WHY? WHAT DID I DO WRONG?
By Rosemary Worsley MA, BA (Hons), CT ABRSM
Note from editor: If you haven’t already, read Rosemary’s first article here.
When my husband of 23 years walked out on me, totally unexpectedly and after purposely orchestrating an argument to justify him doing so, I was left numb, shocked and overwhelmed with questions.
16 months later, many of those questions are still unanswered, but the biggest imponderable of all still remains: Why?
What I must qualify straight away is, I know ‘why’ in terms of the evidence I found of what he had been doing behind my back for at least four months; that is, indulging in a squalid internet ‘romance’ with a faceless Colombian woman on the other end of the computer, which the evidence proves was centred around explicit porn and which bears all the hallmarks of a scam. Presumably he left because he couldn’t maintain the lie he was living any longer, or couldn’t live with the guilt, or had been given an ultimatum by his ‘lover’.
But I do not know why. Meaning I do not know what he felt was lacking in his life, or what hole he felt he needed to fill, which motivated him to lie, deceive and sneak around behind my back and then walk out without a backward glance two days before Christmas.
The other part of this question is: how did it get to the point where he was happy to walk out on 23 years of what was, to me, perfectly happy marriage? As I have said to so many people so many times during the last 16 months, “How did it get to this?”.
Of course, there will be some instances where the person who has walked away may consider themselves to have a ‘legitimate’ reason; the partner they have abandoned may have been having an affair, or maybe had an addiction or a problem which they found that, ultimately, they could not live with i.e. drug addiction/alcohol abuse/gambling. I am not condoning or condemning anyone here; I am merely pointing out that all cases are different and I am centring this article on my own personal experience and circumstances, which will inevitably differ from others, upon which I cannot pass judgement or comment.
So I return to the main question – why? The answer is simple; I do not know, nor, I believe, will I ever know. What drove a 53 year old man in a high profile, well paid job, married to a woman with her own established career, with a beautiful home in a desirable part of the country, to actively seek out a Colombian ‘woman’ in an internet chat room and swap ‘love sick’ and pornographic emails with ‘her’? We had all the trappings of a perfectly content middle class lifestyle; exotic holidays, wide circle of friends, a dog which he researched long and hard and insisted on getting, and there was rarely a cross word between us. We had no financial worries at all; in fact, only six days before the internet ‘love affair’ began, he had been boring some friends stupid with his enthusiastic talk of our early retirement abroad and enjoying the good life together in some sunny part of the globe.
Quite a few people had commented to me over the years “You have a charmed life” and I had agreed with them. We did. It was if he suddenly ‘flipped a switch’ and turned his life – and mine – upside down, for no reason.
The mistake I made early on after he had left was trying to analyse this question and my advice to those of you in my position is; don’t. For your own wellbeing and sanity it is to be avoided. The main reason for this is that you cannot possibly know what is going on in that person’s mind. You will be trying to apply your own logic to the situation. You will be trying to reconcile their actions by using your own mindset; what you have to remind yourself is, their mindset is totally different. Their values and morals, for whatever reason, have been blown out of the water and it is pointless, therefore, to try and judge this horrendous situation based on your values and morals.
The very brutal and heartbreaking fact is, they don’t want to be with you any more, for whatever reason. It is a harrowing and soul destroying reality which you have to acknowledge if you want to find a way to cope with the situation and preserve your own sanity. It is a common saying that for alcoholics/drug addicts/gamblers to seek help, they need to acknowledge that they have a problem first, and that that is the biggest step towards their rehabilitation. I believe that this is a similar scenario; it is painful and it rips your heart out to admit it, but you need to accept that the person doesn’t want to be with you any more. If they did, they would still be there.
Let’s then approach it from a different perspective. Something else you might ask yourself is: what went wrong?
The short answer is, nothing. Nothing ‘went wrong’. ‘It’ didn’t ‘go wrong’. The situation is the creation of this other person’s making and choosing and is to do with what is going on in their mind, not with anything you said or did, or didn’t say or didn’t do. It is not to do with you being to blame, or right and wrong.
