Cartoon by Isabella Bannerman. Used with permission.
I was Rick’s second wife. We were together for 20 years, married for the last 12 of them. I’m sad that our marriage went south, but it deserved to. We had no business tying the knot in the first place.
Rick wasn’t the right husband for me. Not his fault; there is no right husband for me. Although the saying goes that there’s a lid for every pot, I’m one of those women who should stay single. Neither lid nor pot, I’m more of a single-function stand-alone appliance, like an espresso maker. A solo act. In my heart, I always knew that.
But my biological clock betrayed me. The moment I first saw my sister’s newborn baby, 27 years ago, I knew that I wanted a baby too. The emotional tidal wave that was my sudden longing for motherhood drowned out the sensible voice in my head that whispered “You’re making a big mistake” as I proposed marriage to my long-term boyfriend.
That’s right. I proposed. So you could say that our bad marriage was my fault. On the other hand, he said yes.
Nobody who knew me as well as Rick did had any business accepting a marriage proposal from me. He knew all my flaws. I knew all his too. As did most of our friends and family. When the fellow who married us asked if anybody knew of a reason why we shouldn’t be joined in holy matrimony, everyone should have jumped up, asking, “Are you kidding us? Where do we start?”
At the very least, the waving of red flags should have been part of the ceremony. I imagine our guests marching around the wedding venue, carrying hand-sewn crimson flags, embroidered with slogans like “Watch out for his temper!“ “She’s bossy!“ “He’s insecure!” “She can’t cook!”
Maybe this is why we didn’t actually have much of a ceremony. Or many guests. Instead, we were married in our living room, by Phil. Phil is Rick’s best pal. More important, he’s a lawyer. In Maine, where we were living, any lawyer can perform a marriage ceremony. Our only guests were Rick’s mom and my dad. God only knew what was going through their heads during that oddly minimalist marriage ceremony. (Probably something along the lines of “You’re making a big mistake.”)
We didn’t even include Phil’s wife, Jody, who was also a friend. Maybe because Jody is a therapist. She might have tried to talk some sense into us.
Nora Ephron once said, “Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.” Based on this criterion, our marriage was a resounding success!
Otherwise, not so much.
The early years were good. We had some great times together. And we did a terrific job of raising our perfect son, Tom. I wasn’t much of a wife, but I’m a great mother. And Rick was (and is) a terrific father. But, as a loving couple, we were a disaster. When I look at what went wrong, it boils down to: He wanted to keep me in a box. I wanted to get out of the box.
In fairness, I should point out that a lot of women would have been deliriously happy in that box. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.
I should also mention that a woman who can’t stand conflict probably shouldn’t marry a man who loves a good fight.
So, after plenty of suffering and some necessary therapy, I kicked him to the curb. Luckily, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure. Rick put his profile up on Match.com. (A whip-smart, attractive, affluent attorney in good physical condition. With a full head of hair!) Before long, he found somebody. They went out. They fell in love. He was crazy about her. She was crazy about him. Finally, the lid to his pot!
He couldn’t light up my life. But he swept her off her feet. And she was just what he needed. Coincidentally, she too is a whip-smart, attractive, affluent attorney in good physical condition. More than that, they have an emotional congruence. A soul connection. They even look like each other. And the dog they purchased once they moved in together looks just like them too. Everything seems to have fallen into place.
Last January, they were married. Do I have any regrets? Are you kidding me? I’m a conservationist. I couldn’t be happier. I’ve successfully recycled him.
When you pull the plug on a relationship that endured for two decades, even if it shouldn’t have, you can’t help but feel guilty. So Rick’s marrying a fabulous new wife was a big relief. (I’m not being sarcastic here—my ex-husband’s third wife is really cool.)
Now that my first husband is happily married to his third wife, I can fully accept my share of the blame and admit that the whole thing was a huge mistake.
It could have been worse. As Rick put it while trying to talk me out of divorcing him, “This may by a dysfunctional relationship, but it’s a WORKING dysfunctional relationship.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I said, and divorced him anyway. We both deserved better. (And our son deserved to know that his particular mom and dad weren’t what a loving marriage looks like.)
These days, Rick and I get along fine. The things I most enjoyed about my ex—his intelligence, his acid sense of humor, his tender heart, and his general feistiness—are all things I can still enjoy. We had fun together and we’ll always have our wonderful son. But it never quite added up to happily-ever-after. And it was never going to.
There’s something to be said for knowing how to cut your losses and leave the game.
If you happen to be trapped in a bad marriage yourself, take my advice and get out. Grab a good lawyer and go. If not for your own sake, then for your husband’s. It’s the only way he’s going to find that terrific next wife he so richly deserves.
Do the poor guy a big favor. Take him to the cleaners today.
Cartoonist/animator/painter Isabella Bannerman’s work has appeared in—among other places—“Glamour,” “The New York Times,” “The Funny Times,” “World War 3 Illustrated,” MTV, and “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” Since 2000 she has been the Monday artist for Six Chix, a comic strip syndicated by King Features.