By Hannah Renee Paasch
I didn’t leave him.
I probably should have.
I didn’t leave him when, the day after our wedding, as we roadtripped back home, I had to pull into a gas station on the side of the road, sobbing and shaking, because his verbal attacks caused me to have a panic attack behind the wheel. Trying to catch my breath while my trembling fingers gripped the wheel, I told him I’d never be able to drive with him riding shotgun again. He drove the rest of the way.
He drove for the next year and a half.
He drove us into the ground.
I didn’t leave him when he abandoned me to get high and drunk with his best friend in a strange town on our honeymoon, leaving me to contemplate the life-altering choice I’d just made on somebody’s roommate’s mattress on a cement slab. “I’m afraid I made a mistake,” I scrawled nervously into my journal. I spent the rest of the night searching deals at local hotels and spending my rent money on rooms where we could stay together alone. He was angry later that the rent money was gone, and I apologized profusely while trying to explain that I had kinda wanted to, you know, have a honeymoon. The seeds of guilt and shame were planted that day, and lord, did he water them in the months to come.
I didn’t leave him when my baby sister came to live with us after coming out as bisexual and he told me, behind closed doors, that her presence was the cause of the unrest in our relationship and that it was my responsibility to get her to live elsewhere. When he told me, months later, that he didn’t approve of her choices and believed, in spite of leaving the church himself, that she was still condemned for being in love with her girlfriend, I wept…
…and I stayed with him.
I didn’t leave him when he told me to get new dreams—when he warned me time and again of the perils of professional musicianship and told me, point blank, that if I ever wanted to support myself as a singer I’d probably have to sing backup for the rest of my life. When he decided that my closest man-friend and co-writer was a threat to him, personally and musically, he wore me down until I realized that I would have to pick: my husband, or my friend.
My present, or my future.
I didn’t leave him when the birth control made me try to kill myself—when the last vestiges of my sex drive withered away and still I pressed on, determined to make the only sex life I’d ever had a success—determined to please him, even at the expense of my own emotional and physical pain. I didn’t leave him when he blamed me for my lack of passion—when I couldn’t talk myself into sex fast enough to assuage his fragile ego and he would turn away from me in disgust before I could muster up the ability to make him feel loved and desired. I would lie in bed and pretend to be asleep, silently pep-talking myself into doing it for the sake of his pleasure and our marriage. Slowly, the sexual tension turned into outright rejection, as he began to refuse to even try meeting me halfway, while continuing to blame me for our constant state of frigidness.
I was beside myself with grief and shame.
Little did I know that his own unquenchable appetites had been fed by a sex addiction that he kept so well hidden that his intuitive young wife never even suspected that his needs were being met elsewhere. Little did I know that all those nights I was locked out my own bedroom and out of my office he was spending glued to the computer screen for hours—hours daily—getting off on watching somebody who was not me. When I asked him later how he kept it from me so completely, how he managed to lie so seamlessly, his immediate response was, “Practice.”
I didn’t leave him after all the nights I spent sobbing on the front stoop, utterly spent from begging him to tell me what I could possibly have done to make him stop loving me, why he resented me in his space, why my very presence was a blight on his otherwise carefully controlled life.
I didn’t leave him after I took a job I didn’t want to support us financially while he went back to school and endured his constant berating for every cent I made and every cent I didn’t. I didn’t leave him when he failed several of those classes, those precious classes I was working 55+ hours a week in order to give him the privilege of taking, because “studying” was apparently code for “pornography.”
I didn’t leave him when he canceled our marriage counseling without warning me. I didn’t leave him when he canceled or walked out of every one of the dates we had planned to reconnect with one another.
I didn’t leave him.
I didn’t leave him, even when he signed a lease on his own place the morning after our first anniversary date—
Even when he texted me halfway through my workday, as I was pushing a double stroller around a local college campus, “Let’s get divorced,” and I collapsed into a sobbing heap on the concrete—
Even when he blocked me on every form of social media and began a new life that did not include me—
I did not leave him.
And yet… it’s my fault. Because I’m the bitch who refused to keep her life on hold while being rejected by the one person who swore to love her and stand by her forever. I am the one who printed the divorce papers; I am the one who made him sign them. I am the one who sat him down at a Panera and quietly informed him, after listening to him vomit up all the ugly truths he had kept from me throughout the entirety of our life together, that I was filing.
I never left him, and yet it was my responsibility to finalize the deed that he had all but finished: leaving me.
When #maybehedoesnthityou started trending on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, I saw my own hellish marriage reflected in so many of those online confessions.
Maybe he didn’t hit me, but… he made me question everything that I thought I knew about love and family and home.
Maybe he didn’t hit me, but... he threw things close enough to me to make me think he could.
Maybe he didn’t hit me, but… he locked me out of the rooms he was in at home and then shamed me for leaving to go find people that liked me.
Maybe he didn’t hit me, but… he taught me to believe that I was ignorant and irresponsible and unworthy of respect.
Maybe he didn’t hit me, but… he stole my youth and my joy and what little energy I had left to hope.
Maybe he didn’t hit me, but… he left me—and left me to pick up the pieces.
These are the things that cause a starry-eyed, 25-year-old bride to walk into a Tennessee courthouse, eyes blinded with the tears she didn’t have the energy to hide anymore, and file for divorce.
Still there are people who believe I should have stayed. Stayed where, I’m not sure, as there was no home to sit and wait and wish in anymore. There are still those to whom emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment and unfaithfulness are not enough. Unless he hits you, it’s not abuse. Unless he has an affair, it’s not unfaithfulness. Still others don’t even think neglect and abandonment are “good enough” reasons to get divorced. What a “good enough” reason would be to them, I don’t know. How many years would they want me to “hold on,” to “keep the faith,” before they would be satisfied that I had done my best to honor my vows? How many years of my youth would they want me to waste away waiting on a man who preferred a computer screen and his right hand to a relationship with me? Ten? Twenty? Would I prove my steadfastness then?
There are more things that kill a marriage than mistresses and bruises.
No human being is a monster. I recognize this. We are all capable of monstrous acts, and surely some of the blame is mine to bear. I should never have married him in the first place. I should have listened to the spark of intuition in me that said, Not yet. Too fast. There were times I let my anxiety and depression get the better of me and became withdrawn, unable to open myself up to him for fear of the emotional rejection that had grown all too common. There were times I let my shame keep me from seeking help.
But I wanted to stay. I would have stayed. I was all set to live out my days beside that man.
I have no moral or nice lesson to tie up the story with. In many ways I’m still in the thick of the grieving. But the truth it its own sort of salve. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
Maybe he didn’t hit me, but he made me ashamed to speak my truth.
And now, I am taking that back.
Hannah Renee Paasch is the co-founder of The Flawless Project and lives in Nashville, TN with the future first female pope and four ridiculous cats. Hannah is also a nanny and the frontwoman of local feminist-blues-rock ‘n roll outfit Ida Grey, whose work can be found here.