When you have no prior experience with love, the first person to show you the closest thing to love would have an impact on you. Perhaps that’s where some beauty comes in, though in some cases, the beauty and happiness fades fast when you are in a lonely rush, and that feeling you thought was love, was built on a rocky foundation, and things just change. I wish I could tell you that doesn’t mean that you can’t be loved, or that you can’t love. You’re okay, and just because you’re growing up and falling out of love, that doesn’t mean you have to leave everything you liked when you were a child. You have a long way to go, to grow, and love someone special again… you’re only getting ready to say “nice to meet you” to somebody you never knew—you.
Divorce. It’s a word, an event that brings in emotions of all sorts. Usually, unpleasant ones. At least that’s what some may think or say out loud. I wish I could tell you that the end of a marriage doesn’t make you a failure; that I know you tried your best to make things work, but it just didn’t. You are more than your past. This post may be more personal and intimate than my usual ones, and it may take a while to read this. But I do want you to take a moment to realise this, whether you’ve been recently divorced or not, your divorce does not define your lack of worth. Sometimes, a separation happens so you can build up instead of breaking down, and perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself, is to forgive yourself, love yourself, and grow.
It’s common to have someone painted as a villain when a marriage breaks down. While there may be exceptions too, I feel it’s necessary to understand why it happened. I was very blessed to have this conversation with my friend, Nicholas, who confided in me about his shortcomings and the things he learned from his divorce. One of the hardest things to take away from our conversation was “the things we wished we had known better”. What I truly appreciated was his vulnerability to talk about these difficult emotions, because they were necessary. A wound like this can feel fresh, even after months, and it was important for him to get his feelings out there, here, without being judged.
For the sake of confidentiality, I will be leaving out names. Nicholas first met her when he was 19. Prior to knowing her, he had never been in a relationship. Much secluded in his own shell at that time, letting people into his space wasn’t a part of him. And the times where some would try to connect with him, debilitating waves of insecurities would take over his mind, and Nicholas found comfort in persuading himself not to be attached at all and giving himself reasons why he was unworthy of having someone to care for him, vice versa.
“You’re not going to be good enough. You don’t have a car. You’re not in a stable financial situation. Your family is dysfunctional.” He went on meeting with this woman with that mindset, and all the other feelings he had in general, including the lack of experience with the opposite sex. And sometimes, the world plays tricks on us, on when you meet people. She was at the end of a broken relationship that was manipulative. What Nicholas had to say was, at that time, she was looking for a reason to leave—and then she met him, they found each other. Maybe he was a breath of fresh air, she took an instant liking to him.
While Nicholas was feeling lonely, he wasn’t actively pursuing something. With the added inexperience he had, she was just attached to him and latched herself onto him, emotionally and physically. There was a physical intimacy that he wasn’t used to. Just talking to Nick about this, he admitted that all the things they were doing, it was a rush. They were both young. She was experienced with men, and wanted something emotionally better. She knew what she wanted. He didn’t. He reciprocated because she did first. It is all so strange for Nicholas, this treatment—to have someone being so strong-willed and latching on to him this much.
“Even if I wanted to resist, I couldn’t.”
When Nicholas mentioned this, it made me think of how so many of us, especially when we come from a dysfunctional home, always feel lost when someone feels strongly for us. I think about just how much insecurity we carry with us unfairly for the way we were raised. And this ball of insecurity just keeps building itself up in subtle ways: giving us every single reason we can think of why we do not deserve better. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t either. They were both young, and perhaps that given a chance, they both would have made different decisions then. I could tell from his voice that there were times he would unconsciously reminisce about some good times to the point where it just stings.
I asked Nicholas, “You talked about not being willing to make yourself emotionally available to anyone. She came along, and came off so strong, emotionally and physically… and because you were a stranger to this sort of treatment, you just went along with it. Would you say, at any point, did you feel a genuine love for her? Or were you both co-depending on each other to fill in each of your personal void?”
It’s hard to confirm if it was love, and he confessed to having moments where he felt strong feelings for her. “To this day, I don’t know if it was love. I was never in a relationship before so I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what I was feeling. Maybe back then, I felt that it was love. And maybe in hindsight, I’m being confused because I don’t have anything to really relate to and compare it with. I didn’t have anything to confirm that it was love. But, in comparison to feelings I had for her in the future, after things were said and done, I think that it really was more of a physical attraction-based kind of feeling—and that she gave me a lot of emotional and physical attention, quickly. I believe that’s what bonded us more than just me loving her for who she was. I don’t think I had those deep romantic feelings because it was so fast.”
He continued saying, “Sometimes, the more I’m thinking about it and bringing it up, there are moments where I can remember we disagreed heavily on something. And I have moments where I’m thinking ‘just what did I get myself into?’, ‘what am I doing?’, ‘where am I?’… I’m spending all my time with her, doing everything, ‘is this where I want to be?’. I’m not seeing my friends as much and I was used to seeing them a lot. I’m not doing my hobbies as much. And after a couple of months just doing the same things with her and when the emotions started to wear down, I still wanted to be around her. I still felt very committed to her but I wasn’t sure how I felt about leaving behind all the things I was used to, and that would constantly be a slight argument between the two of us. She was worried I wasn’t ready to commit because I was missing the things I was doing before.”
