Note: This is my second time writing this out. Initially I was going to replace the first with this one, but for legacy’s sake, I’ll keep both of them up. You can read the first version here: The Story of My Divorce.
It was April 2011. We walked out of the Divorce Mediator’s office with the signed divorce papers. We got into my now ex-wife’s silver Toyota Camry, and she began to cry. We had just done the last thing we needed to end our marriage.
Ten years prior, I wouldn’t have guessed this is where it would end up, as she walked into the English school in Dalian, Northeast China, to give her sample English lesson. There was something different about her, something that seemed distinctly un-Chinese (if there is such a word).
Our lives became entangled as the years unfolded: we moved to Beijing together, where we would live for the next 4 years. We got married and immediately applied for her spouse visa. We moved back here to the US. She supported me as I opened up my own kungfu school that lasted 3 years, and through my father’s death in 2008. With the life insurance money, I decided to invest in my education, and real estate. I started law school and bought a duplex in San Jose.
Many people would say that our lives were moving along pretty well. The way I relate to that part of my life now is that I was “living the script;” I was choosing the next step based on what I was trained by society through media was the desirable and respectable life path. I didn’t stop to question why I wanted it, or if I wanted anything else. I wanted to be seen as successful and respectable in other people’s eyes, and didn’t bother to define success for myself.
There’s nothing wrong with living like this. Lots of people do it; they live out their entire lives this way without ever stopping to question it. But it wouldn’t end up working out for us as a couple.
So there I was in 2010: 6-year marriage, accepted into law school, wife has a promising career in Pharmaceuticals. All the check boxes were checked so far. Next up: kids.
And then the bomb dropped: she told me she doesn’t want to have kids. In fact, she’s never wanted to have kids, she just never told me.
What followed was a storm of reactions that caused everything to unravel within the next year. Not just in terms of my marriage, but in terms of my perception of reality, my self, and my role with the people around me. What I’m going to tell you next is what was going on with me at that time. I now have a different perspective on what was happening, after years and years of self-development, which I will get to after.
“How could she deceive me like this? How could she lie? Doesn’t she know that having kids is the whole point of getting married? I mean, what’s the point of life if you don’t have kids?” were some of the thoughts going through my mind.
One thing I’d actually said to her which I deeply regret now is, “It’s like you murdered my kids before they were even born.” Wow. Just… wow. Talk about a super guilt trip. It just speaks to my desperate and manipulative nature back then. Of course, this was the first time in my life that I encountered someone else who not only had a different idea on how life was supposed to be, but also had the position and power to stop it.
During the next 4 months of me struggling, trying to save this thing that was now hopelessly sinking, I remember a few key moments marked the final nails in the coffin:
Me: “You’re not even trying.”
Her: “I’ve been trying for years.”
Me: “Is there any point at which you’d choose me over your job?”
Her (without hesitation): “No.”
It was that second one that I distinctly remember, loud and clear. It was my self-esteem that chimed in with, “You deserve better. This is over. You need to go.” I think it was the first time in my life that my self-esteem spoke to me, which was an earth-shattering experience.
For those who don’t know, my childhood was not great. I was raised by parents who grew up in war-torn China, both World War II and the Chinese Civil War between the Russia-backed Communists and American-backed Nationalists. They never had the experience of a stable family life, since they were constantly on the run for pretty much their entire childhoods into adolescence. They grew up fending for themselves, and they made it far: they both got doctorate degrees and made great careers for themselves. This also meant that my childhood was full of emotional and physical neglect, and emotional and physical abuse.
To be clear, I’m not angry or bitter towards my parents or my childhood. Through my own self-work, I’ve found forgiveness for them. They did the absolute best they could with what they were given, and they were given very little. It doesn’t mean my childhood was easy, it doesn’t erase what happened, but it does mean I get to let go of that anger and see them as fallible human beings deserving of forgiveness and love.
What I see now as the reasons my marriage fell apart is that I was egocentric and manipulative, meaning I couldn’t conceive of people wanting a different life than the one I wanted, and I was willing to go to great lengths to control that outcome. This means I didn’t create a safe environment for her to be able to say what she wants and doesn’t want. I created a hostile environment, which caused her to withhold herself from me.
I also took her for granted. I assumed she’d always be there, and that I didn’t have to explain anything to her. After all, we were married, right? That means for life, through everything. That means I can do whatever I want, right?
Over the next decade I started down a path of self-examination, where I would learn skills that I was never taught in school (much less by my parents):
- Self-awareness, in terms of who I think I am, who I think other people are, and how everything fits together;
- Being responsible, so I can examine my impact on the people around me;
- Emotional intelligence, being aware of what’s going on with me emotionally;
- Emotional maturity, controlling my behavior so I can create a safe environment for other people to be honest and authentic with me and around me;
All of this combined created the opportunity for communication to show up. In this way, good communication is not a skill, but a symptom of successfully acquiring the above skills.
About a week ago, my ex-wife and I exchanged some messages. She’s off living her life, I’m off living mine. I’ve learned so much from my divorce. It definitely wasn’t easy. It was the hardest time of my life, and I have no idea who I would be without it. I’m so grateful for it, and we are grateful for each other.
I’m going to have a video call with her this upcoming Saturday, she’s moving to Europe soon with her new husband. We have a lot of catching up to do. I’m glad we met each other and walked the same path for a while. I’m glad we let go of each other when we needed to. I’m glad we were supportive of each other through the divorce, rather than adversarial. I’m glad she’s found a life she loves. There’s so much I’m grateful for, there’s no other way I’d have it.
Now we both get to move forward, being better people for having met each other.
If this blog brought something up for you that you’d like to share, please tell me. I’d love to know!
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