Seven months after their wedding, Amy Schreibman Walter’s husband came home from work one evening and told her he wanted a divorce…
One Monday evening in May last year, seven months after our wedding day, my husband Jacob* arrived home from work and we kissed hello. ‘Do you feel like going to the sushi or the Italian place tonight?’ I asked, making room for him on the sofa next to me. He surprised me by sitting down on the other sofa, across the room. Looking right at me, he declared, ‘I don’t want dinner. I don’t want to be married.’ I heard the words but I didn’t understand. He went on, in a clear voice, ‘I don’t want this dream. I don’t want the happily ever after. I’ve changed my mind.’
This from the man who regularly brought home roses, my favourite flowers, ‘just because’, who from the outset told me he wanted the same things as I did – marriage and kids. This from the man I loved.
Continuing, he told me: ‘I want other things for my life – not the conventional things. I’ve realised that a husband isn’t something I want to be.’ His words pierced me like a needle, sudden and painful.
I look back now and wonder how I was able to go to work during that time, how I could teach my year four students each day. Shock must have been a cushion preventing me from feeling the extent of the pain until I was better placed to handle it. My days were spent in a state of disbelief and denial.
Living at home was now torturous; Jacob slept in a different room and didn’t want to talk about what was happening to our marriage. It was as though there was a stranger in the house, a man who looked like him but didn’t act like him, a man who was walking around in his handsome body but with no love in his eyes, no desire to be with his wife.
I offered to give Jacob some time and space, thinking this might help him and us. After a few surreal weeks of my living in a hotel, we met at a marriage counselling session. I felt giddy sitting next to him again and filled with blind hope.
‘What brings you here?’ the therapist asked us. ‘Jacob is saying that he made a mistake and doesn’t want to be married. I don’t understand. I’d do anything to save our marriage,’ I told her.
This was a difficult session, even for an experienced therapist. Jacob and I had completely different agendas. She decided it would make sense to meet Jacob on his own, then meet me, at which time she told me, in no uncertain terms, that this was not a marriage that could be saved.
He was, simply, headed for the exit. Why? I didn’t know. If our marriage was a plane crash, I couldn’t get my hands on the black box.
I was in need of answers. A Google search for ‘sudden ending of marriage’ delivered two books which were to become my bibles: Runaway Husbands and Sudden Endings – Wife Rejection in Happy Marriages.
I knew I wasn’t alone in this; that other women out there had disappearing husbands, too, but the timing of Jacob’s departure was different. Seven months after the wedding was exceptionally early. Most of the other husbands had left after many years, not months, and after children. His exit, just as we were still coming to terms with the unexpected loss of our first baby while trying to conceive another, felt like a cruel blow from the universe. How is a newlywed supposed to fall out of love?
This was the summer I turned 40, and the summer that I published my first book of poems – though I teach at a primary school full time, writing is a passion. These were milestone days, speckled with grief and marred by Jacob’s absence. After my book launch, I emailed him a video of me reading his favourite poem; the first one I’d written about falling in love with him. He never responded.
I had so many questions. Answers and wise words came from friends (both his and mine), from my therapist and, unexpectedly, from Instagram. I started to follow several women authors who have lived through difficult relationships and messy divorces. I related to their pain but was also encouraged by their strength and ability to turn the most personal of tragedies into a kind of soaring growth. Often the quotes they posted were exactly what I needed to read.
I’ve had an Instagram account for several years now, but I’ve never once shared an inspirational quote. I regularly post pictures of art, of gorgeous views and restaurants, but never quotes, which I had always thought of as a little twee, trite even. But when my life changed, I changed, too. The quotes now resonated – they spoke to my open wound and offered me the reassurance that it would, one day, turn into a scar. Inspirational quotes were exactly that – inspirational.
On Instagram, I noted that others had been through similar things; I could gain some of the perspective that they had now that they’d travelled to the other side of heartbreak. Glennon Doyle Melton wrote a memoir called Love Warrior, in which she describes a journey of self-discovery after finding out that her husband had been having an affair. Modelling the notion that crisis can be a springboard to a renewed sense of self and to a better life, her Instagram feed is compelling.
