Contained Chaos AKA When Your Marriage Ends Just One Month After the Wedding
Let’s just say that the prospect of writing this has induced a lot of panic and anxiety. Unfortunately, that panic and anxiety is minimal compared to the last year of my life, or even more so, minimal to the reaction I have when someone asks me about my wedding, about married life…
I wrote a longer version of this about three months ago but have been hesitant about sharing publicly, so I’ve decided to release an abbreviated version from my grasps and into the scary world of the Internet. I want to share this for a couple of reasons: first and primarily because so many of you have been such an integral part of mine + C’s relationship and lives over the last 5–6 years. And for that, I cannot thank you enough. And the second reason stems more from a place of preservation: I am asked about, or congratulated on, my wedding multiple times a week, and each time I gently try to break the news, and then attempt to save the other person from embarrassment (which I’ve given up on).
So, with a deep breath, here goes…
The person I married has been of my favorite people in the whole world. We made each other laugh. We were in love. We were really cute, and left notes for each other every day. We even had a file for love notes in our filing cabinet. I say all of this in past tense. It’s not that I no longer love this person, but after 5 really important years of my life, we are no longer in a relationship, and I am definitely not married.
Let’s jump back one year.
Reading Note: please keep in mind that I use gender-neutral pronouns for both C and F throughout. So when you see “they/them,” know that it’s the singular form of the word, as a pronoun.
January 2016: We were happy. We were engaged. Our communication was golden, and we talked about everything. One topic of conversation that came up pretty regularly was nonmonogamy: something we’d been talking about for 3 years, but decided to hold off previously since we never wanted to use it as a patch to “fix” anything. By the end of January last year, we felt really confident in our relationship, and decided to give nonmonogamy a shot. Not because we weren’t in love, not because there was anything wrong with our relationship, and not because we were hesitant about getting married.
March 2016: C and I traveled, something we did brilliantly together; we slept on a boat, our hearts melted over radical art, we traipsed new cities. C also started kissing people. I hadn’t wanted to date anyone who lived in the same city as us, but I traveled to conferences and C didn’t — so that wasn’t fair. And to us, this was about equity. Feelings of jealousy and curiosity began to emerge, and I felt so many emotions ranging from compersion to frustration with my jealousy, to excitement.
April 2016: My feelings of jealousy weren’t waning, and I knew that jealousy was a normal feeling just like any other. I asked that C didn’t kiss anyone or go any further with anyone until we had the opportunity to sit down and write our ground rules, our working agreements (can you tell I’m an educator?). C thought that was a good idea, and I thought we were all set. It was around this same time, though, that they told me they were feeling like they were out of control. This was very uncharacteristic, but I wanted to talk and work through it, and support C however they needed. A few days later, C asked if I was okay with them staying out all night. I told them I was, but felt weird about it. I figured my anxiety was unwarranted because I trusted C with my entire being, and knew that we had worked tirelessly and with endless conversations to build a very deep foundation of trust and honesty. I’m going to spare you the painful details, but when they got home that morning, I found out they cheated on me. I was hollow and pained. But I forgave C, because I knew that this shattering of trust was so uncharacteristic. The next day, we went on a hike, sat in the woods all day, read The Ethical Slut, and wrote down our boundaries and what each of us needed.
After the feelings of trust began to rebuild, and after many raw, in-depth conversations, we decided to try dating someone, F, as a couple. It was very rooted in lust, and no one expected to fall in love.
End of April — August 2016: We continued dating F, and there were definitely bumps in the road, but overall it was incredible, unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. Yes, we had our triad, but we also each had individual relationships: C and myself, C and F, and F and myself. F was dating other people during this time, and C was hooking up with other people. I had found myself in a place of insatiable satisfaction with C and with F, and it felt really good. It wasn’t easy, though. It took an immense amount of work, communication, and honesty.
At some point during the development of each of the relationships, C began experiencing the feelings of jealousy and of FOMO with F and myself. We discussed remedies, and checked in regularly. C also began to feel like the amount that F loved them wasn’t enough; it was beginning to feel a semblance of unrequited emotion to them. The thing is: you can’t force falling in love, and quite honestly, you often don’t have much of a say in it.
