When Women Leave Good Men

On honoring your own feelings rather than society’s expectations

Photo: d3sign/Getty Image

MyMy fingers were flying across my keyboard late one night after my husband and I split, hoping Google would be able to validate my seemingly tactless behavior. I searched “My husband is great and I left him,” “I left a good man, now what?,” “Am I making a mistake for leaving a good man?,” and “Why did I leave a good man?”

My eyes darted across the screen every time I pressed “enter” looking for someone — anyone — who could reassure me I wasn’t making a huge mistake. As it turns out, there aren’t a lot of childless thirtysomething women on the first few pages of Google writing about divorcing their all-American college sweethearts after a half-decade of marriage. Stories about women leaving their abusive husbands filled my search results. Finally, I stumbled across an article written by a woman who left her praiseworthy husband because she felt like she had no other choice. Something wasn’t right.

As I scrolled to the end of the article to evaluate its length, hundreds of comments — the kind you can’t look away from — popped up on my screen. “Women who leave good men are selfish!” said one woman. “This woman is frivolous and is setting herself up for future regret!” said another. The vengeance from the you-can’t-leave-a-good-man commenters grew with every woman who attempted to defend the author, whose story — as I later read — was eerily similar to my own: a young divorcee trying to make sense of her evolving life.

As I continued into the depths of the internet, the comments from these anonymous women started eating at the outer edges of my already broken heart. The ounce of relatability and validation I found from the author was suddenly buried in centuries of beliefs about life and marriage. No matter how hard I tried to push the comments out of my mind, they kept barging their way to the front, forcing me to listen.

While silly, the comments held weight for me. Growing up, I viewed marriage as black-and-white. It was done one way, and once the final word of your vows left your mouth, your job was to sacrifice a part of yourself because that’s what marriage is. Leaving was not an option unless you had good reason. Unless your husband was on drugs, cheated, or put you and your family at risk, you were to repress your emotions and unfulfilled dreams.

Listening to our emotions is, at best, almost as taboo as divorce, and, at worse, pointless and irresponsible. In order to be a productive and contributing member of society, we are taught to ignore emotions that distract us from fulfilling the status quo. You’re gay? Go to this special class to eradicate your truth. You want to leave your good husband because of a feeling? Get stronger so you can move the rock that’s lodged up inside of you.

While coming out of the closet and divorce are very different experiences, the religious and cultural undertones in both feel similar—they tell us to ignore our truth to stay on the righteous path. If we just wish and pray hard enough, God or some other divine being will relieve our demons.

I laid sleepless in bed that night, dissecting and unraveling this unfortunate social construct. Should I have done more therapy to silence the voice inside me — the one relentlessly telling me I was in the wrong marriage? Is this really my only shot with a good man? The more my mind twisted and turned, the angrier I became at society and its invisible set of happiness-slaying rules.

The you-can’t-leave-a-good-man women argued it was better to be with a good man, even if he wasn’t the right man. In other words, it’s better to lie to yourself and your husband about your feelings, because leaving a man sweet enough to get down on a knee is not only life’s greatest risk–it’s life’s greatest sin.

I remember writing this out and almost marveling at the irony. I had more love and respect for my husband than just about anyone else in my life. And thankfully, I had just enough love and respect for myself to understand how tragic it would have been for both of us if I didn’t honor my own feelings. Because if I didn’t honor my own feelings, I would be lying to myself and my husband, which felt far more like a betrayal than leaving.

I’m not naive to the fact that there are trying times in every relationship and that most husbands and wives want to strangle each other in their sleep, sometimes for years at a time. Yet people stay for two reasons: the core of their being wants to stay — to keep trying no matter how frustrating it is, or they’re too afraid to stand in their truth and sacrifice all that comes with that. We either sacrifice a life we are okay with, or we sacrifice ourselves. Too often, we sacrifice ourselves.

The biggest lesson I learned from my marriage and divorce is that the truths we feel deep within us stand the test of time. You can hide them, you can try to work through them, you can lie to yourself about them, but they will eventually beat you down so hard, you’re forced to surrender. And when you surrender, you grant yourself a free pass to be selfish. And sometimes, to leave a really good man.

30 year-old divorced, ex-corporate marketer from Seattle trying to avoid being a cliché writing about my bumpy path towards doing wtf I really want to do.

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