My ex-husband and I decided to separate one late October evening, agreeing he’d stay in our family home until the holidays were over. A month later, he went away for the weekend with friends. I was sitting on the sofa staring at our Christmas tree (the one he complained I’d decorated too early) until the lights stung my eyes, thinking, This is great, I thought. It’s quiet. The house is clean. I can watch the Hallmark Channel without him giving me a hard time and yapping his lips in the background.
I slept like a rock that night and woke up in the same diagonal position I’d fallen asleep in. There had been drool and delicious dreams. I went downstairs and found zero crumbs from his morning bagels. The coffee rings which always peppered the island were gone. So were the coffee grounds and his spoon that he’d leave in the sink.
I took the kids shopping in the midst of holiday madness, just because. He hates shopping. We had fast food for lunch, something he’d always push back against when I’d say, “I just want to sit and talk and eat french fries with you all.”
This is good, we will be fine, I can do this, I thought, as we chowed on burgers and relaxed in overstuffed recliners at the movie theater, then made Christmas cookies for dinner.
That was almost three years ago, and in that time I’ve learned that having your partner go away for a weekend is in no way remotely the same as when they move out and your home is not their home. You now trade weekends with your kids and communicate in ways you never have because before, you were always a couple, you had a partnership.
That weekend with my then-husband out of the house felt so magical and made me feel strong because it was new. My kids were with me, and they had no idea what was happening under their own roof. And I knew he was coming home in less than 48 hours.
“I feel great!” I said to my friend who had been through it.
“Just wait,” she responded.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
I’m not talking about an abusive or toxic relationship when divorce is necessary. I’m not saying anyone should put up with neglect or a dangerous situation. What I’m talking about is the assumption that divorce will be like a few days (or weeks) away from your spouse. You can’t compare the two.
When you need space from someone, you zero in on all the things they do that drive you bonkers. You are in a state of bliss without the mess and the snoring. You are so busy enjoying the freshness of your life, you overlook what they brought to you and your relationship and the reasons you fell in love in the first place.
Then you get the space you so craved because you knew parts of you were dying. This is when shit gets real. The messes you used to fight about seem trivial. If you are stressed about work or the cracking driveway or how your child had a bad day at school, there’s no one coming home to hug you and take on some of the angst.
Being divorced or separated is a fresh start in many ways, but it is not like being away from your partner for a weekend and enjoying a clean space (or a messier one), a good night’s sleep, and the freedom of doing things they didn’t like or want to do with you.
Time passes, and this is when (for many) the loneliness, sadness, and grief set in. It forces you to take a hard look at yourself and your situation: Do I really miss this person and want them in my life, or am I lonely? Am I just craving something familiar? Did we make a mistake? Am I happier?
A weekend, or a week, can’t do that.
So, don’t be be fooled by what a little time apart can do, please.
I hear women talk about how glorious it is when their partner goes away and how they really feel like they can make it on their own because it is so nice not to look at dirty socks lying on the floor. But a weekend away is never a good way to measure if you should still be in a relationship with someone.
My ex and I are not meant to be together — we are both positive of this and have seen the proof over and over again. But I can tell you that weekend he left lied to me. It made me think the ride and our decision would be easy. It has been everything but easy.
Give it a good month, or two, or six before you make a decision about signing divorce papers. A few days without your partner can feel like a vacation to many. Longer than that will allow you to dig deep and see how you really feel — don’t be fooled.