During this same time, C and I were visiting the doctor to discuss their top surgery, gender transition, and also the deep depression that they were falling in and out of. And, reminder: we were planning a 110-person wedding. Where we were getting married.
So super quick recap of the first 6 months of 2016 — C proposed to me, we opened our long-term relationship, C came out as trans* and decided to transition, we were planning a wedding, we both fell in love with someone else while also being in love with each other, C fell into depression, and C decided to quit drinking alcohol. No big deal, right?
September 2016: Our wedding was in t-17 days. But that was on the back-burner. During the 9th month of the year, C’s depression increased exponentially. C started having regular panic attacks after they quit drinking. They kept forgetting that I liked them, let alone loved them, and conversations were painful. It was awful to see the person I love with every piece of me hurting so badly, and not being able to do anything about it. Throughout all of this, C, F, and I were talking, checking in, and doing lots of listening.
t-1 week ’til wedding: Had coffee with C + F that morning, and it was great. We all went our separate ways: F and I went to our respective jobs, and C was headed to the doctor to discuss lost meds.
Later that day, I get a call from C that they’re being admitted to an in-patient psychiatric ward. Stunned, I left work and headed to the doctor’s office to ride with them to the hospital. In a nutshell, the hospital (MedStar Washington) was horrendous. Very transphobic. Very harmful. Very overcrowded. The suicide watch room was the same room as the homicide watch room — a very narrow room with beds only separated by curtains, just feet apart. After nearly 12 hours, they secured C admission to the psych ward. During this time, F had come by with food, clothes, and books for C. We were both introduced by C as their partners. And, miraculously, at 2:30am, we were both permitted to join C in their doomsday walk to the psych ward. I say doomsday because it was the most stereotypical, gross psych ward that you could ever imagine. It was through the basement, up back elevators, and through an enormous, heavy door with one million locks. No windows, old garage sale pictures, and no phones or shoelaces. C has food allergies and is trans* — you’d think that both of those things would be really simple for a hospital to accommodate. Wrong. After 29-hours, C pleaded for release, as it was more harmful to remain in that toxic space.
I picked them up, and we discussed next steps, and even the options of postponing the wedding. C didn’t want to postpone the wedding. A wedding felt stupid to me at this point. It felt like such a small blip in the world when bigger things were happening, when I was terrified for my partner’s life, when my partner was hurting emotionally, mentally, physically from the self-harm. When I was worried about C’s health and safety, a wedding seemed, bluntly, really dumb and self-absorbed. Unnecessary. We decided that it would be good to see people we love, to be around supportive, incredible family and friends. And to celebrate our love for one another.
A few days later, we packed up to head to North Carolina for the wedding (f*&! HB2). I asked C that they wait to begin antidepressants until we returned so they could consume them under the care of a psychologist — which they didn’t have at the time. On the first day of the drive, C told me and F that they’d decided to start taking the antidepressants on their own, and they’d already been taking them.
The wedding was everything. It was beautiful. It was perfect. It was the day I got to marry someone I love with all of my being. I read this to C during our vows:
“I fell in love with [your] courage, [your] sincerity, and [your] flaming self respect. And it’s these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that [you weren’t] all [you] should be. I love [you] and it is the beginning of everything.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
We danced, we lit things on fire, we sang really loudly, and our favorite people in the world traveled from across the country to support our union, our love, our commitment. To this day, I could not imagine anything better.
