Do you think he ever loved you? I get this question a lot when people hear my marriage story. It’s often followed by, Do you think he did that to you on purpose?
I got married on March 10, 2002, at the Royal Palms Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. I put in five thousand, my parents put in five thousand, my husband put in five thousand, my husband’s mother put in two thousand, and my husband’s father put in three thousand, with a promise of two thousand more if we managed to seat him as far away from his ex-wife as possible for the entire event.
Why such a fancy place? Because that’s what my husband wanted. I had always thought that if I ever got married, I would have my wedding at my parents’ house in Minnesota. We would have a white tent in their huge backyard, which was really ten acres of manicured woods, and I would walk down a deer trail that my dad had cleared himself. We would party afterwards with kegs of beer and a local band who would humor my family’s penchant for karaoke.
Not that I complained about the string quartet.
Six months into this marriage, my husband started acting oddly. I should have known something was wrong on our honeymoon when he spent the whole first morning looking for a Wells Fargo bank where he could make his mortgage payment; I should have also realized that he used the money we received as wedding gifts to pay that mortgage. When the most easygoing man in the world complained about cat hair on a pile of clean clothes and the way his house reeked of pot roast when he came home at night, I had to ask him what was wrong. He retrieved a brown paper grocery sack from somewhere in his closet, stuffed with receipts and unpaid bills. By the time I finished going through it, I saw that he was seventy thousand dollars in credit card debt.
And he didn’t have a job. He’d been pretending about that. He’d been pretending about a lot of things.
Of course I gave him all the money I’d made from selling my own house; that’s what you do when you’re married. I was proud of the fact that I made enough money to cover all of our expenses, and that I eventually got his interest rates down from 22% to 1.9 by transferring all of his debt into my name. I found him a job working first as a groundskeeper, then as a convenience store clerk. And I did smell up the house with pot roasts sometimes, so I wasn’t perfect myself.
I was decidedly imperfect on the day he called to let me know he’d been fired at the convenience store for selling alcohol to a minor, because that was the day I told him to pack his clothes and get out. It came a year and a half after the grocery-bag-full-of-debt incident, and capped off several months of my pacing the house, asking myself, Am I in, or am I out? If I was in, I would have to let go of my resentment and love him the way I’d promised to. If I was out, it wouldn’t be fair to him for me to hang around being angry. Countless times I was in. Only that one time was I out.
I had given him a Valentine’s Day card the week before: before he got fired, before we separated. On that last night, as he was packing, I remember him walking slowly by the kitchen table where I was sitting and sliding the card in front of me, open to where I had written “I love you.”
“What about that?” he said, pointing to my words. I didn’t have a response.
Divorce proceedings would last over a year and end the day before we were scheduled to join the 1% of married people in Arizona who actually have to go to trial before they can get divorced because they can’t reach an agreement on anything. I couldn’t fathom putting more of my life on hold to spend more money to get rid of this man when I had absolutely nothing more to lose except if he was granted the spousal support payments he wanted, and half of my retirement. Did I want to settle? Hell yes I wanted to settle.
So when people ask me now, Do you think he ever loved you?, I still really have to think about it. When we were dating, he would make me a drink and have it ready when I got to his apartment on Friday nights. He bought me the same bedding that Carrie Bradshaw had. He found and printed out all of Steve Martin’s columns in The New Yorker for my 35th birthday. We’d play cutesy sometimes early on, his Dr. Evil to my Mini-Me. With evidence like that, yes, I feel that he did love me, at least when we started out.
But did he take all my money on purpose? Did he search for me online—that’s how we met in the year 2000, when I was a paying member of Match.com and he had a free trial membership—and plan to drain me? I don’t think so. I always say to whoever asks that I think he got caught up in a financial mess and turned desperate. The last complete sentence he ever spoke to me was, “I have to watch out for myself now.”
He was only doing then what I do now.