What you lose when you leave is painful... but only for a while.
“Mama come with us!” my son hollers back at me as my mom, his grandma, pushes the stroller down the apartment hallway to the elevator. She’s taking him to play at the neighborhood park so that I can have a few minutes to myself. She explains that I’m staying home to do a few things. Yeah, I think. Like cry.
It’s the zoo’s fault. Sometimes I take my son to the zoo and come away feeling empowered: It’s him and me against the world and we don’t need anybody else to make us happy. And this is a true statement. It’s just that sometimes it doesn’t feel like that.
Sometimes I go to the zoo and feel like I’m drowning in a sea of blissfully happy families of four and five. Handsome fathers who attend to their young children with endless patience. Stylish moms in skinny G-Stars and rings so fat I can see the sparkle from the other side of the elephant enclosure. He’ll place a protective hand on the small of her back, she’ll rest her head on his broad shoulder, and their children will stare adoringly up at them while calmly passing a box of crackers back and forth.
“They just haven’t gotten divorced yet,” I’ll mutter under my breath. Jealousy makes me a little cruel. But the truth is that the jealousy is just a front for the disappointment I feel. I want that - all of it, and I wanted it when I agreed to marry my ex-husband, and I wanted it when I agreed to stop taking birth control so we could get pregnant, and I wanted it when I left him (just no longer with him.)
I’ll be thirty-six in December. Biologically, there is time for me to have another child - but not much. And while another man, a man who makes all other men look like boys, is in my future - I don’t know when. And so mixed in with all the other losses that one incurs when they leave their spouse, there was for me the big loss of that ideal nuclear family, and the loss of having a second child.
My son will learn how to be a loving husband and nurturing father from a man he is not related to (a really good thing, I admit). He might have siblings, but they won’t look him. And I will never know the joy of having a child with a (is saying “non-abusive” too obvious?) supportive partner.
Yes, I can grow my family through adoption or remarrying and both of those options appeal to me, but having them doesn’t eliminate the loss. It’s just there, doing it’s thing, and every few weeks something brings it up - like a trip to the zoo - and I have to feel it all over again. I’ll wait until I have some alone time, put a sappy song on repeat, and get it out of my system.
I was prepared to mope in my bedroom all afternoon, but it turns out I didn’t need all afternoon this time - I only needed about fifteen minutes. I didn’t cry as much as my eyes watered, and the song probably only looped four or five times before I was ready to get on with my day. In other words, the pain of that loss had lessened over time. In fact, it lessened to such a degree that I don’t think I’ll feel this one again.
This is important information because when you’re thinking about leaving your spouse, it’s hard not to focus on how much you’ll lose: where you live, maybe money, time with your child. The losses are big, they are real, and they will hurt. But the pain is temporary - seven months in this example - and intermittent. Not like the permanent and constant pain of staying.
You will miss your big suburban house - maybe the garden you grew from seed, or the way light streams into your living room - but the pain will subside as you will learn that the peace that comes with an abusive-spouse-free small apartment is better than sharing a big house full of tension with him.
You will miss the comfort of your current lifestyle, but that pain will subside as you find that there is power in learning how to provide for your family with what you do have. You’ll take your son to the library instead of buying books. You’ll visit the museum and the zoo on discount days. You’ll buy clothes at resale stores.
Most of all, you will miss seeing your son every day - reading him a story every night before bed, starting every morning by getting him out of the crib - but the pain will subside as you learn that even though you might not have the same number of hours with your son as you did before, the hours you do have are so much more enjoyable for both of you because you have more energy, confidence, and freedom as a parent.
There is no way around the losses you incur when you leave a marriage. They are many, and they are painful. But they are temporary.
The losses that you incur by staying, however - the loss of your identity, the loss of your vitality, the loss of an opportunity to revel in a fulfilling relationship with someone else, the loss of the ability to model a healthy relationship for your children - those losses are more painful, and they are permanent.