Following the wedding, C and I departed for our magical, whimsical New Orleans honeymoon. We ate too much, had a really bizarre and disjointed tarot reading, got matching “aid and abet” Tom Robbins tattoos, we listened to soul-moving jazz, and we wandered aimlessly — excited with the world. There was a moment of discomfort when C expressed jealousy that I’d asked F to be my boifriend, despite their blessing (the jealousy was not attributed to the sharing of me, but because C wanted that with F). We talked and C told me they were supportive, but just needed to figure out how to work through it. On the last night of the honeymoon, I was drunk and C began having flashbacks to their suicidal moments; it was awful. I couldn’t deal, they couldn’t deal. . And, we got into an argument because they told me that I wasn’t their type, and I was heartbroken. It was something they’d told me in some capacity for 5 years, but for some reason, I thought that after we got married, I would magically become their type. I thought I would be good enough. I put them to bed; we had an early flight back home the next morning.
Back in DC: Things began to spiral back into the same old patterns of depression, panic attacks, and anxiety. C kept “going away”, as they called it. There was nothing I could do, and I am so uncomfortable in my skin when I have absolutely no control to fix anything. But this wasn’t my battle, despite what it felt like. F and I were trying to help C on our own, C still didn’t have a psychologist, but was beginning to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed somewhere on the bipolar spectrum and past relationship PTSD.
One day, C and I got into an argument about grammar (we each have our sides of the story, and I’ll spare you the petty details). I got frustrated and snapped at them. C got angry and stormed out, canceling our plans for the evening. Hours later, I get a text from C. They were drinking. After about 100 days of alcohol sobriety. They refused to tell me where they were. They said they were safe. They told me we couldn’t be each other’s safe space. I was frozen, panicked, scared…I cancelled all plans, and set out to find a plan to make sure C was really safe. C wouldn’t answer my calls, and I was so worried. I reached out to F, and to C’s friends in case they heard anything. It was getting dark. Finally, F heard from C and went to find them in the woods. C had drank an entire bottle of whisky, and was practically face-down in the river in the woods. I get chills thinking about what would have happened had C not drunkenly told F where they were. F pulled C out of the river, got them upright, and induced vomiting to try and sober them up enough to leave the woods. I was receiving word of the situation piecemeal, as F was able. C kept saying that we shouldn’t have gotten married, that they didn’t want to see me, didn’t want to talk to me. I didn’t understand. What was happening? Why? C told F that they didn’t want me to come home. I was appalled, and decided to go home regardless. My person, my spouse, my partner nearly died, and all I wanted in the world was to hold them and tell them it would be okay. To feel C’s skin, and see that they were really alive with my own eyes. At this point, I had been spending every single day for weeks worried that I would walk in our front door and find them dead. It was a nightmare, and all I wanted was to see that they were okay with my own eyes, and whisper in their ear how much I love them. By the time I arrived at the house, C was still drunk, and still didn’t want to see me. They had dissociated at this point, and kept telling me that they didn’t want me around. The next morning they thanked me for coming home.
Friends came over to be with C when I couldn’t be there. C wanted to see me, then didn’t, then didn’t know what they wanted. I was so confused, and I know they were. What was happening? Why? My heart was splintering each time. I was breaking. I was hurting, and in pain, and embarrassed. And I knew I wasn’t alone: C was in pain, they were hurting, and they didn’t know why they were feeling that way. They didn’t know when they would “go away” next, and I can’t imagine the fear and panic that comes with that.
October 2016: A week goes by — C asked me to come home from work. I leave immediately in a panic, and text them the whole way home about baked goods in an effort to keep them present. When I got home, C was in bed. They’d withheld from self-harm, fortunately. They hadn’t eaten all day, a habit they’d taken up since quitting alcohol. They probably would have fallen down the stairs due to lack of sustenance had they tried. I cooked them food, and tried to make the house really comfortable. Shortly after, they confessed that they’d planned on breaking up with me and F that night. The only reason they didn’t drink was so the breakup wasn’t discredited, they said. I was stunned. What? Breakup with me? We just got married? C said they realized they didn’t really want that. They didn’t mean it. C told me how much they loved me.
