A couple months ago, feeling a financial crunch and knowing the price of gold was quite high, I debated whether or not to sell my old wedding ring – the one from the marriage that “didn’t work.” To my surprise, when I actually found myself considering this, I noticed tears welling up in me. This told me there was still grieving, healing, and closure needed for this chapter of my life.
A month later I wondered if perhaps I should offer the ring to my stepson, in the event he might want to offer it to his girlfriend should they ever decide to marry. And then of course I thought, He might find it tainted. After all, the marriage didn’t last.
So again, I felt stymied. What do I do with this ring? What do I do with this symbol of a marriage that was very good while it lasted.
The thing is … I like this ring. It’s not your typical wedding band. In fact, I’ve never seen another like it. The jeweler said it was an Egyptian design. The ring dips down in both the front and back in a V-shape. It’s unusual and it’s elegant.
But here’s the other thing: I liked the marriage. I liked the man.
As my mind and heart continued to wrestle with this conundrum of what to do with the ring, I finally realized, much to my surprise, that this month it will be twenty years since Tom and I separated.
Twenty years! Twenty years later and I still feel sadness.
He and I always got along well. I don’t know that we ever fought. We were and are both good people. We got along well, we raised his son well, we were well liked in our large circle of friends. We loved each other, appreciated each other, respected one another. In fact, everyone was shocked when we separated. No one saw it coming. We were probably a little stunned ourselves.
So why did we divorce then, you may well ask? Well, there was another man involved. Although I hasten to add that I never had an affair; I never committed adultery; I had never even kissed the man.
So what happened?
I had been at a training, one of several during which we were learning the art of body-mind psychotherapy. At this particular training there was a new man, and I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off him. He wasn’t necessarily gorgeous, but nevertheless I was riveted. I felt inexplicably drawn to him. I was hyper-aware of his presence at all times.
Later, when doing dishes that first night, we would occasionally accidentally bump against each other in the confined space. We’d both laugh self-consciously and blush. There was something between us, of that there was no doubt.
That night after I’d gone to retire to my room I told my roommate to “lock me in; I feel like I’m in heat.” I’d never felt that way before. Never. I was thirty-three years old and I’d never felt that way.
As you might expect, I had a great deal of trouble falling asleep that night. So eventually I got up and went out for a walk in the chilly starlit night. As fate would have it, Glenn was taking a walk, too. We saw one another and laughed. It was a bit cold and so we decided to go to one of the nearby buildings, the place where our trainings had been taking place.
We settled ourselves on the floor and we talked. We talked for hours. At one point we both laid down next to one another on the floor, faces turned toward one another, feet pointed in opposite directions, like one long line with a little bump of heads in the middle. Our bodies were not touching, but we had great eye contact. It felt intimate but safe.
As that weekend drew to a close, I was feeling great anxiety and guilt about going home to my husband. I loved my husband, and I didn’t know what to do with these feelings that had arisen. As it so happened, I handled it by picking a fight. (Ah, so there was one fight!)
It didn’t last long because I realized what was happening. I confessed to him that I wasn’t really angry about the house being a mess or the beer bottles scattered all over the kitchen, I was feeling guilty because I’d felt a strong attraction to another man.
He was hurt, of course. And probably scared. But being the good man that he was, he didn’t lash out; he listened while I spoke. But from that moment on, there was a seismic shift in our relationship.
We know longer felt as safe. He felt threatened by the emotional intimacy I felt with this man. And I felt guilty and confused.
I knew all along, and I told this to Tom, that I didn’t want to leave him to have a relationship with Glenn. There was an attraction, yes surely. But I knew it would never have been a functional happy relationship. Glenn had some deep, unhealed emotional wounds and a serious issue with depression. Perhaps I’d felt an attraction because I felt this perverse need to step in to be his savior. Maybe I felt I could help him in some way. Whatever it was, I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with him for more than a couple of days; he’d drive me crazy. But this didn’t make Tom feel any better.
We went through several months of agony, Tom and I. I saw a therapist regularly as part of my training. And I wrote about this conundrum endlessly, trying to process the feelings, trying to figure out a solution, trying to figure out how to get our marriage back to the way it had been.
At one point, Tom told me he almost wouldn’t have cared if I’d just fucked the man. I was pissed. I had been trying so hard to “be good.” I hadn’t been willing to end the friendship with Glenn, but neither was I ever planning to take it to the next level. I did respect Tom and our marriage. I did honor it. But apparently my husband understood that there was an emotional connection between this man and me and perhaps he felt like he couldn’t compete with that.