Throughout the first several months of being together, she was having questions about her ex, the way he treated her, and how she was feeling about him. Phrases such as “I really wish he wasn’t the way he was because I liked him for…” Being younger then, Nicholas didn’t like hearing about her ex. Those sort of emotions were heavy for him to handle. “The closest I even had to being in a relationship, it was me talking to a girl I was crushing on and she would just have me as an emotional ladder to make herself feel better. So to sum up everything, the attraction we had for each other was just through a fast emotional and physical intimacy. Freshness. Excitement…” His voice trailed off. “If anything, I think we were both bonded by the excitement of having something new.”
I noticed how he was trying his best not to stumble over his words too much. Things like this take time and a huge amount of self-reflection. Those memories are just from so long ago and Nicholas was trying not to let negative memories from the current divorce make those memories tainted or biased. And, here’s where I want to say it’s not easy finding balance in that because you either blame yourself completely or the other half. It takes grace to be honest that you made mistakes just as much as the other half did, especially since most of us have been conditioned by our households or the media that “one is always more wrong than the other”. This, I believe, is unique for everyone, not every divorce happens and ends in a fixed manner.
“And then the child happened. You were 19. Tell me how you felt when you found out you were going to be a father, when you were not prepared at all…” I whispered, “What happened?”
Finding out that she was bearing his child then, on that one particular day, it was the start of a very stressful year for both of them. What time they had remaining in 2014 was a rush of adulthood. To get a car, get a bank account together, a place to stay, a stable job for income to provide. Nicholas went from job to job, from gas stations to cleaning cars. Living from place to place, and surviving fights after fights. Adulthood came crashing down. “That’s when the foundation of having a family began, but it wasn’t a foundation that was built between me and her. Everything that used to be fresh and exciting just dwindled to the stress of being an adult, and a new frightening world where we were both becoming parents. I had to provide for my family.”
It was no longer a matter or question if he loved her. He was questioning his own self worth, if he was able to pull through all of this as a man, as an adult, and if he was able to provide for his wife and soon-to-be-born child. “We married in the same year out of obligation because we needed a place to stay. We even talked about it the night before, and I told her that I was sure we would’ve gotten married eventually.”
I cannot possibly fathom how overwhelming that was for both of them. Despite this, Nicholas realised something now and he assured me, “You know, back in those days, in a lot of ways, the quick adulthood gave me a jumpstart to myself at least. Back in those days, I didn’t have a good work ethic. I needed to be serious.” I couldn’t help but point out to him about something he mentioned. I told him I found it interesting that when he discovered she was having a child, they had the conversation of marriage, where he said he was sure they both would’ve gotten married, eventually. I couldn’t help but wonder if he said that to comfort himself, or to comfort her, just to ease the situation. It was probably to comfort both of them, he said. What’s the difference between getting married now or later? It was a coping mechanism for what was happening.
To give a quick flow of what happened later, just having to raise a child, seeing her grow up, there were cracks in the marriage. Still detached, Nicholas couldn’t be emotionally strong and available for his wife. I asked him why this was the case, “Why were you so closed off? Was it still tied to the fact that she had more experience and you were just existing?”
“Once I became an adult, once I landed a job, landed a place to stay, and when my daughter was born, I was just worn out. That one event sculpted me and after a little while, I found myself yearning some of the things the old me had. The solitude. The responsibilities that I didn’t have. My friends… I missed my friends. I didn’t hang out with them as much anymore…” This was very painful for both of us. He struggled to talk, and I struggled not to break down. I sincerely believed that he could recite all the reasons that he is much better now, yet of course he was still left with the emotional pain and scars. All the “what if’s”, the guilt, the shame, the path both of them would’ve taken not to lead up to this day. “And she was noticing these things. I confided in her.” he said. That’s when she finally asked, “Well, do you love me? Do you love us?”
Nicholas couldn’t give her a straight answer.
She never forgot that hesitation.
He knew he couldn’t fault her for it. In her own brokenness, she was looking for validation for her own actions and taking accountability for what took place. She needed him to be a strong supporting figure for her and the child. “I was selfish. I couldn’t shake away those feelings of wanting to go back to where I was. It was just too much. While I immediately formed a fatherly connection with my newborn daughter, I told myself I wasn’t going anywhere. I was going to stay for my family. But at the same time, there was another part of me that wished I could be experiencing fatherhood at a later stage.”
They divorced in 2020. But during the late 2017 up to 2019, conversations about divorce surfaced every now and then. Verbal fights happened and one particular event sealed everything. I will not go into the details here. It’s like a series of landmines, they go off in your face without any warning. Maybe the signs were there all along, the cracks from the brokenness you carried. But the pain is unimaginable—all the shrapnel of memories piercing your heart. All the things that used to center around your life come to a halt, things that used to define you are just ripped away. The jigsaw puzzle of your life, half of its pieces all gone… and yet, the world still expects you to form a coherent whole.