The next day, C had a psychiatry appointment. They were weekly now. I checked in, and offered to leave work to have lunch and talk. They accepted, but told me they had an errand to run first. We met in a public space, and abruptly they said, “I’m leaving you. I took $1,000 out of our joint account, and I’m leaving you.” Instinctively, I began to cry. I was frozen. What was happening? Why? C got up to leave. They told me it was over, reiterated. It was very mechanical. I realized I couldn’t let them go off on their own for fear of their safety. I followed at a distance. I called their friends, their mom, their psychiatrist…. C purchased a slice of pizza and a bottle of whisky, and I followed them right back to where F had found them in the woods near the river a week earlier. C kept saying things to push me away, to make me leave, but I wouldn’t leave until I was sure that they had someone to stay with them. C has amazing friends, and about 5 people came down to the woods in the middle of a Friday afternoon to ensure that C was okay. Later I discovered that they had dissociated. Again.
I stayed with a friend for the weekend. F stayed with me. I woke up crying every day, and was afraid it would never stop. The tears became relentless and itchy. And I became more and more anxious: what would I do if C was really leaving me? Didn’t we just get married? How could I afford our home? I began searching craigslist for apartments that I could afford on my own, but that were big enough if C decided to move in. It was the only tangible thing I knew how to do; everything else was out of my control. From what I heard, C spent the weekend drinking, but wouldn’t speak to me. I had no idea why. What was happening? Why? What had I done? I knew this was the mental illness, the depression, the alcohol but I still struggled to understand. (Note: I’m still struggling to understand…) At the end of the weekend, I went home to sleep in my own bed after verifying that C was still staying with a friend.
Late that night, I heard a key in the door. C came in drunk. They were apologizing for everything. Over and over again. I was scared. Some time had passed before I noticed the self-harm. F and I told C that we were taking them back to the hospital. But a different one. I wouldn’t wish that first hospital on my worst enemy. C agreed. I could tell that they were not entirely present. By 2am, we were at Sibley, the hospital. Once we were checked in, we realized that they were a significantly more comprehensive hospital. The in-patient care ward had windows and a menu for C’s allergies, there were heated blankets, and I was allowed to bring a plant. By 7:30am, F and I were home again. I don’t know how I would have done any of this without the support from F. I don’t know how I would have stood sometimes, how I would have driven myself home from a psych ward, how I wouldn’t have lost my own mind. This was so painful. All I wanted was for this person I love so deeply to be safe, and happy, and healthy.
A week went by, and C stayed in the hospital. Sometimes they introduced me as their wife, and I couldn’t figure out if they remembered that they broke up with me. They told me that they remembered, but they didn’t mean it. I told them I had gone to see an apartment. I was scared. I was acting mechanically because I was so afraid to show my true feelings for fear of them running, or hurting themselves, or “going away.” This led C to telling me that it felt like I was their nurse. Probably. I was perpetually asking about their sleeping habits, their food intake, their visitation. I was doing everything I could to remain upright, to be present. It felt fake, and that felt awful. It felt like I was doing everything wrong. I was so angry, and so hurt, and so confused. I didn’t know which of the things they’d said to me to believe. C told me they wanted to keep dating, and I thought that was a good idea. They told me that upon their release, they wanted to move out to avoid falling into the same patterns. That was difficult to hear, but seemed valid. We spent the one-month date after our wedding in the hospital. We didn’t acknowledge it.
C’s first night out of the in-patient care unit, they spent the night at home with me — just me. We watched movies, we talked a little, we slept. Really hard. C told me how good it felt to be home, to be with me. They told me it was hard to move out, but that they had to, for now. We cried. We sobbed. We held each other — even if a bit hesitant.
November 2016: C kept living with our friend. They decided to start paying rent to her. They looked at some houses with me — places I could afford on my own, and talked about maybe moving in with me one day. They talked about our future kids, they introduced me as their wife, they called me their partner.
They told me I seemed distant, and I confirmed that I felt that way. I still didn’t know which of the things they said to me were true — did they drink to deal with my anxiety? Were they not really in love with me? Did they think I talked too much? Did they think I was too controlling? What was real? How much was said when they were present?…when they were drunk?…when they were dissociated? I felt pushed away. I didn’t know what was real, and it felt like me deciphering C’s words and deciding one thing was true, but not another stripped C of their own autonomy, which didn’t seem fair — C is an amazing person who deserves to feel whole and respected. But C didn’t know what was real either. And that was scary, for everyone.