Self-professed survivor Cheryl Strayed, author of memoir Wild as well as two books full of wisdom, Tiny Beautiful Things and Brave Enough, also posts inspirational quotes frequently on Instagram. And many have heard of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love. She’s another woman who has done as Carrie Fisher once advised: ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art.’
Soon after my husband left, a quote from a poem on Instagram caught my eye…
Run my dear, from anything that may not strengthen your precious budding wings Hafez, Persian poet
I should have followed that advice straight away, but I wasn’t wise enough yet. My wings weren’t budding, and I wasn’t running from Jacob. Instead, I was emailing him frequently, asking for what he didn’t want to give. ‘You married me less than a year ago – what happened to change your mind?’ ‘How is it possible to fall out of love with your wife so quickly?’ These were the questions I kept asking but he didn’t really want to answer them.
I sought comfort from talking to people who wanted to listen. I had to release the story from me in order to understand it, because it didn’t make any sense to me yet.
Darling, you feel heavy because you are too full of truth. Open your mouth more. let the truth exist somewhere other than inside your body >Della Hicks Wilson, American poet
Tears were also a physical release; I would cry when someone asked me how I was, I cried at work, I cried in the supermarket. Therapy – sharing my feelings with someone who empathised – worked to lighten what I carried, too.
The written word is a powerful tool for healing. Wielding my pen and writing personal essays brought me closer to acceptance. Jacob didn’t want much dialogue with me, so I had to find my voice by sharing my thoughts with other people. In the release is the vulnerability, and then the healing.
One day in early September, after receiving an especially unemotional email from Jacob, I realised that I had to stop initiating contact. Every time I built up some strength, one of his unemotional email responses would shatter me again. So I finally stopped reaching out to him. Expecting him to respond to me thoughtfully, sensitively – the way he used to, before he announced his intention to exit our marriage – was unrealistic.
Instead of focusing on my broken marriage, I began to get serious about nurturing myself. I needed silence and lots of time alone in my apartment, in my pyjamas, just resting, or playing with my affectionate, always-purring cat Golda.
In the quiet of my apartment, I reflected a lot on the fact that Jacob had been engaged to several other women before me. Each time, he called off the engagement before the wedding day. I knew this going into our marriage but, he told me, he was older, wiser, he’d changed – I believed it, as I believe he did. It turns out that we were both wrong.
When I recently received a card from a student of mine that said: ‘I love you. Thank you for being a great teacher,’ she didn’t know that she’d handed it to me on my one-year wedding anniversary. I’ve discovered that love can be taken away without warning, but now I’ve realised it can come unexpectedly, too. As I move further along this zigzagged road of healing, I feel myself once again believing in the magic of unexpected love.
Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realise there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room Cheryl Strayed, memoirist
My sadness comes and goes in waves, but I’m working towards acceptance and moving on. Golda sits on my lap as I write this, purring loudly, and she’s helping. And on my laptop screen, Instagram helps, too – a wise companion, a coach encouraging me through the strangest year of my life.
Jacob and I had a conservative Jewish wedding, which has meant we’ve had to have a Jewish divorce in addition to a civil divorce. Before I went to Jewish court to be freed of my obligations as a Jewish wife, one of my best friends told me to visualise one wing on my back – she said I should imagine it appearing after I left the court that day. She said that when the civil divorce is final I can imagine that I have a second wing – and, with that, I’ll be ready to fly.
I can feel my wings quietly budding as I ready myself for this new stage of my life where I want to continue to grow happiness through my writing and being a teacher and where I try again with a new man, someone who wants marriage and children.
The same day that I had this conversation with my friend, the quote below came up on one of my Instagram feeds. The wise words from Brené Brown, who wrote a book about the power of being vulnerable, feels a fitting place to end this chapter of my life – in faith, courage and strength.
The letting go is where my next chapter begins.
Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear and uncertainty Brené Brown, scholar and author
*Some names have been changed