Several folks – all men, for some reason – have commented or e-mailed that Monday’s editorial about cheating was lopsided because it did not mention women who cheat.
Allow me to even the playing field.
Actually, allow a man we shall call Nate to do it, as he agreed to let me share his poignant and harrowing story about his hellish marriage. It ended in 1997.
“I’m still gluing the pieces of my life back together,” said Nate, now 54.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, making his tale all too timely.
A cheating wife was on the list of things wrong with his six-year marriage, but it may not have been at the very top.
“Try waking up from a Sunday nap to see the sharpest knife in the kitchen poised above you, ready for the Aztec human sacrifice routine,” he said. She also abandoned him miles from home, in the dark, while he was on crutches and accused him of every wrongdoing in the book.
But let’s back up a bit. The two first met on the way to a college ski trip when he was reading a magazine and he heard this little voice behind him commenting on the article he was reading.
“She basically curled up into my lap and was there ever since,” he said.
They became great friends – and horrible spouses. Nate’s idea of marriage was based on examples from his own parents – “who were like Ozzie and Harriet” – and his ex’s parents – “who giggled like teenagers.”
“The idea of getting divorced felt like a personal failure, like I had done something wrong and it was all my fault.”
Within the first six months of the marriage, his ex was taken for psychiatric treatment twice. She was put on medication that actually worked – when she took it.
When she didn’t, it was a living hell.
“She thought nothing of beating on me,” Nate said. “Fortunately for me she was only 4’ 11” and couldn’t hit very hard.” He wouldn’t hit back.
“I may have slapped at her once,” he said, “but during all of this, I tried very hard to keep my temper. I spent a long time learning to control my temper. Besides, she was one of those people who bruised very easily – if I grabbed her wrist it would leave fingerprints. If she had any mark that was not self-inflicted, I would be the one in handcuffs.”
Instead, he was chained to his home while she was constantly out gallivanting, traveling out of state to visit friends, helping out with political campaigns, or otherwise off “God Knows Where,” coming home at all hours and offering no explanation.
“My ex demanded that I be at home and next to the telephone at all times when I wasn’t working or at school,” he said. “I was not allowed to have friends visit, nor was I allowed to go visit anyone else. If I had someone in, she’d stare lightning bolts at him until he left, and if I went out, she called wherever I was, repeatedly, until I came home.”
During the six years they were together, he went out a total of two times with a friend, another man, after work. “I came home to find her online, talking about me and my ‘gay lover,’” Nate said.
While all this may seem horrific enough, there were also financial woes.
Paying the bills was Nate’s sole responsibility, even though his ex worked. She was also heavily into “shopping therapy” and would start credit cards at a number of stores and then promptly forget about them. Bill collectors never forget.
“She ran up bills faster than I could pay them off – assuming I found out about them,” Nate said. “She had a mercurial temper and went into a pounding fury if I ‘butted into her private life’ by paying off bills, some of which were years overdue.”
The marriage finally ended after one of their many screaming fests when she nonchalantly announced she was leaving. And then did.
“The divorce? That was her idea, too. The bill collectors who were after her got her so worked up, she wanted to get away from everything. Including me, when my patience started wearing thin.”
One of Nate’s wishes is to erase the entire second half of 1997.
“I wound up getting divorced, evicted and forced to find a new home (and stuck with a very large credit card bill) all at the same time,” he said. “The sheriff’s department visited my apartment many times, that autumn; it was always a surprise to see who was serving which papers on me, for what reason, when I came home.”
He pointed out the most stressful things in a person’s life include death of a family member; divorce; moving; buying a new house and getting evicted. “I did everything but bury my father,” he said.
“Since nothing happens in a vacuum, my ex’s behavior affected other aspects of my life, as well. Let’s just say I was lucky to stay employed and out of the ‘major depression’ part of the psych ward.”
At least the two never had kids, another fact that angered his wife at the time. “I was not going to bring a defenseless screaming bundle of diaper into the marriage,” he said. “I’ve seen too many ‘insane mother drowns own children’ stories.”
Perhaps ironically, the only upshot of the whole relationship was the divorce proceedings. They were quick and fairly painless, at least comparatively, and a done deal in less than two hours in court.
Despite – or perhaps due to – all the grief, Nate has learned a few lessons.
“Don’t get stuck in a relationship where you figure you can’t get out,” he said. “I was so concerned with keeping the marriage going because I thought that was what marriages do. I took the marriage vow until parted by death. If things start to go sour, look for help to either straighten things out or to get out.”
And guys who are battered by their wives or girlfriends? “Try and keep your temper,” he advised, “but on the other hand, don’t put up with it.”
Fifty percent of the domestic violence situations involve battering by both parties, according to a 2007 Centers for Disease Control Study.
“Half of heterosexual domestic violence is reciprocal. Women initiated or committed at least half of both the reciprocal and non-reciprocal violence, while both sexes suffered significant injuries,” according to a news release from the National Coalition for Men.
What do you think?
Guys – have you been on the receiving end? Now is your time to speak out.