Some couples live their relationships out loud paying no mind to the rest of us. They fight in public and replay the highlights to their barista while ordering morning coffee. When they end their union and part ways, only a few ask questions. Only a few are surprised.
The rest of us, we keep our downward spirals close to our vests. In better times, venting to a girlfriend leaves us lightened and laughing. In worse times, survival mode kicks in. The shock of our failed reality stunts our fingers from texting our sisters and dialing our mothers. And what would we say? We don’t know where we are, how we get here or where we’re going. We can’t begin to map it out for others. So we stay quiet and do our best to get through the day without indulging in the total breakdown we deserve but can’t afford.
Inevitably the clock strikes midnight, the dance is over and it’s time to face what’s ahead. We sit down friends and family members relaying our plans of separation and divorce. The neutral sound bite the newly separated offer as explanation is light and holds no weight. Our words evaporate quickly leaving loved ones scratching their heads. “What happened?” they ask each other trying to put together the pieces of our shattered puzzle.
“What happened” is the most common question asked when a couple breaks up. It is impossible to a answer.
It’s natural to wonder and speculate. If someone wants to share their point of view on their relationship they will. If you have to ask, that’s a clue you should keep your curiosity to yourself. Don’t worry; you’re not missing anything. There isn’t one detail, one piece of the puzzle that will crystalize everything into clarity. Relationships are unique, always changing and morphing and their very nature is even experienced differently between the two people in the relationship.
There isn’t one singular truth to “what happened,” but there is one truth within all break ups. People who separate and divorce are unhappy. One or both of them are so unhappy they have decided splitting apart their family is preferred to their present state.
I could relay every detail of my relationship with my ex from our first kiss in 1996 through the day a judge declared our marriage null and void in 2012. A marathon discussion that at its end would still not answer the unanswerable question. The starting line of “what happened” and the course it took shifts in my mind. Dates, places, names, indisputable and verified actions are facts. The rest is subjective, fuzzy and gray. It lives in our imperfect memories and it varies, at the mercy of our present mood, the generosity of our spirit at any given time and our last interaction with our ex.
Even if I pick a starting line, brush aside the salacious details and years of tension, factor in facts, untangle the could haves and should haves and squint through the fuzzy fog of gray my outlook, my story, my “what happened” is only mine. My ex has his own rendition. His recollection, his experience, his truth is only his. And his “what happened” will likely always vary from mine. We each have our own version and only one truth we can agree on; together we were two very unhappy people.
Unhappy people often break up. That’s what happens.
Freelance writer exploring divorce, parenting, relationships and women’s issues with honesty and a dose of dry humor. Published in The Huffington Post Divorce, Women and Parenting sections, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Scarymommy, Esme, Good Housekeeping, Philly.com, The Good Men Project. Redbook, [...]