Let’s apply this to the circumstances surrounding my divorce: what had I done wrong? I’d not had an affair. I only drank socially, at weekends. I don’t smoke (I find it revolting and anyway, I couldn’t be a singer if I smoked!). I never gamble (my paternal grandfather was a gambler and I’d heard tales of my father’s chaotic and unpredictable childhood due to this, with moonlight flits across the country, the lot!) and I have never even seen a ‘drug’, let alone thought of taking one! I treated my husband’s family (who I had known before I even met him) as my own, and two days after he walked out his parents were meant to be joining my family at my sister’s house for Christmas, that’s how close we were! I worked extremely hard to help us to enjoy a good lifestyle (in spite of one of his accusations being that I was some sort of parasite); I could prove through bank statements etc. that in fact, I contributed massively to the financial running of the household. So, I come back to the point that you’re dealing with an ‘unknown quantity’; someone else’s mind. A friend of mine who was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, which was set up by a long standing friend of his as a twisted revenge scenario, maintains that the only person who knows what is going on inside someone else’s head is that person, and that person alone. This is so true.
An old school friend contacted me after I put my video poem on Facebook about my particular case and a question she posed in her message made me feel so sad and angry for her. She asked “Why wasn’t I good enough for him?”. The truth of the matter is, that isn’t what it’s about. Kate Middleton, Paris Hilton, Angelina Jolie, the glamorous barmaid from the local pub, the good looking secretary at work, the nice looking receptionist at the doctors, no-one would be ‘good enough’. Trying to look at it from that viewpoint is to endow them with compassion and logic, and with the quality of valuing and appreciating someone, something which they are no longer able do do, or which they never did in the first place. Even if your spouse/partner has gone off with someone else, it doesn’t mean that that person is ‘better’ than you or has more to offer. It is probably more the case that the ‘new love’ is giving oxygen to something which you are not party to knowing about or understanding. In my case, the email exchanges between my husband and ‘Nathy’ were all about how terrible I was (a liar, a parasite and uncaring) and in return he received emails back which sympathised with his situation and which, too coincidentally, told of a similar lifestyle suffered by this ‘Nathy’ on the other end of the computer. I was none of the things which he claimed I was (and interestingly, he agreed, as he did not challenge my grounds for divorce and admitted to my divorce petition which stated that he said demeaning and untrue things about me, and that he had received the pornographic emails). So clearly there were other issues at stake. In my instance, I believe that his emotionally absent parents and fraught scholastic history due to his deafness were at the root of everything which ‘made’ him and I am assuming (although I do not know for certain) that that is what led him to the path he chose; he decided, for whatever reason, that he needed to seek solace from ‘someone’ who was willing to massage his ego and give succour to his emotional needs. As his wife, of course, I should have been the person he turned to, and one of the other many imponderables is just why he turned to a faceless foreigner on the end of an internet connection for comfort instead of me.
Again, I come back to my original point; trying to analyse it just leaves you disappearing up your own backside. Trying to make sense of it all is futile. Sadly it is impossible to make sense out of the senseless. So for your own state of mind, try not to do it.
I know all this sounds great in theory. I can tell you all that I now regret the countless hours I spent trying to examine what had happened and what might have prompted it. Endless soul searching and questions such as ‘When did he last smile at me?’ ‘Should I have suspected something was wrong?’ ‘When did he last say he loved me?’ are understandable but utterly fruitless because you get no answers. The person who you need to ask is no longer there and even if they were, they probably wouldn’t give you a definitive answer.
I hope that by sharing my experience you realise that what you are thinking is perfectly natural. You can spend many hours mulling these things over and getting bogged down in your own thoughts. That is totally unsurprising, given what has happened, but I want to tell you that, as someone who has been living with this scenario for 16 months, it doesn’t get you anywhere and that you are better channelling your energies into something else. Relax and know that you are not a freak or think that you are the only person who has felt or thought these things; you’re not. What you must try and do is not let them define who you are.