Your happiness has become a distant sentiment; a mere memory of what once was. You look at childhood photos and recollect on who you used to be. It’s hard to believe that was you. That bright exuberant smile portrayed in one family portrays a realization of regret. Remorse clings beneath the words you speak. Anger arises in the gestures you create. A sudden dislike for things you once enjoyed becomes apparent. A fondness you once believed to be unbreakable has now been shattered by the person you’ve created… Then you just have enough. You’ve had enough; you’re exhausted and out of breath.
Nicholas started therapy early this year in 2021. Once he knew in his mind and in his heart that the divorce was actually happening, it set a new chapter for him to change his life, the things that he was bitter about and the pain he felt of not being enough. This was going to be an end to something that he had been so used to, and was just tired of.
“Right,” I assured him, “and there was also your daughter to think about. While you were going through therapy, you discovered plenty of things that you didn’t know better then. Things that changed your mindset, the things that shaped you for the Nicholas that I am talking to right now. And I can imagine how different it must’ve been for you too because you had been alone, then together with someone for so long, having that physical person centering your life, and now you are going to be without that person.”
I think it’s incredibly nothing short of inspiring that, despite everything that happened, Nicholas was open to healing. But first, he had to accept that things went wrong and he was a part of it. He wanted to reach out and talk to people again. I like to think that, at least from what I remembered from our first few exchanges, it was clear to me that Nicholas was very troubled, it’s just commendable to me for him to just be honest and raw with me, and to just have that trust in me on all these things even when we barely knew each other. In that way, I could say that perhaps that Nicholas admitting that he needed help, getting therapy, was truly one of the best decisions he made for himself.
He thought about his daughter a lot in regards to how he was with his wife. He wanted to show his daughter what a healthy relationship looked like, and that was another reason for taking up therapy—to try to improve himself so he wouldn’t have to repeat the mistakes his parents did, the mistakes he did for himself, and for his daughter. That’s the Nicholas I know now.
I further said this to Nicholas to confirm some things for myself, “If I may add, you may correct me if I’m wrong since I am using intuition here and from the things I’ve gathered since our first interaction. One of the reasons why you struggled to get a divorce too was the fact it would have meant failure for you, as a father, as a man. The societal pressures and stigma were all on you, you were in that anxious and fearful state that also, at that time, seemed to have masked itself like a safety net (eg: you have a place to stay, a car, etc). But what you had not allowed to give yourself was space, a space to grief. You didn’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, that you needed a connection. You didn’t have the time to be vulnerable, to be real with yourself and acknowledge the severity of the loss, and really take your time to cry, to be weak, to break down and to mourn what you lost. That’s why you fantasized instead, “if only this” or “if only that”.”
“No, you are right. There was a large part of me that felt that I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to be like my parents. All I really wanted was a healthy relationship and even if I didn’t know how to do it, I just never gave myself space to reflect on what was best for us, individually. I didn’t allow myself to think about the things that I wanted, the things that could’ve made me happy. I was just caught up with being a father. I didn’t know it was okay for me to get help.”
Perhaps this divorce was the only way Nicholas was able to rediscover who he was, the person that is purely himself. He had all these dreams, of writing and creating things… All those memories of running in his backyard, making up stories in the back of his mind. It was nice to be young and innocent. He had those beautiful dreams that he needed to make into some kind of reality for himself. When your dreams are so very different and the person you are with can’t support you in that, everything can become muted and confused. Instead of building each other, both Nicholas and his wife gave each other a terrible compromise that made them neglect their own happiness. They are both better now, they have forgiven each other. While they both work on their own happiness now, they are in a much better place than they were before.
We have come to the end of the story here. I will say that marriages can end. Regardless, you deserve to move on with love for yourself. Even in your separate ways, to know that neither of you were perfect. While the initial stage of a divorce can create a radical new context for the past, and you find yourself groping through an all-enveloping darkness for structure and order, you are okay. You will be okay. Look out the window again and feel the breeze on your skin, hear how the birds sing a melody that affirm, on the darker days, the possibilities of life, the outside chance that aching may, one day—be suffused with tenderness and new hope.
“Lucid. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to just leave things behind and start over.” Of course it’s not. The way we deal and handle adversity reveals so much about how we can grow, it starts with acceptance that we are not perfect, and that it is okay to be vulnerable, and reach out. I wrote this knowing full well in my heart that I am grateful to be trusted with this piece to share it with all of you. It has been a difficult one to write, but it has been so worthwhile too. I hope that reading this piece, you were able to find comfort in some parts. Having said this, Nicholas is an amazing person and writer, and you can read 'Theater for Moths' by him and reach out to him at @nickhazeee. Dear Nick, thank you for trusting me for this, I’m so proud of you. Keep breathing. Keep healing. Keep growing. ♡ ps, dear readers: You can let me know your thoughts or if you prefer to talk to me in private, you can always reach out to me in my DMs. Love, Lucid.