The Ghost of Marriage Past

August 4, 2017

 

     It must be terrible to be ghosted by someone you are dating. Being ghosted, in case you aren't hip to what the cool kids are saying these days, is when someone you are seeing suddenly stops all communication and seemingly drops off the face of the earth.

 

     Of course, it is one thing to be ghosted by someone you are dating, and another thing for your spouse of 26 years to completely disregard your existence. It's like, you know, so totally uncool. 

 

     Then again, I asked for it. I mean, literally, I did. After the last "I want a divorce," proclamation was made, I specifically said, "I don't want to ever see you again, I want to pretend like this never happened." Admittedly, part of me was hoping that X would think, "Oh, my goodness gracious, how could I possibly ever live without ever seeing Julie ever again?" and then realize the error of his ways once and for all. And there was also part of me just couldn't take living as what I saw as a horrible failure. That part was bigger. I felt like I wouldn't be able to face any reminder of X at all. There was no desire on my part to "be friends" as X suggested.

 

     If not for my children, I would have moved to Europe. Or Tampa.

 

     I actually considered Tampa seriously for a few months. First of all, it was freezing here in Santa Fe at the time. Secondly, the marriage had been so on again off again for the past few years that I couldn't face having to tell people it was actually over when I had just been so incredibly happy less than a year before that it was again back on. Moving somewhere I'd never been where nobody knew me was an extremely appealing notion, and there was the underlying hope that in new environs I would somehow be able to forget about the terrible disappointment my life had become. 

 

     Thirdly, I already knew that X excelled at ghosting, so I actually expected it anyway. The ghosting didn't actually start with the divorce, but years earlier. So great was X's expertise in this arena that I completely believed the only concrete reason he finally gave to my repeated pleadings to know why this was happening: "Because I'm a loner who wants to be alone."  I should have just bought the bridge someone told me was for sale.

 

     We all need alone time, and it is definitely a necessary part of a healthy relationship. You of course don't want to be joined at the hip with your partner, 24/7. It's when you feel totally alone when you are in the same room with your partner that there is a problem. 

 

     There were periods even later in the marriage when things were good and plans would be made and time would be spent together. Then, work, life, kids, our usual conflicts, whatever, and X would sort of start drifting off into his own pursuits. Even when we were together, there was no connection, no common purpose. Rather than being honest and direct and saying something like, "Please stop surfing for bike parts and cars on your iPad and let's take a walk," I would hope to be noticed, like some wallflower at a high school dance, believing that giving him the space he seemed to need was the right approach. In my mind, he was sort of like the moon's orbit- sometimes at apogee, but in my stoic endurance, perigee never seemed too far off. 

 

     By not appearing needy, I thought I could preserve some dignity and avoid looking desperate. I mean, I wasn't going to beg someone to put their iPad down to share a laugh with me. So there I would sit on the sofa with X, lonely but hopeful, trying to think of something to say as though I was on a first date. Sadly, I refused to acknowledge that this was not normal. I wanted to be wanted and I lived with the constant hope that I would be. 

 

     Misguidedly, I would continue on that track, sort of waiting in the shadows, thinking that it would be a mistake to be vulnerable and instead just resolving to be patient. Maybe someday he would suggest a date night or weekend trip if I gave it enough time. In that regard I became a bit of a ghoster too, in that I never allowed my own true feelings to be seen. My outer self went through the motions, but my inner self was crumbling. I knew I wasn't really living authentically. Self loathing built up inside me and came out as anger and depression. I was so out of touch with myself that I needed X to like me so I could like me. This pattern continued for years, with the periods of our silence becoming longer than the alternating periods of unity.

 

     Thinking way back to our first "last ditch" marriage retreat through our church a few years ago, it seems so clear. The final activity of the weekend was to write a letter to the other spouse imagining what your best future could look like. We had forty minutes to do so. I wrote some blah blah about how happy we would be and how many more houses we would build together and how much fun it would be to take our grand kids to Disneyland, or whatever. I really don't remember what I wrote- but yeah, it was something like that. I really didn't know what to write.

 

     X's letter was a four page paean to his action packed future of bike riding, sky diving and work pursuits. The kids were in there a bit. I made it onto the last page, in one sentence, something like: "If God wants Julie and I to be together, then we will."

 

     The letter exchange was the final activity of the weekend, and after I read it, it was time to start packing up and heading home. I was in shock. So much so that I insisted we go talk to one of the counselor couples. They seemed happy that I made it into the letter at all and wished us luck. Of course, they wanted to go home too.

 

     In 2009, nobody used the word ghosted, but clearly we started it there at that retreat. X spelled it out and my heart didn't want to see what my head already knew. He was already gone in spirit.

 

     I just wasn't ready to give up the ghost, (!) and I lived for five more years with the apparition of a husband in the specter of a marriage long dead. (How's that for some fancy writing?!) Honest and open communication and a willingness to be myself may have alleviated some of these issues, or at least brought the marriage to its natural death rather than keeping it on life support. Being afraid to talk about issues for fear of seeming needy didn't serve me or my marriage.

 

     I've learned to say things, even hard things, if I feel they need to be said. Talking about issues doesn't create conflict, it resolves the issues. Funny how that is.  It is empowering to be able to state what I need or want in a situation. That doesn't mean the other person has to bow down and grant my every whim, but it creates a dialogue that allows give and take.

 

     It is terrible to be ghosted by someone you love. It is worse to self-ghost by ignoring your feelings and not loving yourself.  

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