On the first of January, 2010, I hugged my husband and walked away from my marriage. It was nine days before our seventh wedding anniversary. It was also the hardest thing I have ever done.
While I wasn’t miserable in my marriage, I wasn’t happy either. And at 36 years of age the rest of my life seemed a long time not to be happy. The fact that it wasn’t a ‘horrible’ marriage made the decision to leave harder. Walking away from things that make you miserable is easy. Walking away from something that's just doesn't feel right isn't so cut and dry.
My husband and I had met nine years earlier. It was the weekend of the New Zealand Sevens, an iconic rugby tournament held in Wellington. On the Saturday night I met up with friends in town for a quiet drink. The pubs and bars were jam packed with drunken revellers wearing ridiculous costumes. So we chose the place with the shortest line outside. It turned out to be a dodgy 80’s nightclub. But who doesn’t enjoy dancing to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’?
We had only been there a short while when I spotted a guy walking towards me. He had a horrendous haircut and was wearing a hideous jacket. At 6 foot two he towered above my little five foot self.
My first reaction was, ‘oh shit, here we go’!
He asked if I wanted to dance. I said no. He went on his way. Only to return a short time later to ask the exact same question. Again the answer was no. He ambled off for a while, but came back for a third attempt. I had to give him credit for perseverance!
I remember turning to my friend and asking how the hell I was going to get rid of him.
"Ask him four questions, and tell him if he gets the answers right you will dance with him. But if he gets any wrong he has to bugger off". Seemed simple enough.
In hindsight my first two questions weren’t that great, but the answers were interesting. I asked his name because, let’s be honest, names are important. And if he had an awful name it was all going to be over with the very first question. His name was Nick. Same as mine.
I then asked him what his surname was. I knew he couldn't get this wrong, but again if it was weird it would have been my out. It turns out his last name was the same as my flatmates cat. Now I was getting nervous because this was all a bit of a coincidence.
I went back to my friend and said, "this isn’t working".
She said, "ask him something he won’t know the answer to". Now why hadn't I thought of that?
I thought I’d hit the nail on the head with my third question.
"How old do you think I am"?
This is a question no-one ever gets right. To put it into perspective I was still getting asked for ID at the bottle store when I was 35!
He looked at me and said, "27". Not 25 or 28. But 27. He was spot on.
I had one question left up my sleeve. I asked him what my favourite flower was. Without hesitation he said a sunflower. At this point I could have told a little white lie. But my jaw dropping due in utter disbelief would have given it away.
Later that night, as we were all leaving to go home, I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to marry this guy’.
I’m not sure what made that thought pop into my head. I immediately followed it up with ‘don’t be ridiculous’. Little did I know!
The first year of our relationship was challenging to say the least. I discovered he couldn’t hold down a job for more than six months. He would gamble away all his money and then not be able to pay his rent. And he had a few ‘stalker’ qualities that made me nervous.
I tried calling off the relationship time and again in that first year. I even moved cities as a desperate attempt to put distance between us. But he kept following me around like a lost little puppy.
What surprised me was that both my sisters really liked him. I began to wonder if I was missing something. That maybe he deserved a chance. So I gave in. Or maybe it just became easier to stay in the relationship than it was to get out?
Then along came Toddy.
One Friday night Nick rang to say he had found the most adorable puppy in a pet shop. He asked if I would go with him the next day so he could buy him. We had a ‘you do know dogs are a lot of work’ conversation, but I couldn’t persuade him otherwise. He wanted this puppy, and that was the end of that.
The next morning we sat outside the pet store and waited for it to open. As we walked in I could hear this incessant barking. It was coming from Toddy. He was twice the size of his brothers and sisters. And carrying on like a pork chop. I knew we were in for trouble.
Within 24 hours Nick decided he couldn't look after this little firecracker himself. His solution? I move in to help him. And you all know dogs have my heart. Luckily this little shit head of a puppy turned into the most gorgeous, placid dog. And he will always have a special place in my heart. But I'll tell you more about that in a later post.
So anyway, time went on. We got engaged. And married. Were we a match made in heaven? Not at all.
Now don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad. Apart from the first year of our relationship, and the last year of our marriage, I wasn’t unhappy. On the whole it was fine (there goes that word 'fine' that I'm so fond of). We had challenges along the way but who doesn't? But I never thought of leaving.
Until that last year. Somewhere along the way Nick's personality began to change. I wondered if it was just me, but my friends and family also noticed it. On top of that I began doing everything. From looking after our home to supporting us financially. At it all began to take it’s toll.
From the time I began thinking about leaving, to the time I walked out the door, a year passed. I’m not sure why it was so hard to go.
Although I will be honest and say some of it was to do with a sense of guilt. And I didn't want to be a disappointment to my family. I grew up going to a Christian school and we went to church every Sunday. I knew very few people my age or older who were divorced. It wasn’t the norm amongst my social circle.
But I shouldn't have worried. My friends and family were incredibly supportive. In fact some of them will admit they were a little relieved and not surprised at all. Which I am forever thankful for. They were also very supportive of my ex-husband during this time. And made sure he knew he could always be a part of their lives if he wanted. His family, on the other hand, wiped me from their lives within 24 hours.
And it wasn’t if I didn’t try to make it work and to hang in there. That last year there were many conversations had about why I wasn’t happy. Promises were always made to change. But it never lasted.
When we separated my ex-husband wanted us to see a marriage counsellor. I agreed to go. More in the hope it would give him closure. Emotionally I had not been in the marriage for a long time. I had done my grieving. But understood he might need to do his.
During the second session we were talking about the reasons why I had been unhappy. About the things that I had needed to change for the marriage to work. The changes that never happened. The counsellor looked at my ex-husband. He asked him why he had never committed to making those changes. His answer sealed the deal.
"Because I never thought she'd leave".
The counsellor looked at me and said, "you’re done aren’t you"? And I was.
Leaving my marriage was the hardest decision I have ever made but it was also the best. Because it lead me to meeting the shaven-headed, tattooed builder at the end of 2011.
But little did I know at the time that the first of January 2010 was just the start. The start of the most difficult two years of my life.
I will tell why in my next post.