This website is about life and health, so I want to end by suggesting a range of things to try and help you maintain your mental and physical well being and to try and help you cope with this impossible position which you find yourself in.
Arrange to meet friends/work colleagues/other parents/family members so that you remove yourself from the place where you get weighted down with the negative thoughts (usually your home). Closing that door around 7pm and spending every evening entirely alone, especially in the early days, is not good for your wellbeing. Be willing to be frank and honest about how you are feeling with people when when they ask; they cannot be effective support mechanisms if they don’t know the whole truth. If they ask you if you’re okay and you’re not, say so. Equally, let them tell you about their stresses and strains and about their day. It may be that the most stressful thing that happened to them was that Tesco had run out of carrots, but it will help distract you and take your mind of your awful predicament, even if only for an hour.
Go for a walk. This must sound ridiculous. How does walking help you through having the heart ripped out of your life? I found, to my amazement, that it helped tremendously. I was left with the dog which my ex husband so meticulously researched and insisted we got. Of course, I’m not saying that I didn’t want her; I did. But he was very happy to walk out on her as well as me. In those first few days, when staying in bed and never getting up again seemed to be the preferable option, I was only forced out of my bed by the fact that Chrissie needed walking. Once we got going, it was incredible what a difference it made. For a start, you realise that the world is still turning. Armageddon may have hit your life, but hey, who knew, the rest of the world is still carrying on! I derived a peculiar comfort from seeing uniform bedecked children going to school, stressed out looking men and women behind the wheels of their cars, desperately trying to navigate the rush hour traffic, and other human beings walking their dogs. If you don’t have a dog or don’t feel that walking on your own is ‘your thing’, why not look for walking clubs in your area? There is a recently formed group called WAY (Widowed and Young) who do precisely this, as an example – walk as group then end up at a pub for a lunch. Walking is cheap, sociable and fantastic exercise. Walking really does help to clear your mind. It makes the organs of the body work better and is a healthy and free way to keep your body functioning well.
Try and exercise. I am an unfit 51 year old with a dilapidated right hip, a weak right ankle and slightly too much weight over almost my entire body. Yet I dance twice a week; a beginners Tap class on a Friday lunchtime and a Tap/Modern dance class (which culminates with appearing in a dance show every year) on a Monday night. Firstly, it goes without saying that exercise is one of the best things to keep you healthy (along with a sensible diet). Secondly, it is hugely sociable. I was so worried when I first joined both classes that everyone would be better than me. Do you know what? A lot of them were! But it truly didn’t matter. From day one I felt right at home in both classes and I love both. Plus, it is not expensive to be a member of either class.
Don’t be afraid to ‘break down’, have a ‘meltdown’, cry, scream, throw or break things. You have to let those awful feelings out. I promise you, they eat away at you if you don’t, which is unhealthy, especially for your mind, and preserving your sanity is the one big issue you have to address when going through this terrible ordeal. If you feel that you have been dealt an unfair hand, that you do not deserve to be treated like this, and what did you ever do to anyone to deserve to be in this position, articulate those feelings, whether it be to a complete stranger, a friend or your own four walls. The truth of the matter is, you don’t deserve it, none of it is fair, and don’t be put off when people tell you that ‘you’re bigger than this’ and to ‘move on’-you have every right to feel aggrieved, angry, sad and frightened. Don’t be afraid to tell anyone who asks how you feel. The most tiring and wearing part of all of this is plastering the fake smile on your face and pretending that you are okay. You will eventually get sick to the back teeth of replying ‘I’m fine, thanks.” when people ask how you are. I got into the habit of being totally truthful with everyone who asked how I was feeling – family, students, friends, shop assistants, bus drivers, complete strangers at parties. ‘I’m fine thanks.’ was substituted with ‘Not too chipper if I’m totally honest, my husband has just walked out on me without warning, and I’m not doing so good.” Honestly, you’ll be amazed at the responses you get. I was also shocked at how many people it had happened to, or how many people knew someone else that it had happened to. I could write a book about all the different tales I heard when I really got talking to people about it. Just keep your words simple and to the point, no need to bore them with something the length of the Gettysburg Address, but you’ll be surprised at the response you get. People generally are kind and well meaning and will be happy to listen, even if only for a short time. Those few minutes may make all the difference to you and that sympathetic ear may help you get through to the end of that particular day.
