My divorce. James: ‘There’s a fragility in me now’

Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly

Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly

 

It’s 20 years since Ireland voted for divorce. An Irish Times series, Divorced Ireland, explores the effects of that vote on Irish life, then and since. To read the full series click here

James, as he has asked to be called, is in his 40s. He was married for less than a year and had no children when his wife shocked him with the news that she was leaving.

“We were together for five years in total. The break-up was both shocking and expected at the same time. We had drifted through the marriage, and my first reaction when she left was relief, because something had to happen. Towards the end we had done couples counselling, and after it she left for about a week, so I knew it was very serious.

“Her explanation was, ‘We just didn’t get on that well.’ I haven’t had a conversation with her since.

“The lifestyle implications are tough. We were renting quite a nice house, but I couldn’t afford to stay there on my own. I moved into a smaller apartment, and it was like downgrading my life. I had seen getting married as the next enriching part of my life, and within a short space of time I was once again a single man in my 40s. It was a forcible downgrade, emotionally, financially and socially.

“I used to enjoy cooking for us both, and now I am cooking for one. For the first year I ate out and didn’t cook at all.

“Recently I went to the cinema for only the second time since we split. I used to love going to the cinema. It wasn’t just the film – it was the drive there, watching the trailers and sharing jokes, holding hands. That was one of the loveliest things.

“After the divorce I was very embarrassed for a long time. When you say you are separated or divorced, people ask, ‘How long were you married?’ And you tell them and they say, ‘What did you do?’ I felt ashamed that I could not make the marriage work. It took me a while to not see it as all my fault.

“I was raised agnostic, so I think the shame is a cultural thing. Part of why it’s hard to be vulnerable is that men don’t express emotions. So you don’t talk too much about how you feel, because it makes people uncomfortable. So things go internal, and you get a disturbed feeling inside.

“I became short tempered, impatient, frustrated with small disturbances, like being delayed in traffic or making a phone call and being put on hold for too long. I could be bitchy with friends, and I had sleep problems.

“The divorce has cost €6,000 so far. I think the four-year wait is ridiculous. I’m a grown-up, and you don’t need to keep me in a holding pattern for four years. I’m really angry about that. How dare anyone tell me that I can’t get divorced quickly after a short marriage with no children and no home ownership. That’s insane. I want to move on. I’m already officially separated longer than I was married. I’d be very much in favour of US-style divorce laws.

“There’s a fragility in me now. I want to meet someone new, but singles bars are not me, and the dating scene has made me supercautious and vulnerable.

“Online dating is savage. At first it’s flattering that someone is paying you attention online, but get into it and it’s like The Hunger Games. You have to arm up and be ready.”

“The upside is that we both got out quickly and can give each other a second shot. At least we’re not two people sitting alone but together in a house where we’re not speaking and living lives of quiet desperation.”

 

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