Love Confidential: I'm still in love with the man I'm divorcing

Even though I think he's a dick. What's wrong with me?

Love Confidential: I'm still in love with the man I'm divorcing
Image bu Joey Neill

Dear Love,

I can't admit this to anyone, barely myself even. But I'm still in love with my husband, even though we're in the process of getting a divorce that I initiated. We were married for 27 years, have two beautiful (and thankfully GROWN) children together, but I couldn't take his pettiness for another second. I have felt better recently, and I'm trying not to become bitter or poison the children against their father, despite that he's hidden assets and is determined to offer as little as possible in our settlement. He's an attorney, and cheap as hell, so this is no surprise. What did shock me was when he recently moved out of an apartment rental and declined to take the furniture. When I asked who he was moving in with, he said something about wanting to leave the past behind. Bullshit. That man would not spend one nickel re-purchasing furniture he already owned. When the conversation settled in me a while later, I realized that — on top of everything else — I felt hurt. Like heart hurt. I couldn't believe it. There's no going back, but, God forbid, what if I meet another man just like him? Will I make the same mistake?

—Not Wanting a Repeat

Dear Not Wanting a Repeat,

Congratulations on your willingness to save yourself! Especially considering that you still have feelings for the man you're divorcing, whether that feels clear to you or not. What's clear to me is that you're not a great match. You ask a direct question, he equivocates. That's the kind of thing that erodes intimacy. There's scorekeeping going on there. You can already hear the defense, "I never lied to you!"

What difference does that make when they never tell the whole truth?

Of course, the truth could be that this shift has shaken him up as much as you. Maybe he really does want to ditch the old furniture. Frankly, if you spent the last quarter century arguing over how to spend money, that's a laudable weight to toss. And emotionally, there's nothing to be gained from going backward to try to figure it all out. Now is the time for moving forward, that means looking forward, too.

Financially, despite the fact that Florida is a no-fault divorce state, there are some backward-facing realities to consider. Judges have some discretion in alimony and distribution of assets based on how marital funds may have been used. Check with your lawyer. Be smart, because it sounds like your ex is the wily type. I'm sorry, there's no getting around how much that will suck. Just keep making decisions that put your welfare first.

It bodes well for your healing that you're able to hold the incongruity of loving someone while at the same time recognizing they  aren't good for you. You don't need to stop loving someone just because you're no longer with them. I learned this lesson in the middle of a conversation with a polyamorist.

Ricky, we'll call him, was trying to sell me on the virtues of polyamory. "Where would the human race be if it wasn't possible to love more than one person? We'd never have had kids."

Simplistic to be sure, but it got me thinking. My first love drowned in a swimming pool when he was only 26. I was 24 and sure no one would ever love me like that again. To some extent, this has been true. No two loves are alike, not if you're trying. 

But in that bar with Ricky, I realized that I had moved on and married another. When that marriage ended, it was as suddenly and unceremoniously as the drowning. In both cases, I learned the news over the phone. As Ricky went on, I was aware it had been nearly three years since the divorce, and I was yet in love with my ex.

Like you, Not Wanting, I emphatically did not want to remain tethered to that man. It was, at that point, against my will. But the human heart cannot be reasoned with. 

What Ricky showed me, however, was that it was possible to meet and marry another, and I never had to fall out of love with anyone. The less time I spent "fighting" with my ex, the less power he had over me. I put the word fighting in quotes, because we weren't in each other's lives. The battles that raged were between me and me, as most are. And I saw, quite as suddenly, that I could put down the sword rather than die on it.

Not Wanting, so can you. You don't have to stop loving the ex in order to find peace. And once you are changed, you're changed. You don't have to repeat that relationship ever again. 

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