I’ve written a bit about the open marriage with Cat and how it was the best two years of the marriage. Well, whenever I write about it I get the inevitable question;
“If it was so great, why did you end up getting divorced?”
That’s a great question, it really is, and not one that is simple to answer.
During the open period Cat and I might have been able to get along, trust each other again, be happy and healthy, but ultimately our shared history was too much to overcome.
When you first meet someone they’re like a blank canvas, full of potential, one big mystery. Each experience with that person adds something to the canvas. Nothing is ever removed from the painting, good or bad, it’s there forever. You can’t take back memories. When you have mostly positive experiences the collage is bright and colorful. When you have mostly bad experiences the collage is darker.
When you look at your partner, you don’t just see a face, you see a whole bundle of experiences. It’s the context to their words, their actions, everything that happens between you. When your partner says or does something, it’s immediately compared to previous experiences. This adds complexity to the relationship and changes how you look at your partner.
By the end of the ten year marriage Cat and I had been through a lot together. We had some really good times but we also had some really, really bad times. There was cheating, health issues, serious financial problems, an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy, the hospitals, years of struggles and stress. I had seen her at her worst and she had seen me at mine, many times each. No matter how good the last two years of the marriage were, there were a lot of dark colors in our collages.
Even in the open relationship when we were happier, I couldn’t look at Cat as some fresh, sexy, mysterious lady. I couldn’t look at her with like a stranger could, with pure lust or curiosity. When I looked at her I saw ten years of our lives, the wife, the mother, all the good and bad, the pure and the ugly. Sexy, smart, fun, sure, but also a cheater, a liar, and all the negatives at the same time. She was a full character, flaws and all, and I knew them all intimately. I had a full canvas with her and couldn’t pretend otherwise.
I’m sure it was the same for her when she looked at me. She couldn’t look at me like some new stud she wanted to try on for size, she saw a full canvas when she looked at me too. For those last two years I might have been happier, in shape, and good to her, but I’m sure she still saw the overweight, angry guy who drank too much and treated her like an asshole for years. All the good and the all the bad.
At the end we respected each other, cared for each other, but it just wasn’t the same. You can’t take back the bad memories or paint over them with good ones.
I think that’s what people mean when they love each other but they aren’t in love anymore. That spark, the mystery, is gone. The collage is almost full and what we see isn’t always great. Or arousing. Or fun. Or comfortable. Or maybe it’s too comfortable. Whatever it is, it either has too much of something or too little.
At some point, Cat needed someone who looked at her with new eyes. She didn’t want to be in a relationship with a collage so dark. She needed to be the sexy, foxy woman to someone. She needed to be looked at with pure lust. She needed to be a new, special, mystery again.
I did too, though it took me a lot longer to realize it.
For a while, the open relationship was enough. We could both go out, spend time with new people that didn’t have the shared dark past, and still have a good place at to go home to. But eventually Cat met a special guy and wanted to fill in some colors with him, paint something completely new. From what I’ve seen, their collage is far brighter than ours ever was. Good for her.
Well, good for the both of us actually, we’re both far happier in our current relationships. Our canvases are still pretty new but the colors are bright. We aren’t just loved, we’re in love again, just not with each other.
Cat was the one with bigger balls in our relationship, I’m not ashamed to admit that. She had the guts to suggest the open relationship and ultimately she was the one that wanted the divorce. Both of those were the right decisions, though I either didn’t recognize it at the time or wasn’t brave enough to make that stand myself.
I think half the time people get divorced or break up it’s just because they need someone look at them with new eyes. Something to think about.