At this point I was very slowly dating C, working to rebuild all that was broken and lost and crumpled. C and F were not dating, as F needed space, but wanted to be friends. C was drinking again. We were going on dates. They purchased a plane ticket to come home for xmas with me.
Then, they decided they didn’t want to see me on thanksgiving — our holiday. They stopped wanting to see me as often.
We were texting every day. We went on a date where we flirted, and they introduced me as their wife, and called me their partner, and the date felt really good. The distance started to feel like it was closing. We kissed a little, we hugged a lot, we decided to see each other again soon.
December 2016: The next time we saw each other — I was hanging out with a friend that day, an acquaintance, someone I hadn’t seen in nearly 10 years (let’s call them X). I didn’t want to tell X that C and I weren’t living together, just 2.5 months after getting married. I was sick of hiding from people, I was sick of avoiding people because I didn’t want to tell the story. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to exist in a perpetual state of vulnerability. It hurt, it was hard, and it still felt really confusing. (Disclaimer: every time I say it is/was hard for me, that doesn’t discount how much strife and pain and difficulty that C was also going through; I can just only speak from my perspective…) I was nervous to even go on this friend-date, and every time X asked about the wedding, I answered matter-of-factly, and changed the subject quickly. I didn’t lie, I just didn’t say we weren’t living together, because it just doesn’t feel socially acceptable to say “we just got married, we don’t live together, but we live in the same city.” End. I understand that it’s my own perception, but I felt like I had to explain. And I hated explaining: it was draining, and it was hard as fuck. And I had been doing it constantly. I had been asked about it multiple times a day nearly every day. And I was tired. I wanted to hang out with a friend who I probably won’t see for another 10 years, without exposing the vulnerable rawness of the last 6 months.
X and I were meeting C for a beer, then C and I were going to go separate our stuff from our house, finish moving and packing, and clean for inspection. On the way to meet C, I texted them that I hadn’t told X that we weren’t living together and that I didn’t want to talk about it. They seemed upset and confused. At one point, the 3 of us were sitting at the bar, and C mentioned moving, and how their friends didn’t show up to help. I told them I didn’t want to talk about that right now. I had told them I didn’t want to tell this near stranger the story of our life. Of our pain. Of the hurt. C was outraged. They began to cry in the bar. C stormed out. I followed, immensely confused. I hadn’t intended to be hurtful. C wouldn’t let me explain. They wouldn’t answer their phone.
C told me they weren’t coming to the house to help separate, clean, and pack; that it wasn’t their responsibility. They broke up with me. Again. Via text. I began to sob. I called friends to ask for help. There was so much to do. I spent the next 48 hours at that house until 3:30am each night, moving in the frigid rain. I was so, so angry, still confused, and too busy moving to be sad.
On Monday, I went into work late since I’d spent more than half the night moving. I was sent home sick with a cough that turned into an infection. I asked C if we could talk, and they told me I could call, so I picked up the phone. I told them how confused I was, that I didn’t understand what had went so, so wrong. I reminded them that the last time we’d hung out, it had been great. I cried. C listened; they also cried. They told me that they were sorry for ending our marriage first in Dupont Circle, then via text. They told me I didn’t deserve that, but that they thought we had become unhealthy for one another gradually. They told me they thought F and I had something really good, and they wanted me to hold onto that. They told me they had to choose themself. To work on their own jumble of things. I said that I supported C’s self-care; I reiterated that my priority was for C to be safe, healthy, and happy. That is so, so important to me. I love C with all of my being, and they are such a good person, and deserve everything good. I didn’t understand, it didn’t feel real. C told me that they didn’t think we should talk for a while.
Over the next couple of weeks, we texted anyway. C told me they liked it. That they missed me. We kept texting. We were still very much not together, though. F spent days waking up to me crying, consoling me. C told me they were happier. Healthier. I appreciated that despite how painful it was to lose a relationship with someone I love.
