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The 15-year itch: Separation and divorce from a man’s POV`
The 40-year-old Virgin came out in 2005, 15 years ago... feel old yet? I was 26 at the time. I recall this movie was hilarious.
Ten years ago, there was Crazy Stupid Love, another Steve Carell favorite. Steve Carell plays a middle-aged man thrust back into the dating scene after being told by his wife, played by Julianne Moore (to whom he has been married for almost 25 years), that she has cheated on him with a coworker, played by Kevin Bacon. She wants a divorce. Ryan Gosling swoops in to introduce him back to the dating scene.
Watching Steve Carell on the screen 10 and 15 years ago in these movies was truly hysterical. But they were still just that…movies.
Now I’m 41, recently separated, going through a divorce, and a I’m a dad of 2 beautiful girls. What happened?
Nothing as scandalous as an affair with Kevin Bacon. But what did happen is what I like to call 'the 15-year itch and glitch.'
It used to be called the '7-year itch,' but in my experience, and from what I hear from all of my friends, 15 years seems to be this magic number. Some of my finance buddies like to use the euphemism, a “capital event.” This event is often accompanied by a realization that maybe you and your partner are better off as friends. Maybe you are no longer “in-love”, but rather, buddies, good mates, pals if you will.
The thought that maybe marriage isn’t meant to be forever becomes a thing you actually start to think about. Maybe we have both changed from the people who met each other 15 years ago? People change. People grow apart. Even in the best of circumstances. So – are you supposed to push through or go your separate ways? That’s the tough call.
I was in a relationship for 15 years, married for 7 of those years. We have 2 amazing girls together, we lived the usual story, had my own successful businesses, strived for all the nice things in life, did all the holiday family trips, the cars, and all the usual material things that seem to become part of the daily grind. You know the drill. She was a stay at home mum, while I worked a corporate job trying to keep up with the Kardashians, I mean the Jones’.
You become ships in the night. The same old daily and nightly routines: get the kids up for school, go to work, come home, see the kids before bed, kiss your wife good night and go to sleep.
Your sex life is scheduled into your diary. Maybe you have sex once a week (if you are really lucky.) Often, it’s more like once a month. Or on your birthday. Ahahah fuck, that’s sad right?
Is this normal? You start to ask around to your friends. And you realize it is normal. I talk to a lot of my mates (if you haven’t noticed I am Australian) who say that this is their life. Many say they haven’t had sex in months. This is normal for them. Should it be?
I get it. The stresses of life, kids, and finances take its toll. I realize relationships and marriage can’t be in the honeymoon phase all the time. And I am not saying it should be. But you start to question the relationship.
And when you do have sex, the sex well.... it becomes the same old routine. It becomes a chore. Usually just a variation of missionary, and a tiny bit of foreplay, you both cum in maybe 2-5 minutes and fall asleep.
“Tick,” we get to check that off the list for a week or two or three.
I remember it like it was yesterday even though it was nearly 2 years ago. After we had sex (not love, sex), I thought “what was that.” No passion, no emotion, just robotic. I am not saying it’s anybody’s fault. It just is what it is.
Cue the sappy song “Love Lost” by temper trap.
Life and kids become a great distraction for a love that may very well actually be just that…lost. You begin to wonder if it’s just the kids and work and life stress. If we didn’t have kids and the job keeping us together - is this the person I would want to be stranded on a dessert island with? Is it really because life has gotten in the way, or did we simply grow apart?
We tried the date nights, but date night turned into conversations about the kids. We spent dinner texting the baby-sitter for updates. It wasn’t really a date.
We looked to distraction and not to each other. We even went to counseling. At the end of the day, you can either decide to stay in it for the right reasons or for the wrong ones. You wonder if your marriage commitment outweighs the unhappiness.
Now – here is where the true decision comes in. Most people resort to infidelity, cheating or scandals. Let’s be honest, this is the easiest way to deal with it. It’s pretty scary to disrupt the family unit and the safety net of your comfortable situation.
Rather than talk about it, what most people do is avoid it. So, you have to make the decision to consciously, and without the fear of the consequences, talk openly and honestly about our feelings. A lot of men and women are super scared to do that. Because it’s pretty complex. Start asking: could we navigate our way out of this and co-parent our kids together as friends? What would it look like if we had new partners? Did she still love me? Did I love her, did we both still find each other attractive? How will this impact the kids? And each other? These are super uncomfortable conversations.
It all starts with an honest conversation and in my situation a conscious uncoupling. I know Gwyneth and Chris made it a thing. But it’s actually been a thing long before they made it one. The idea of using the word 'uncoupling' to describe divorce has been around since the early 1940s. In 1976, sociologist Diane Vaughan created her “uncoupling theory,” and in 2009 Katherine Woodward Thomas coined the term “conscious uncoupling”and began teaching this alternative to divorce.
This book discusses an evolved way to look at relationships and teaches us to recognize our partners as our teachers, helping us evolve. And importantly, if we are to avoid repeating the same problems in the next relationship, it all starts with self-reflection and respect for everyone else involved. The goal should be that you gain enough self-awareness that you no longer have to do it anymore because you have found yourselve in a fulfilling, sustainable, long-term relationship.
Approaching your spouse and talking about it is hard to do I know. I’ll write more on that later. It’s not all peaches and cream like Gwyneth and Chris might make it sound.
It’s hard. It’s emotional. There have been some tumultuous times over the last 2 years, and it has been really difficult. She started dating a friend of ours (yep...woah!! Story for another time…). But, all-in-all I am continuing to navigate it. We are doing our best to remain friendly and co-parent like rock-stars.
Men get the bad rep of going through a mid-life crisis. If they do want to leave a marriage, then they are shrugging their marital responsibilities. Sometimes that’s the case. Sometimes it’s not. It’s not always wanting to run off with another woman. It’s owning up to the fact your relationship isn’t working.
So here I am. A single dad in my 40’s... now what?
Hint: I didn’t stockpile my drawers with condoms and hit the clubs. My mates and I would always joke about being single now, knowing what you know. We would laugh and think how amazing that would be. Then one day it happened to me. And yup, what I know now is a lot more than what I knew then. After 15 years of monogamy, who wouldn’t want to start playing the field to make up for lost time? Meh…sort of. Your perceptions on life and dating have changed. Or at least they should have changed (more on that male evolution later).
It’s all been pretty enlightening and I have a new found view on marriage, sex, dating, life, and divorce. I know this is a predominantly women’s website. But I hope you enjoyed a male’s point of view.
Photo credit: Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)