He loves me, he loves me not.
It happened just like that. One moment we were in love, exploring the world, buying a house, close to marking ten years as a couple, and approaching our third wedding anniversary. Then the next moment, like the pluck of a daisy petal; he loves me not.
The severing of our emotional connection was swift and brutal. I was bewildered and frightened, wondering why the man I loved was suddenly lost to me, there in body but no longer looking at me, speaking to me, or registering me at all. Laid beside me in bed but not there. Coming home from work, but not there. Going on holiday with me, but not there. We were worlds apart and I had no idea why.
I searched doggedly, constantly for reasons why this was happening. I thought he might be having a breakdown but I didn’t know how to reach him, or what was the cause. I had a near-miss in the car and wondered ‘if I had crashed, would that have got through to him? Would that have made him realise he cared?’ I was truly desperate to understand what was happening, and the stress was immense.
Every now and then, I would get a fragment of truth; the drunken declaration at 4am that ‘I’m not sure I want to be married anymore”. The text message that flashed on his phone while he was comatose through booze upstairs “I wish you were here, I miss you”. The overnight stops at work. The woman at his work Christmas party who stared at me a bit too much. Circumstantial evidence which I squirrelled away and occasionally confronted him with, only to be told I was paranoid, mad, making it up.
The irrefutable evidence came the day after we returned from that holiday, which was the most painful of all the weeks, our desperate state under my nose every minute of every day. Every night spent balanced on the edges of the bed, like magnets repelling one another. The evening of cocktails which ended in him taunting me, singing Tammy Wynette’s song, only misspelling the letters: “D.O.V.I.R.C.E”. Flying home and going to work were a relief, until the meeting on that first night back with my mum in a Tesco car park where she showed me the messages on a mobile phone given to my brother by the man who was then my husband. The last text message, from him, said “I love you”. The message was not for me. It was for another woman.
After two months of watching my marriage slowly die, suffocating without the oxygen of his love, this was the moment it crashed. When you’ve been tensed, waiting for weeks to be kicked in the guts, it’s something of a relief when it finally happens. I rushed home, grabbed my bags without saying a word to the man I had pledged my life to, and drove to my mum’s house. I did what I always promised myself I would do if I discovered he had been unfaithful, and left. Because then you are taking control, you are not accepting the infidelity and you are demonstrating that in the simplest and most powerful way.
But life and love are complex things, and I didn’t realise then that I would spend another two months telling no one but family and a handful of work colleagues that we were separated while I searched for signs of life in our relationship. For two months we would meet, occasionally and sporadically, and I would try to discuss whether there was a marriage to try to save, and to discover answers, anything that would tell me what had gone on, what had gone wrong. But like before, nothing. No answers, no hope.
The turmoil and anguish inside was constant. Where had he gone? Why didn’t he love me anymore? Did he not owe me an explanation? Was he not supposed to say he was sorry, and that it had all been a terrible mistake? The truth was, our marriage had flatlined.
The final insult and the point of no return came in the Spring. I dropped the car off at the house where he was staying, and as I handed over the keys, I could see her shoes in the hall behind him. The lump in my throat plummeted to the bottom of my stomach and rose back up in defiance. No more. Walking back to the house which had been our home, I crossed a line, which no one could see but me. Once I stepped over it, I never looked back. I felt like a joke and the world’s biggest fool. Not just for being cheated on, and tricked so easily, but for trying to salvage our marriage on my own for so long. It wasn’t something I could do alone.
The breakdown of my marriage was agonising but I barely got off the treadmill of life, working, seeing friends and family, sifting through the debris as I sorted possessions and desperately tried to find enough money to be able to keep the house. It felt so important at the time, when everything in my life had been blown up into the sky, I believed that somehow, stone walls could anchor me back down to the ground, that all would not be lost.
Before our marriage even began to fall apart, I had contemplated the future without my husband and was pretty certain that without him, I would probably just keel over and die. So to find myself emotionally wounded but still very much alive was something of a revelation, and in a strange way, it made me feel invincible, as though I could survive anything.
That’s not to say it was easy. For a while, when I looked into the future I saw absolutely nothing. Where there had been life, travel, a home, children, old age together, there was now just a white, blank space. It felt like a death, and I grieved.
But nature abhors a vacuum, and white, blank spaces must be filled. First with family, and friendships and quite a lot of wine, later with new love, and laughter, and adventures and two beautiful children. A new city, a new home, a new career, a future so different and so much better than the one I had lost. After the pain, there was so much love and joy.
That was ten years ago, and at the time, I felt as though I had lost everything, but really, it was just the beginning of my life.
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About Alison McGarragh-Murphy
Alison writes and edits stuff for The Motherload®, and is also a radio producer and broadcast journalist, a mum of two and a wife of one. Since becoming a mother she has (mostly) gladly swapped a busy social life of gigs, pubs, art galleries and museums for dancing in the kitchen, drinking on the sofa, finger painting and hanging out at the park. She talks incessantly about not having slept for four years.
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