Lately I have heard several people say that “the grass isn’t always greener.” Some have implied that it is never greener, in fact. I know plenty of instances when this is true. We all know the anecdotes or have personal friends who have been involved in an affair. Affairs are most often great examples of this. Most who break up a marriage or long term relationship to be with someone else end up regretting the decision, or at the very least the way it came about. This is not at all to negate the byproduct relationship, maybe it is awesome, but sometimes the factors involved in breaking up the first relationship overshadow the love in the second. Examples of this are issues with children. They could be resentment, acting out, angst in general, astronomical child support, and honestly plain old logistics. If there are no kids involved it could just be alimony, separation of monetary and physical possessions, internal wounds on all three sides, and distrust and jealousy in the new relationship because of how it came about. With all of those things taken into account, it certainly does not sound greener. And when applied to these circumstances, I would argue that at least eighty percent of relationships broken up by a third party meet the criteria of the grass not being greener.
However, my experience is different. When I chose to end my 16 year marriage (17 by the time the divorce was final), it was not for a third party. It was to ensure there never was a third party. It was so that I would not be a cheater. It was so that I could avoid all of the things listed above. My thought process that I would not have to deal with some of those things was flawed, but I digress.
My marriage did not break up because we “fell out of love.” I firmly do not believe that to be a reason for divorce. If you do, I am not trying to offend, but that is not part of my belief system. I believe in the concept of limerence as outlined by Dorothy Tennov in 1979. Limerence can be summed up as the feeling of being “in love.” She proposes that the longest shelf life of limerence in people who have requited cohabitational love is two years. That is the maximum. I believe that. I also believe Joanne Woodward, who by the way was married to Paul Newman (who was smoking hot), her quote was, “Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.” Another line from one of my favorite underrated movies, which coincidentally covers this same topic is from The Story of Us, it is spoken by Rob Reiner’s character, “Love is just lust in disguise, and lust fades, so you damn well better be with someone who can stand you.” I say all that to say, I was once possibly “in love” with my ex-husband. That feeling faded, and we were never able to get it back, but it was well within the beginning of our marriage, and was not at all the cause of our divorce.
People confuse limerence with actual love. I know I have a time or twelve. However, they are completely different things. What we see in fairy tales and romance novels, that is limerence. What we see in nursing homes or nurseries, that is love. This will sound cheesy, but the story The Notebook is a good example of both. When they were kids, they experienced limerence. When Noah built that house for Allie, it was arguably a work of love. There is some gray area about forbidden love when it comes to limerence, meaning it can elongate it. But when he returned to the nursing home every day to read their story to her over and over again, he was being self sacrificing, showing real love and devotion.
I cared for my ex. I truly did, but it was not limerence and it was not self sacrificing love. I did not love him with a fraction of what I felt for my children. I cared for him, but we were not partners. Love really had nothing to do with why our marriage ended. What my marriage had was a fundamental incompatibility that neither of us knew we had at the beginning.
We got married young. I had just turned nineteen. We had dated for exactly four months, lived together for probably three. As you sit there and shake your head, read that again, I was nineteen, enough said. And listen, if you are reading this and you got married young and you have made it work, I commend that. But you either put in some hellacious work, or you were very compatible. At that point in my life all I wanted was a return to the family life I left when I left home at seventeen. Psychologically, I was probably not ready to leave home at that point. I point that out just to say that I was not in a place I should have been making lifelong decisions. People tried to talk me out of it. Of course they did, as they should have. I used to tell people that your mindset when you got married was not the problem, but rather it was your mindset when you decided to get divorced that was the problem. That statement is not categorically untrue, but it is a very blanket statement and it shows my age in that it was very black and white. It is true that there are some things we enjoyed in common, unfortunately the things we did not share outweighed those.
When I made the decision to end my marriage, I felt like a failure. I know that is a sentiment many of you know well. I had such overwhelming guilt. It did not help that I was the only one who wanted the divorce. I found myself on the floor crying and praying so many times. The irony is that inside my marriage I never cried. I never cried though I was deeply wounded, I just did not realize it. The pain manifested in other ways. I was truly a failure then, honestly. The failing did not happen in the leaving.
So back to the topic at hand, “the grass is not always greener,” is an expression I have become intolerant of. I always took this to mean that it wasn’t greener in another relationship. I never considered that it could mean in being alone. Honestly, when people say it to me, I think they most often mean in another relationship. And you know what, my grass is greener now, alone. My daughter has told me that I never seemed as happy as I do now when I was married. My friends are telling me that I seem relaxed and happy. I was so afraid that I was a person incapable of happiness. It turns out, I just was not capable of being happy in that situation.
So, now I water my grass the way I know it needs it. I fertilize it with the right kind of fertilizer for that particular grass. I have learned how to do this through trial and error, and sometimes it is more error than anything, but I came out the other side. It took time, but my lawn is the healthiest it has ever been. And bonus, I proved some people wrong in the process.
Stronger Than Yesterday,