My wife is not my first: I’d been married before. I very rarely speak about my first marriage because it came to a spectacularly bad end: this is my attempt to work out why.
I had recently relocated for work and found myself in a strange town among strange people. I do enjoy being around people as long as the environment is sensory-friendly — not too crowded or noisy — but I’m not good at actually talking to them. So I started going to a couple of bars, just standing or sitting at the counter with my beer and waiting for others to approach me.
Some months down the line I had become accustomed to meeting and talking to several people who frequented the same bars. Most were just casual acquaintances who liked to chat to anybody but a couple of them shared an interest or two with me. Most were men although there were a handful of women in the mix.
One young woman — in her mid-20s, a little older than me — became a frequent conversational partner, and we would end up talking about more personal subjects than I usually would with other people. I guess with hindsight she was flirting with me — I had no idea. She would offer me a lift back to my apartment, and after a while I started to invite her in.
I honestly had no idea where this might end up: up to this point I had never had a girlfriend, hardly even spent time with a woman socially. The only exception was a girl who shared my physics class at school, for whom I developed something of a crush and kept in contact through my time at university. So I had no experience of romantic relationships, and still can’t tell if somebody is trying to flirt with me.
To cut a long story short, I was passively following her lead. She stayed the night a few times and we became intimate; soon after that she moved in with me. I don’t think I ever stopped to consider what was happening. I had always allowed myself to be led, always allowed others to guide my path through life: that was how I had ended up at university. I never had any plans, any ambitions for what I wanted to do — I still don’t.
Don’t get me wrong: I was happy during that time. She was taking care of my housekeeping backlog while I was at work — she worked part-time — and we enjoyed each other’s company. And then one day she announced to me that she was pregnant. I can’t recall her ever having told me she had stopped taking her contraceptive pills, and I was too naive to have thought about contraception for myself.
I asked her to marry me. After all, I was in love and that’s what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Before long we had bought a home, gotten married and awaited the birth of our child. Our daughter arrived that August. I was present at the birth and — apart from finding it all fascinating — was immensely happy when I first held her.
It all looked perfect. But appearances were deceptive: we had gone from strangers to married with a daughter in about a year and didn’t really know each other that well. At first looking after our daughter provided a distraction from the cracks in our relationship, our incompatibilities. But as she got older and started pre-school it gradually became obvious to both of us that we had problems.
We would disagree about things. She would take offense at something I said or did and wouldn’t speak to me for days at a time. I never did find out what it was that upset her so much: she refused to tell me. I started spending more time in bars again, finding the companionship I wasn’t getting at home.
I started spending time with another woman — just a friend as far as I was concerned: she was going out with another friend of mine and we happened to get along well. I never expected it would cause trouble with my wife — naive, remember. And when this new friend needed somewhere to stay I offered her our spare room.
Well, that was the final straw as far as my wife was concerned. Amid accusations of infidelity I was thrown out of the family home still uttering useless denials. I was left feeling shell-shocked: I could not understand how it had happened — I was convinced I hadn’t done anything wrong. But I had known for a while that any closeness we used to have was long gone.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. So many things I would do differently now with my hard-earned experience. I was not ready to enter a relationship like that at that age (23): I was too immature, too lacking in experience. We ended up hurting each other a lot emotionally.
I don’t know what effect it had on our daughter because I have had very little contact with her since the split and subsequent divorce. There was too much lingering hurt and anger for me to bear to even see my ex-wife and the only contact we had was that necessary to resolve financial and custody arrangements. We went our separate ways.
My relationship with our daughter was soured by its association in my mind with her mother, and I lost any feeling of a bond with her. After a few attempts to take her out for a few hours at the weekend — swimming or to the park — I gave up. At that point I was numb: I didn’t feel anything towards her. But I knew I didn’t want any association with my ex: my resentment and anger lingered for years.
Is there any kind of happy ending to this? Well, kind of… After my mother died, my father phoned me to discuss her funeral. He said that my ex-wife and our daughter would be attending and would stay overnight at his place. The home I grew up in. I said I wouldn’t be coming if my ex-wife was there.
Luckily cooler heads prevailed and I did travel back to my home town for the funeral. Since I was with my father and brother during the church service and at the crematorium I didn’t have to confront my ex-wife.
It was afterwards at the wake that we actually came face to face after some prompting by my father. After more than 10 years we didn’t have a lot to say to each other, but we did hug: I felt better afterwards as if that had finally started to heal some of the wounds. I met our daughter as well, but we were strangers to each other: an exchange of pleasantries, a brief awkward hug and that was that.
The “happy” ending? It is the sense of closure. There may be scars but old wounds have healed and I no longer feel anger or hatred. I doubt we will ever be friends but at least we are no longer enemies.