This was originally written for a guest blog opportunity posted on the Rachel From The OC website. Thank you Rachel Thompson for this awesome guest blogging opportunity, as well as some writing advice. For more information regarding Rachel’s media company, Bad Redhead Media, or her website and social media, please visit the provided links.
This blog piece is based on a true story about my former marriage. All names have been omitted and specifics in regards to identification have been altered to protect all parties involved. Thank you for these considerations.
There are those times, those definitive moments that change our lives forever. We experience these surreal moments in which the world stops on its axis. The birds start chirping in a glorious melodic chorus of hope. For some, it is the birth of a child. For others, it is reaching a level of financial or professional success.
For me, one of these days was supposed to be the 7th of August, 2011.
The day I got married.
I’d never had any concept of what love and romance truly meant. I received most of my knowledge of romance from movies. Movies teach us that roses, expensive gifts, or small trinkets personify the materialistic outpouring of love. We are culturally force-fed and willingly brainwashed to believe that the more money we spend on our first dates or long-term significant others equals the amount of love we have for our partners. We eat that up like it was a sugary dessert of bullshit and accept lies we yearn for and crave to consume. A healthy, welcomed ingestion of Garmonbozia (“pain and suffering”).
Being a child of the 1980’s, John Hughes and Cameron Crowe became my romantic bodhisattvas. Their movies became my textbook to learn how to be romantic. I learned from them that romance isn’t about the money spent; it’s the little things that matter the most.
Lloyd Dobler standing outside Diane Court’s window, holding a boom box playing “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel in Say Anything. Jake Ryan coming through in the clutch presenting a birthday cake to Samantha Baker at the end of Sixteen Candles. Ducky…just being Ducky in Pretty And Pink. And the ending of the movie Singles, where love and hope for the perfect romance could, in theory, happen to everyone.
My ex and I met through a dating app on Facebook. I saw her picture and was instantly smitten. I know…weird to take a picture for face value. But, for whatever reason, the picture of her kneeling down with her daughter in a driveway resonated with me and left a lasting impression. We started talking back-and-forth through Facebook messages, graduating to phone calls and texting.
Eight months later she called me one day and said, “I’m coming up this weekend whether you like it or not. I have to know if you are truly the one.”
I had no idea what to say to this. Up to this point, I was celibate for 11 years. It was a godsend to start flirting over the Internet. I could think about my responses beforehand. But now…I was dumbfounded. From what seemed like an eternity, I was silent on my end of the phone. Excitement, nervousness, and me acting a fool washed over me like a fucking tidal wave. What the fuck do I say to that? Do I say “Sure, come on up,” or “I’m too much of a pussy to say yes so you take control,” or tell a very real truth, “Dude. I’m perfectly happy with being friends and having phone sex. So no. Don’t come up.”
I thought it out for a moment…
Do I take this chance? What if this blows up in my face?
I said fuck it, and texted back my address in a sheer moment of unprecedented clarity.
She texted back the four words I thought I would never hear from her…
“I’ll see you Saturday.”
Fuck! Now what do I do? I was never that scared to meet a prospective partner.
Saturday rolled around and she only texted me once.
“I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
Those 10 minutes were the longest 10 minutes of my life.
Each second felt like an hour. Each minute felt like a day had passed.
And then there was a knock on the door.
It was only 40 steps or so to the front door.
The longest fucking 40 steps ever.
I reached the door and closed my eyes.
Took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.
Opened my eyes. And then opened the door.
I was shaking. Speechless. Dumbfounded.
It was like the world had stopped for one moment in time.
I looked at her for what seemed like a million years.
I closed my eyes, breathed deep, exhaled, and opened my eyes.
Finding love in a healthy, long-standing relationship for someone like me who has a mental illness is a damn near impossibility. People who do not have a mental illness have no idea what they are signing up for. The insomnia, the self-doubt, the manic episodes that lead to extreme paranoia. Just the thought of a slim possibility that long-term hospitalization might occur to someone without a mental illness scares the shit out of them.
The chances of finding that one person to spend the rest of your life with, someone who will treat you as an equal, be there to pick you up every time you fall, and live a life of constant education on their loved one’s mental illness is a Herculean feat deserving of a Nobel prize. Yes, this could happen to anyone. And yes, there can be everlasting love that could be found by someone with a mental illness.
We elected to write our own vows. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember focusing intently on not dropping the paper I was holding. My best man and the assorted lot of gentlemen that were at the bachelor party endlessly teased me about certain things like the “happy wife, happy life” stuff men talk about. At breakfast the next morning, my best man made a couple of cracks about the high emotional state he thought I might reach.
“I am so not going to fucking cry during the vow reading,” I said.
I was so very fucking wrong.
I fucking cried like a pre-teen girl in pigtails at her first One Direction concert.
