Divorce was unthinkable for me. I had no problem with divorce — for others. Indeed, while Mama was embarrassed about her divorces, I applauded her.
Mama lived in the Bible Belt, where sex outside of marriage was not socially acceptable. So, marry is what Mama did. She was smart and could have gone to college. Indeed, Granddaddy offered to send her—if she didn’t marry my Dad. But Mama grew up in the romanticized 1950s where the American dream for most working class young women was to be a mother and to stay at home or perhaps become a secretary. The image of a nuclear family was too powerful of a draw. I certainly would never fault Mama’s choice. If she had made a different one, I wouldn’t be here.
Mama didn’t stay single for long; children need a father after all. But to her credit, three out of four times, she knew when to fold ‘em. And fold’ em Mama did.
Still, I could not imagine myself as divorced. The stigma was too much to bear. But by September 1993, life with Paul had surpassed that burden. I had grown weary of a life walking on egg shells, trying to avoid setting Paul into a tirade. Something had to give.
I thought things would improve now that I had a good paying job, but Paul was no fan of change. My courage was strengthening as my friends, old and new, expressed support and concern.
A brain storm provided the answer. One evening, I worked my idea into our after dinner conversation: “I think we should go to marital counseling.” Paul listened to me describe how unhappy I was and why. He was willing to work on things — but not with a counselor. This was not the first time we had had this conversation.
I floated my new big idea, with a positive spin: “How about we separate for a while, and explore with a counselor how to move forward.” “You want a divorce?” Paul retorted. “No, I just think that having some space would help us work out some of our problems. It could even be fun, like we were dating again.” I smiled and waited to see how this idea landed.
My “hey let’s try this” approach did not land well. Paul was adamant, you leave and that is it. Our marriage will be over.
So much for that big idea.