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April 9, 2000

Why Can't We Stay Married, If We Love Each Other?

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I knew the moment I would leave my husband. Three years before our separation, I was having dinner with a woman I respected-older, beautiful, successful. She was in the middle of her own breakup, after 15 years of partnership, and it was leveling her. Not because it was the wrong thing to do, but because she was the one leaving. I asked her what made her so sure she should quit. And she said, "I finally figured out that no one will be grading me at the end of all this." And there I sat, gunning for the A. For what?

That one sentence made me realize for the first time just how much of my life was about trying to please someone else, how it had been years since I had even considered what I wanted. This was not my husband's fault. I was the one submerging myself. His only crime was letting me. When I got home from dinner, there was an e-mail from my dinner companion. "Trust yourself," she wrote. I wept when I read it. Because I didn't know how.

In the years that followed, I found myself unconsciously seeking out women who left their men. Women who dared to listen to themselves. At parties or PTA meetings, I would grill them with impertinent questions about divorce and loneliness and sex after separation. I wanted to see the consequences, the fallout. What I saw were women who were relaxed.

And there was me. Balled tight as twine. Still gunning for the A.

I tried to tell him.

"Sometimes, when I walk across the overpass, I imagine if I timed it right, the jump would be quick and the end painless."

"Oh, so now you're suicidal?"

"No. Not really."

Was I? Maybe I was. Maybe for that few minutes when I crossed over the bridge and saw the semis roaring below, it did seem like it would be simpler if I would just cease to be. Because the other option-facing myself, dealing with my inappropriate feelings of rage and isolation and self-loathing-was going to be a tall piece harder than jumping off a bridge.

"You could tell the kids it was an accident," I say.

"You are being an idiot."

"I know."

There was one time, in the middle of the end, when he mentioned our oldest girl. Reminded me how sensitive she is. How his absence would cause her nothing but hurt.

"I'm her father," he said, as if I'd forgotten. I wanted to climb onto my women's empowerment crate and speechify about being a role model for independence: the life lessons she'd gain from living with an autonomous mother, the comfort she'd feel from my being a happier parent. But I knew that was bullshit. I knew my choice would hurt my children. Just as it would hurt my husband. To become myself was to become a wielder of hurt. To leave was to knowingly cause pain to my loved ones. And why? Because I wanted something else. Something I couldn't even articulate. Intimacy? What did that even mean? I wasn't sure I even believed in intimacy. I believed in moments. Like when you are running, and both feet leave the ground. Unsustainable. Impossible to capture. Transcendent. Didn't we have those?

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