After hearing the news about Bill and Melinda Gates getting a divorce, and their reasons – the couple said they no longer believed they could “grow together” in the next phase of their lives – I immediately thought back to a time prior to the existence of iPhones, TikTok, and even before the Kardashians were splashed all over our screens.
It was a frigid Saturday in January 2007. I found myself in New York, at a bar waiting for a guy who had made a halfhearted promise of joining me for a cocktail or two. As I waited for him to arrive, I spun around in a denim miniskirt and somehow picked up a new dancing partner who pumped up his shoulders and elbows in equal measure as we cut shapes to Justin Timberlake, Fergie and other bubbly hits from the noughties.
Consumed by flirty conversation and my latest Corona (the ultra-light beer and not the horrid pandemic that would arrive 13 years later) I barely noticed the text pop up on my flip phone that my previous bedfellow was bailing. My life changed forever that evening. Because of one guy’s cancellation, I’d unwittingly found my future (now, ex) husband.
We were filled with youthful optimism and wide-eyed curiosity. Together, we thought we could conquer the world. We were navigating two disposable careers during an economic depression; surviving subsequent layoffs, summers of hurricanes and cohabitation in a hotel room for the better part of a year. We also both lost our fathers – his to a heart attack and mine sentenced to the penal system for the next 30 years.
After nearly a decade together, we thought we had weathered the storm of our twenties and could enjoy the next ten years with relative ease, but life had other plans. The tipping point in my relationship came after we had been living in London for a handful of years.
Work consumed most of our waking lives, and when we were together, we weren’t particularly pleasant to be around. There were fundamental flaws and things that were said and done, as well as words I will never repeat, let alone say aloud. As the years bounced by, I became a shadow of myself. I wouldn’t allow myself to consider a separation – God forbid a divorce – and instead chose to simmer in misery.
I don’t know what happened with Bill and Melinda, but I do know that I relate to the idea that I could no longer see a future with my husband. Maybe I was already nearing my boiling point, but during a colourless autumn afternoon, someone asked me if I wanted to spend the rest of my adult life “devoid of happiness”.
Considering that I was in my early thirties, I had a long way to go – but that one comment flipped my whole perspective. I realised there was no pleasure in being stoic and it was time for me to let go. After endless battles, nothing was going to change, and I could choose the path set before me – or try to look for happiness.
Many seasons have come and gone since my husband and I separated, but today, we have a happier and healthier relationship than we ever had when we were together. My grandma continues to hound me about us giving it another go, and online dating continues to drag on – but I wouldn’t change our shared experiences and the closeness we’ve endured through the years for anything.
I’m done apologising for my marriage not working out. We’re now great friends – we hang out and laugh at each other’s jokes, but we know we’re better apart than together. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.