This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
I’ve been divorced for a few years now. I’ve been dating people on and off, but you could say I’m stuck in the daily routine of life—I go to work, I hang out with friends, or I work out. For the most part, I’m happy. Every once in a while, though, when I’m driving home from work and I take the bridge that used to take me to the home we made together, or when a certain song comes on, I’m reminded of my ex wife. I get overcome by this awful feeling of missing her. It’s not sexual—definitely not—it’s more similar to how I miss my kids, except not quite as bad. She feels a lot of anger towards me and the choices I made, though. So, I very much doubt she ever misses me.
I was 23 when I met my now ex, 25 when I married her, and 27 when we had our first kid. Looking back, I realize that I hardly had the mental capacity to make big life decisions then—and yet we did. At first, I would say things were going well. We did a lot of silly but important things together, like we’d watch movies or TV shows that we both loved, we’d bond over music, or we’d cook together. We had sex probably twice a week at that point. But then twice a week turned into twice a month, and even less. And then, at one point, it completely stopped. We went without sex for two years.
Eventually, she decided to get pregnant and the sex started again. Once we conceived, it stopped for another two years, and it went on like this—sex only to conceive and nothing beyond that—for the rest of our marriage. For me, the loneliness and depression got so bad that I would cry myself to sleep silently every night. And in my misery, I’d imagine her reaching over and touching my shoulder to comfort me, and I often think, now, how different things might have been had she ever done that. But she never did.
So, my options at that point were to either cheat or get a divorce, and I didn’t want to leave my family, so I decided to cheat. It was with someone who was in town on business. She was also in a sexless relationship. We spoke for a few hours in person, and the next day I drove to her hotel to have sex with her. That drive was terrifying. My father was a cheater and I never wanted to be like him. But when it was done, I didn’t feel bad. It felt like the people who were vowed to us wouldn’t help us with our pain, so we had to rely on strangers. Since that drive to the hotel, nothing scares me. I’m not afraid like I used to be.
Over the course of the next two years, I cheated on her with 19 people. She found out because I broke my “rules” for someone—I made an exception and I let things get too far. When I tried to call things off with her, she went all Fatal Attraction on me. After she threatened to tell my boss about the affair and have me killed, she emailed my ex wife and told her everything.
We tried therapy and my ex temporarily moved back to her home state. She went to one therapy session with me, and I continued going alone for quite a while; I guess she thought this was my problem to deal with and she was blameless. I decided to stop cheating and to focus on fixing our marriage, and things went back to somewhat normal for a few months. She got pregnant a third time, and then the sex stopped again. I’d come home from work and go to give her a hug, and she’d put her hands on my chest and push me off. I’d try to snuggle her at night and she’d kick me off and complain she was hot. If you’ve never had someone you love so much you’d die for her do that to you, well, let me tell you, it’s the worst f**king feeling in the world.
Eight months into that, I met a woman who was a swinger. We knew and trusted each other, and there was mutual attraction. It seemed like a safe way to meet my needs without getting emotionally involved. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of leaving my iPad at home for my son to play with one day, while I was at work. During the course of the day, I was texting with this woman about where to meet, and all the texts were also going to the iPad. So I got a call at work from my wife, and that was it—the end.
She had told me the first time around that if she ever caught me cheating again, it would be over. I went home that day and she said she wanted a divorce. I’m not one to play games with people, so I agreed to it immediately. Later on, she asked to move back to her home state with our kids, and I let her do that, too. Sometimes, I regret it. My kids are so far away now. I see them as often as I can, but my ex is engaged to this guy who is so racist and just—has totally different values—and I’m so afraid that my kids will pick that up. Although, they’re sharp as hell.
To be honest, more often than not during our relationship, I felt like she was trying to sabotage our marriage. I did something bad, yes—I self-medicated. I found other people who were hurting, and we provided each other adult company. I didn’t cheat because I had some inherent drive to cheat; I did it because I was in pain and I desperately needed affection and human contact. I realize how pathetic that sounds and I really don’t miss how miserable I was back then.
But every once in a while, I miss her as a person. I miss eating ice cream with her and watching some nerdy show. I miss hiking with her or singing along to songs with her in the car. I really miss the home we built together. I miss being parents to our kids with her—we were different, yeah, but we really clicked where it mattered: on values, morals and how we treated people.
I’ve never told her how I feel. Divorce is hard, and there are times when it doesn’t feel right. There are times that I really regret not waiting until the “cool down” period to decide on the divorce, too. But I just have to believe that we made the right choice, and I have to move on.
Read more Craigslist Confessionals here. To share your story with Helena, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at email@example.com.