryan makes a killer schnecken, Peter usually makes chili. Amy makes a fabulous apple pie. My uncle always brings the ham. And we have at least 4 kinds of potatoes.
        After dinner, boys break down tables, girls put away food. Then we all play a board game, usual apples to apples. It’s a blast.

        1. Molly: Yep, that’s very similar to my memories. It really is a beautiful thing…there’s just something about family.

          It is really sad that due to both smaller families and geographic scattering, so few kids get to experience this kind of thing growing up anymore. I know the current thinking on this is that nowadays your friends ARE your family (of course, this was the entire premise of the show “Friends”), but I still say it’s not the same.

          It may be corny, but these kinds of holiday family get-togethers bring to my mind the lyrics of a certain Christmas carol: “There’s a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy, when they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie, it’ll nearly be like a picture print from Courier and Ives, these wonderful things are the things we’ll remember all through our lives”

          Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Esp you Matt.

  14. I always imagined/hoped/prayed that I’d have a baby…maybe two. I became the instant full time mommy to my husband’s daughter six weeks after we married. I wanted to be her mom and give her the love she deserved. My husband wanted to wait a couple years before trying to get pregnant (which seemed dumb seeing as we were already parents).

    And I ended up with a hysterectomy instead. He’d promised that we’d adopt if that happened. But when I really awoke from the anaesthesia, I was hit with a wave of grief for what would never be: no pregnancy, no baby showers, no baby and no grandchildren. I’d never be a parent who didn’t have to defer to people who shared SNA with the girl I raised. He reneged on that promise, and I was constantly admonished to remember I was the real mom to my husband’s daughter.

    No one recognized my grief or gave me time and space to mourn. I was invalidated at every turn and told not to be sad, angry or bitter. Had I not promised our daughter that she’d never have to go through a divorce again, I might have left.

    She lives on the other side of the country, about 40 miles from her birth mother. Even though she still calla me “Mom,” I haven’t spent more than an hournwirh her at a time – once a year, twice since 2007. I”be never spent more than 15 minutes on the phone with her. I’ve never seen her kids, ages 16 and 3 months.

    This is exactly what I expected when I awoke from anesthesia. And being right does not make it less painful in the least. For years while everyone ezcused her selfish behavior, I was told she’d change when she hit this or that milestone. Of course having raised her (but thwarted by people whomfelt their shared DNA gave them a right to interfere) I knew better. For the last year her excuse has been how busy she is caring for the baby. (Funny, I had time to call my mom while working sixty hours a week.)

    I do wonder if anything will strike her heart when her daughter is the age SHE was when birth mommy dropped her off at grandma’s apartment with a cardboard box containing her things. Will she think about that? Will she think about giving custody of her precious girl to a 22 year old? Time in four years from now.

    1. You have my sympathies and I hope you find peace in your life. Take heart from the passage in the Book of Revelations where it talks about how in the life to come, “God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes”.

      Also, reading your comment makes me think two things. One, blended families are hard. Two, women should be very cautious of following the feminist script that they should put off marriage while focusing on fun, travel, and career…and postponing children until well into their 30’s. Many women will have health issues relating to their reproductive system by this time, (such as your hysterectomy or ovarian cysts or the like) and will not be able to conceive. Or be able to do so only with great difficulty.

      In short, deliberately post-poning motherhood until well into your 30’s is a gamble, and as is the nature of any gamble, many will lose. And unfortunately, this is not a message young ladies are taught today in school, church, or even the home (in many cases, I suspect). My wife and I teach our daughters that they should seek to wed in their early to mid 20’s, and hopefully be having children shortly thereafter. But I have a feeling we are in the minority on this.

      Such a shame. Is career and travel more important than having children? What is more important than family?

      Anyway, God Bless and all the best to you.

  15. Still mulling and musing…

    You wrote: “Maybe I feel too tired. Or too old. Or too busy.”

    Looking into myself, I wonder if sometimes I just feel like there is still too much cr@p lying about in my head and heart and life to inflict on someone else.

    I’m not suggesting that’s what’s going on with you, just refracting a beam to see if it sheds any light, for me if not for you…

    You also wrote: “But I’m learning to have fewer expectations.”

    I find that tricky. I “get” it, I think. Expectations are, as someone said, just disappointments waiting to happen. But I wonder if I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing expectations, in the “bad” (unproductive, I guess) sense, from goals and from dreams (in a good sense). Maybe the difference is how attached you are to them and what you do when things go a little off course? I really don’t know…maybe I never will…maybe I don’t need to…but I feel like I’d like to have some understanding there…

  16. This made me think of my past… it’s sad to imagine that the life you planned in your mind is no longer the life you live in. It’s worse when you see it being lived with another person that was suppose to be you. Reality sucks sometimes huh? Hope your doing okay. Loved the post as always!

    1. Seems like I haven’t seen your name in a long time. Thanks for stopping in and leaving a note.

      I’ve been in a bit of a writing rut. Perhaps I’ll hit the Publish button today for the first time in a while.

      Very nice to hear from you. I, too, hope you’re well.

  17. I can relate to this post on many levels. I am going through a divorce right now and this past year has so many ups and downs for me. It’s hard not to feel like a “failure” sometimes when everyone else your age is getting married, having babies, buying a house, etc. and here I am, 28 years old, and basically starting my life over. It’s nice knowing that I am not alone in feeling that way, though.

    1. Thanks for saying so. I, too, am a fan of the “Oh, good. This is shit, but it’s awesome to know I’m not the only one” feeling.

      I’m sorry for the reset button you’re hitting, the confusion and uncertainty, and the general pain and discomfort of ending a marriage.

      Beautiful things coming later, miss. It’s hard to feel it or care in the moment. But just maybe you can feel a tiny bit better having that good thing to look forward to. Whatever it may look like.

      Best wishes.

  18. Pingback: Divorce or Stay? Using Direct vs. Circumstantial Evidence to Decide | Must Be This Tall To Ride

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Matt Fray

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