Make a point of looking for groups to join. Obviously I am speaking as someone with no children to consider and there will be issues surrounding childcare for some of you, but nevertheless joining social groups is invaluable for many reasons. They get you out of the house for a few hours and it really does take your mind off all the stress and pressure associated with divorce, if only for a few hours. Www.meetup.com is a good place to look for groups local to you. They have lots of different organisations who are part of their network, there is sure to be something which you’re interested in. Supermarkets tend to have noticeboards advertising local groups; libraries are another good source of information.
Don’t be put off joining something like a choir, if you are interested in music. Don’t think because you can’t read music that you wouldn’t be allowed to join; a lot of people in choirs learn aurally, not from reading the music. Equally, don’t convince yourself that you’re ‘tone deaf’; this is, in fact, a medical condition, and only a tiny percentage of the population is medically tone deaf. Nearly everyone can sing in tune.
Taking a course at night school or online will help with your mental well being. Educating yourself is an excellent way of keeping your mind active and you can also acquire a new skill at the same time. This might be particularly pertinent for those of you who will be required to return to work in order to support yourselves now that you are on your own. You might consider taking a computer course in order to acquire a new skills set to enhance your employability, for instance. Local colleges i.e. Sixth Form colleges, will have details of these. Some courses are free of charge if you are on certain state benefits. Have a look at www.futurelearn.com. This is the Open University’s official site for their free 8 week courses, which you complete entirely on line and completely at your own pace. I have already completed 2 of these; ‘England In The Time Of Richard III’ (to help with my MA) and ‘Start Writing Fiction’ (again, to help with my MA). I am currently participating in ‘Introduction To Italian’ (to help with my teaching of Italian song) and am about to embark on ‘Teaching English As A Foreign Language’ (to help me acquire a new skill) and ‘Psychology and Mental Health’ (partly to help me with the aftermath of the divorce and partly to help with the memoir which I am writing).
It may be that you relish the idea of something more challenging and you could look at studying for a BA or an MA. Funding for single/divorced/single parents is available through student finance and you are eligible for more help if you are on your own and returning to education. The Department for Work And Pensions also has details www.gov.uk.
Most importantly of all, remember that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to unburden yourself to anyone who shows an interest. Whatever it is you are feeling, however alien and ‘unlike’ you it is, someone else will have felt like that too. Do not feel that you are a freak or that you are not coping as well as someone else appears to be coping. Everyone reacts in a different way, and just because someone else has a smile plastered across their face, it doesn’t mean that they are not dying inside.
Do not let this appalling event impact on your physical and mental well being.
Here is a quote to finish off this week’s article, which reflects what I have been discussing this week:
‘You can’t start the next chapter if you keep re-reading the last one.” Anon.
Next week I shall be covering some of the legal elements of divorce.
Good bye till then and remember; you have a friend in me.
So, goodbye my friend, until then.
Rosemary Worsley is a 51 year old private singing and piano teacher from Solihull. She is the former Poetry and Arts Editor of The Birmingham Journal of Literature and Language and is currently writing a memoir about her experience at the hands of her ex husband. When she isn’t teaching or writing, she enjoys a wide variety of activities which includes treading the boards with Union Theatre drama group, singing with Solihull Chandos Choir and performing with St Alphege Musical Production Company. She is also a member of a Book Club and dances with Central Stage School.
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