He wanted me to terminate all contact with Glenn. I told him I wasn’t willing to do that. I said that there was a connection, and I didn’t understand it, but one doesn’t cut someone out of her life when there is a connection like that. I said that I was willing to negotiate parameters. I told him I would promise never to see him alone, or to see him only once a month, or to see him for only short periods of time, but not to abandon him. I wasn’t going to just turn my back on him.
This was the thing we couldn’t get past. Tom wanted me to cut Glenn completely out of my life and I resolutely refused.
Let me now say that I only saw him very occasionally – for maybe five or ten minutes when I was “kind of in the neighborhood,” or for a bit longer if I sometimes saw him at the interfaith church I attended. When “kind of in the neighborhood,” I’d knock on the door, we’d hug and grin at each other, and his twenty-year-old daughter would be there shaking her head. She saw the connection and was mystified that we were not taking it further.
One time during that amazing night in the building in the woods and one other time when we were sitting next to each other in church, this soul-rattling thing happened. We looked at one another and we… remembered. Our souls somehow recognized each other.
Later, a dear psychic friend confirmed that we had had a past life together. We had been part of a native tribe in the Northwest corner of the United States. There had been a big flood and both Glenn, my then-husband, and our son had been caught in the raging waters. Only our son was able to be saved.
No wonder. No wonder the connection was so strong.
And how tragic it felt in this lifetime. Because of course this didn’t mean I loved Tom any less. There was nothing in Tom that I didn’t love. I simply had feelings for this other man, too.
We continued to struggle, Tom and I. We continued to live together, still loving each other, but with a deep sadness that pervaded everything. Our lovemaking, always so wonderful and regular before, had dwindled as we lay side by side each feeling our own inner anguish. We still cuddled; we still wrapped ourselves around one another.
Our love was still there, unequivocally it was there. And we didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t seem to find our way.
Meanwhile, Glenn and I struggled, too. He knew I wasn’t available. He knew that there was nowhere for us to go with one another. Like me, he also wrestled with all his multitudinous feelings at regular therapy sessions. Eventually, he allowed himself to move on and date someone. Eventually our contact with one another dwindled. And yet this thing, whatever it was, remained a thorn in the side of my marriage even when the attraction had faded.
Tom had, at one point, suggested we separate. “NO!” I cried. I was sure if we separated, we’d never get back together. And so we struggled on. We began to see a therapist.
Then one day in my daily meditations I drew an animal card from the deck Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams and David Carson. Actually it was two cards. I’m not even sure at this point which animals were depicted on the cards, but the messages were “In your heart, you know what to do” and “The time for action is now.”
I kind of gulped when I saw those messages. Did I really know what I was supposed to do?
As fate would have it, that night we had a scheduled session with our therapist. As always, we arrived and sat closely next to one another, holding hands, not looking at all like people who wanted to split. I had planned to talk about another thing that was bothering me in our marriage, but suddenly I knew I needed to talk about those cards. I somehow knew I wasn’t meant to brush those messages aside.
After I told both Tom and the therapist about the cards, she of course asked, “So what do you think you’re supposed to do?” I found myself saying, “I think we’re supposed to separate.”
It was sad, unbelievably sad. But at some level I think it was also a relief. Doing something, anything, seemed better than the hell of this purgatory we’d been in. We had been neither totally in the marriage nor totally out of it. It had been unrelenting agony. And one we’d been keeping largely to ourselves.
Tom had asked that we not talk about this with our family or friends because he knew it would only set the gossip mill running at full tilt. I saw the wisdom in this, but it was also very difficult because that’s how most of we women process things. In addition, it meant that no one was there to lend love and support as we went through all this aching and grieving and pain.
After this therapy session, when we got home, we sadly went to separate rooms. Under normal circumstances we would have slept together and held one another and the parting would have felt unimaginable. This time a part of me sensed I needed to sleep in a separate room or we’d never have the courage to go through with this.
And so, we parted.
Often over the course of the next months and years, I would think that we could have made it work. We could have gotten through. We could have avoided divorce. And I still believe this to be true. However, over time, and with the perspective that time’s passing brings, I’ve come to also see that I needed to branch into a different life. I doubt I ever would have met the people I’ve met, had the experiences I’ve had, moved to a place where I belong, or become the person I am today, had I remained entwined with Tom.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not sad.
And this is why I am reluctant to let go of my wedding ring.