My marriage ended after I made my husband the hero of my memoir

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Lucy and Desi

I did no dedicate My book to my husband — even though, in nearly a third of the essays, he’s portrayed as the long-suffering, lovable protagonist who patiently puts up with my messiness as I work to make sense of an ADHD diagnosis at age 35. If I was still married by the time my publication date rolled around, I figured the fact that I’d made him a charming central character in my life story would suffice. There’s a sweet acknowledgment in the back, too.

It was easy to highlight the most charming characteristics of my bearded, burly husband in conversational prose. Nothing I wrote about him wasn’t true. He’s one of those universally beloved guys, and in some ways, he was a wonderful partner. As I wrote the bulk the book in 2022 I decided to leave out everything that could reveal too much about our marriage and to really lean on my signature brand self-deprecating comedy. I had plenty of material for the latter, too, since I — an overspending direct talker who craves novelty — wasn’t exactly an ideal mate myself.

Between the missing dedication and formalities at the conclusion, the pages are filled with jokes about how my spouse is mad at me for almost everything. It was easier to turn my troubled marriage into an amusing story than to describe the anger and resentment I had felt since we got the flu during our honeymoon decade ago. And nobody wants read about marital disputes that lasted for days. Plus, when we knew people were looking, we could usually pull off a kind of “I Love Lucy” dynamic in which Ricky lovingly rolls his eyes at whatever trouble his kooky wife has gotten herself into on this week’s episode.

As I worked with my team on edits and marketing materials at Hachette last year, I was constantly worried about how my relationship would appear to the world. My first pre-publication moment came in May, when my editor sent me her attempt at the summary that would appear. Amazon. One of the plot points she highlighted was “finding the love of your life and then fighting to keep him,” and I immediately revised it to read, “settling down and then almost screwing it all up.” By the final draft, I’d insisted upon a simple, sweeping reference to “complicated relationships.” Later, when my publicist shared an early version of the press release, the first change I made was amending “getting (and staying) married” to read “getting (and barely staying) married.” Because no matter how hard I tried to push it down and away and out of my brain, I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was about to unravel.

Maybe I’d read too many stories of creative women whose personal lives fell apart just as they inched their way toward peak professional success. Maggie Smith is a recent example, but it’s always felt like a cautionary tale burned into my brain by the fairy godmothers of pop culture past. Or maybe it was men sending the message all along, warning talented, ambitious girls that we shouldn’t dare fly too close to the sun, otherwise, Look at what you can lose.

I never thought I’d be able keep that marriage.

I can now see that we may have been doomed to failure from the start. We brought a combination of trauma and baggage to the relationship and, by the time that we realised how it was affecting our relationship, the worst damage had already been done. Nothing anyone could have said to us would have convinced me of this when I stood up in front 200 of my closest friends and relatives at our painfully trending 2012 barn wedding, and promised that I would love him forever. We looked good on paper, and we both wanted children. Back then, we weren’t thinking about attachment styles, emotional labor, postpartum anxiety, neurodivergence, career struggles, money problems, or how we might handle being confined to a modest bungalow with a preschooler and an infant for 453 days straight. We didn’t realize how much my obsession with house projects, hobbies, and side hustles would trigger his resentment and set the stage for a lifetime.

It’s not like we didn’t try to make things better. I so badly wanted us to be one of those couples who regularly enjoy each other’s company, even behind closed doors; I think we both did. We read self-help books and tried couples therapy. We downloaded an app that promised to be just as effective as therapy. And we made date nights happen when we could find a babysitter. I even took six weeks of FMLA over the summer in order to enroll in intensive outpatient counseling because I thought I could fix myself for us both. (Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.)

By the fall, my life was being affected in every way, including my job and my health.

“I can feel the stress of this marriage slowly destroying my body,” I told a friend one night.

As my February book launch loomed, I knew I had to do something to break the cycle — especially with two young sons and a full-time job also demanding my attention. The first weekend in Novembre, I requested a separation.

A month later we met with our third (fourth if one counts the marriage counselor who fired us after 10 minutes of our introductory session) marriage counselor. After we’d each delivered our opening salvos, she said, “I’m going to be honest with you guys. Usually when things have gotten to this point, it’s too far gone. But I’m willing to put in the work if you are.”

In her office, she said it sounded challenging, but as the days went by, it began to feel more and more like someone had given me permission to say what I’d been too afraid to say, either to myself or to anyone else: my marriage was ending. Eventually, I came to realize that I’d already been grieving that loss for quite a while.

A few expensive and time-consuming legalities aside, I no longer have a husband, but I’m more okay with that than I feel like the world wants me to be this soon. In fact, I’m happier and healthier than I’ve been in years. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for this next phase of my life, but there’s a small part of me that holds out hope I can still have one of those marriages that functions as a true partnership (at least most of the time). And it’s nice to know that if it happens, I’ll go into it with much more self-awareness and a better understanding of what I need from — and can bring to — a relationship.

It doesn’t matter. From now on, I will be my own hero.


Emily Farris lives in Kansas City. WriterThe author of the essay collection I’ll Just Be Five More Minutes: And Other Tales from My ADHD Brain. She posts intermittently to Instagram @thatemilyfarrisThe newsletter is called Everyday Distractions.

P.S. “Five things I learned about my divorce that surprised me,” and Nine women discuss their divorces.

Photo from PBS.)

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