My stepdaughter walked down the aisle, scattering flower peddles on the ground. I remember my wife walking down the aisle. She was radiant…glowing…angelic…wearing a traditional white dress. Her hair was done in a way I had never seen before. She looked at me and smiled I love you. I remembered looking at my wife’s dad as he escorted her down the aisle. I started to get a little misty; my dad was not there. He died seven months earlier from aggressive brain cancer. I wished my dad could have been there to see his son get married. As we were standing, listening to the Justice of the Peace, I could barely look my wife in the eye without tearing up.
We walked down the aisle as man and wife. We kissed, said I love you, and the proceeded to be party hosts for the day. The happiest moment I have from that day wasn’t members of our respective families that traveled long distances to share in our day. It wasn’t the reception, the ceremony, or the sober bachelor party the night before. It was the wedding night.
We were exhausted…and hungry. My wife’s parents graciously put us up for the night in a hotel in town. It was late after an after-party with friends at a bar within the hotel. We had little cash on us and no desire to go anywhere for a meal. We shared a couple of sodas and a couple of bags of chips and watched TV. We fell asleep holding each other…with our clothes on.
I have always wanted to truly fall in love. That deep, peaceful, soulful, storybook kind of love. I know that’s a fantasy. It’s a stereotype dreamed up in our heads and force-fed to us when we were young. The princess waits for her prince. The prince is the envy of all men. He rides in on a white stallion to sweep the princess off her feet. They live happily ever after.
I thought through this holy union between me as the husband and her as the wife, that I could, for the first time, lead a normal life. Through being married I could be known as a husband and stepfather. A breadwinner. The head of a household. I could be part of “normal society.” My life would no longer be defined as “Peter, the guy who is bipolar.” My mental illness could finally be forgotten about and everyone could just shut the fuck up about it. I would be normal for the first time in my life. Normal.
My soul was at rest, and I was at peace.
For the first time in my life with a significant other I was so very happy.
I thought that I had married the most awesome woman in the world.
I knew this woman was the one I would be honored to spend the rest of my life with.
But then reality set in.
We had difficulties just like every other couple trying to set a footprint in the world. It just so happened that our story began in 2009 during the economy crisis. Money and unemployment weighed heavily on our relationship as it did for millions of Americans during the economic crisis of that time. We talked extensively about me being bipolar. We laid out scenarios if something were to have gone seriously wrong, like if I needed long-term hospitalization, or how she could help me if I had a really rough go. She understood the risks and accepted them head on. Although we both acknowledged that I was the one who would help myself, she said she would do whatever it took to help me remain stable. All of these pressures tested our resolve as a couple in ways that I had never been tested in my single life.
But what love in our existing reality teaches us is that love and marriage are not the wine, roses, and heavenly bliss that we want to believe them to be. Love and marriage is not the storybook romance we have envisioned them to be, that happily ever after love and marriage that the movies force feed us to believe isn’t the reality.
Yes, love can be wonderful. Yes, love can be the storybook happy ending we all desire. But the saddest part about the reality of love is we accept the love we think we deserve. Even if love is toxic. Or abusive. Or cruel. Or even if the love we desire is an unhealthy fantasy forcefully planted inside our heads.
We carry this fantasy around from childhood into our adult lives where we force that nonsensical ideal that happiness is real, love is forever, and finding that one person we can share a lifetime with will center us and then all will be right with the world.
But when the reality hits. The true colors of the blurred lines between love and hate become reality..
She became verbally abusive and just damn right cruel. Evil. Even to this day, I have no fucking idea where the rage came from. It quickly became my consensual hell. Rage-filled hate and verbal violence became the graphic personification of pent up frustration. This became the personification of the Stephan Bonner/Forrest Griffin fight from the ending of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. She became Ray Rice. Our marriage became fucking evil…a shadow of what we envisioned all those years ago when we hid behind our keyboards and talked about a future together as a loving, storybook couple.
I stayed on for as long as I could. I was raised to believe that marriage was a lifelong commitment. Bust your ass to make it under any circumstance. I should have taken the hint things were that bad when I relapsed with self-harm. I was so hurt and pissed off one day that I took a back scratcher my ex-wife gave me for Christmas and left scars on my back. This wasn’t working out. I knew that, but I punished myself for her verbal abuse.
I blamed myself for her evilness.
I blamed myself.
Being married…being married to her…taught me a very important lesson: I will fall in love again, but I will never walk down that aisle. Too scary of a thought that a fucking piece of paper changes a person to the extent of turning them into an abuser.
Now I know that the path is too dark to walk…even with the light I now carry.
This was originally written for guest blog posted on the Rachel From The OC website. Thank you Rachel Thompson for this awesome guest blogging opportunity, as well as some writing advice. For more information regarding Rachel’s media company, Bad Redhead Media, please visit the provided link.
This is a beautiful post. Thank you for reaching so deep and for your honesty.
Thank you very much for your kind words, Shawna. 🙂