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In the last year, I have been both the leaver and the left. I left my husband in November 2015 and the man I subsequently fell in love with left me in Summer 2016. Maybe the universe just decided to dish out a bit of instant karma to me – a good old-fashioned taste of my own medicine. She got what she deserved, some might say. And they might be right.
What this experience has given me is a side-by-side perspective of being the one who was active in ending a relationship and being the passive one who had no choice about its ending. From the perspective of the one who is left, it feels like the leaver has all the power but, actually, it’s not that simple.
I am the “guilty party” – the one who left a 24-year marriage and broke up a nuclear family because she had lost her way in the relationship. I didn’t leave my marriage for someone else, I left it for myself, because it felt like that was what I needed to do for the sake of my sanity. Stepping out of the safety of a long-term loving relationship has felt like stepping off a cliff. For a long time I have been in freefall waiting for the parachute to open. I thought, maybe, when I fell in love with someone else, he might be the one to slow my descent but that was not to be and I have continued to fall, albeit at a slower pace sometimes.
I’m sure there are many who would say I should have stayed in my marriage, for the sake of my daughter and for the sake of my husband. I find myself asking that same question on an almost daily basis. Would that have been the right thing to do? I imagine that this is a Marmite questions, likely to prompt either vehement shouts of “yes, of course you should” or “no, of course you shouldn’t”, depending on your point of view. I veer from one side of the argument to the other.
Like everything in life, relationships don’t come with a handbook. There is no alphabetical index to turn to to see precisely what it says under “lost my way”. Of course, there are plenty of people who are keen to take on the role of that handbook and tell me what I should or shouldn’t do but, in my experience, unless the choices come from a deep knowing inside me they very rarely turn out to be the right ones. Still now, more than a year after I moved out of my home, I find myself agonising over what to do. I still love my husband, you see, and would love to make things right for him and my daughter and make them happy again. He has told me that his life has lost much of its meaning since I left and that is a big responsibility to carry.
For more than a year, I have lugged the label of “guilty party” around with me like a ball and chain. With every tentative step I take forward I hear it clanking behind me and feel the weight of it holding me back. The guilt that I’ve had for most of my life, simply by dint being myself, is now magnified to roughly the size and shape of the moon. I am saddened by the friends who now see only this “guilty party” label and no longer see me for the person I am.
It is shocking to see people who once greeted me with friendly smiles and laughter turn their hardened, unsmiling faces away from me or greet me with a cursory nod of the head. I wonder to myself what they feel I have done to them to merit such treatment. I guess, on some level, they find the idea of leaving a marriage to be unforgiveable, which surprises me in this day and age. Or maybe what they cannot forgive is the hurt I have caused to my husband, their mutual friend. And, if it is this, I wonder how they might envision leaving a relationship without causing any hurt. I must admit, it leaves me rather mystified. I cannot ask them because they no longer speak to me.
Some people tell me that I have set a good example for my daughter by making a powerful choice and doing what is right for me. Some days, I can even tell this to myself but on others I feel like I have wrecked her life and my husband’s too through my selfishness and inability to accept the status quo. My husband tells me I have broken his heart and that feels almost too much to bear. It is a big responsibility to break a heart that you have carried inside you as part of yourself for nearly 25 years. In some ways it is as painful as feeling your own heart break, sometimes even more so because it is accompanied by stabbing pangs of guilt.
Please do not misunderstand me or feel that I am asking for sympathy in my choice to leave my marriage. I am not asking for anything. As I said, I have been both the leaver and the one left and there is something truly horrible about being the latter – a sense of powerlessness, of being subject to someone else’s choice, of having no say. But, in these times of instant judgment and black and white perspectives, I would just like to remind people – including myself – that it takes two to make a relationship and two to break it. The person who leaves may simply be the one who is quicker to recognise that things have gone wrong, or who has a lower tolerance threshold for unworkability.
I still love my husband with all of my heart and there is something unacceptable to me about my role as leaver, the one who broke up the family. It took me more than two years to finally make the choice to leave the safety and comfort of my marriage and it took courage, determination and an iron will to go through with it. Every step of the way was filled with fear and uncertainty, and it continues to be so. The certainty and determination it took to make the choice to leave fades in and out like a badly tuned radio. Some days I can hear my reasons quite clearly inside my head, at other times it is just a hiss of white noise and confusion and I wonder what possessed me to create such a mess in my life and the lives of those I love.
No wonder they say that no-one wins in a relationship break up. As much as it might seem to my husband like I’m holding all the cards, in reality I’m holding nothing. The cards lie scattered at both our feet as we look around in confusion, wondering what the hell to do next.
Clothes provide a sense of normality and focus through these tumultuous times. Not for me retreating into my PJs and hiding under the duvet. Some days I don’t feel much like making an effort but I do because it helps my sense of self-esteem and gives me an anchor that keeps me from being thrown around by the waves.
Today’s outfit features a fabulous jacket and hat by talented felt artist Teresa Searle. I bought the jacket secondhand from a local sales site on Facebook and the hat I found in a closing down sale in a tiny vintage clothes shop in Sidmouth. It is the first time I have worn the two together. I am wearing the jacket over a purple Privatsachen silk crinkle shirt and a dark purple crinkle skirt by Mistral that I bought from Paul, the rag trader for £2.50.
The photos were taken in Castle Meadow, Totnes and next to St Mary’s Church.
Jacket and hat: Teresa Searle