January 2017: I asked C to disconnect our bank accounts. I asked them to tell a friend that they broke up with me. I asked them to untangle our phone bills. They didn’t do any of it, and that felt really disappointing, and I felt let down. I felt frustrated. I felt abandoned. C didn’t show up to pick up our pup on the day they told me they would. They went on a date in the neighborhood I work in, where they never hang out. It all started to feel even more awful.
And then, to put the topper on the cake (no pun intended), C started dating someone (which, if they’re happy and healthy, I absolutely support) but without ever telling me. How did I find out? Well, without giving me any sort of heads up, they listed themself as in a relationship with someone on Facebook. We have 350 mutual friends, including my family, so I found out through a barrage of phone calls and text messages — some from people who didn’t even know our marriage had ended. And I found out that my mom had spent an entire morning crying when she saw it. It would have been respectful and thoughtful to tell me, especially since we’d been talking fairly regularly up until this point, and they never mentioned it.
The thing is, I am still working up the courage to tell a lot of people that my marriage ended after a month, and my relationship ended after five years. I am still trying to find words. I am still healing and trying to understand.
It is still so hard, and it hurts, and some days I find myself slumped on the floor in piles of clothes I’m giving away because they remind me of my ex. My ex. That’s something I haven’t said yet. Definitely haven’t said it outloud. It splinters my heart, and it illicits unwanted tears. I understand that C needs to take care of themself, that they need to figure out their needs in this hugely transitional journey they’re embarking on: of leaving a half-decade relationship, of leaving a triad, of understanding their mental illness, of figuring out sobriety or not, of figuring out their gender and transition, and it isn’t going to be easy. I will always love C. Always. I just can’t do it from within. I don’t think it’s healthy for either of us. Not after everything.
I’m still dating F. And I am incredibly happy with them. That doesn’t cancel out all of the other emotions I feel, varying on a day-to-day basis, but I am in love with someone who is strong, who is brave, and who is unconditionally supportive.
I was recently thinking about the Marina Abramovic performance piece, The Lovers: the Great Wall Walk, and it feels very familiar. It hits home in a way that I never expected it to. In the piece, Marina and her partner, Ulay, decided to make a spiritual journey that would end their relationship. Each of them walked half the length of the Great Wall of China, starting from opposite ends, ending their journey in the middle, together, only to dissolve the relationship and depart. I realized that mine and C’s wedding felt like M + U’s Great Wall of China, except we were in the smoky Carolina mountains with bonfires, folk music, and bbq. It feels like our wedding was a beautiful culmination of our relationship; a celebration of 5 years of love, adventure, discovery, wanderlust, surprises, of fritter and bushcrack, of softness, of support, of new cities, of C making me laugh every day, of communication, of a little family that will never be paralleled in the same way, a celebration of finding a person with whom I fell into mutual weirdness and called it love, #twochickensinlove. I won’t ever regret marrying C, and I don’t regret our beautiful, messy relationship that fell into a place of semi-contained chaos. I believe you should give your all to the people you love, as long as you are remembering to take care of yourself in the process.
“Each time you love, love as deeply as if it were forever / Only, nothing is eternal.” — audre lorde
I have found myself in a cycle of hurt, mourning, healing, guilt, relief. Repeat. But, I have the best friends and the most extraordinary community I could ever imagine. People who are supportive no matter what, who say the right things, even if they’re difficult to hear, and who don’t judge me. This whole healing thing is going to take time, and I am going to learn how to do it in exactly the way I need. But there will be a learning curve. And I still cringe every time someone congratulates me on the wedding, then lose all words. I am slowly working to find those words again. To write again. To find me.
Right now, I dub 2017 the year of taking care of ourselves. Do it for you. Stand up for what matters, be loud if you want to, satiate your curiosities, and indulge in your pleasures. Think of the people you love, and take care of your community. We’re in this disastrous world together. And, please, please — be gentle with yourself.
[Note: both C + F read this, and are comfortable with me sharing. Originally written: January 2017.]