How looking at old photos can say a lot about your marriage and divorce . . .
I am one of those people who has always taken tons of photos, not only at special events and parties, but of my children. Even before cell-phone cameras turned everyone into photographers, I was clicking away with my camera and ordering printed photos online for years. That is why I have about 25 photo albums filled with pictures, not even including the thousands I now have in digital form.
Yesterday, I spent hours going through my albums to choose photos for a montage I’m working on for my daughter’s bat mitzvah party. What a wonderful, emotional trip down memory lane it was for me, as I had not looked at these photos in several years.
Included in the albums are photos of my ex-husband and me (obviously), which begin when we were dating. Oh, man, what fun we had. The photos made me smile, as I remember being so happy and in love during that time. My ex looked very happy, too.
Going through the albums, the happiness and glow appeared to continue in both of us during my pregnancy with our first child. I smiled and teared up, remembering how hard we laughed when he was taking photos of my extremely large belly. (I gained 50 pounds with each pregnancy.)
Here is where the story begins to turn. Fast-forward to photo albums from about three years before we decided to divorce. I can pinpoint the exact time when these photos were taken, my arms wrapped around my now ex, smiling, posing, and, in retrospect, trying to look and feel happy. Now tears sprang to my eyes for a different reason: In these photos, my ex looks very unhappy, uncomfortable, and kind of like he doesn’t want me touching him. And this wasn’t just in one photo, but in every photo from that point until the end.
His body language and face in all the photos of us together, from that point on, told me yesterday what I failed to see all those years ago when I fooled myself into believing we were happy: I don’t believe my now ex-husband was in love with me anymore. In fact, I think he was very unhappy for a long, long time before we actually got divorced. I am speculating, but I know it in my heart now.
Seeing those photos was so eye-opening for me. It was very surprising, yet part of me realized that I knew even back then how he felt but didn’t want to consciously admit it. When I looked at those photos for the first time (shortly after they were taken), I was focused on how the kids looked, how my hair looked, how good-looking my husband was. I didn’t see his unhappiness and lack of love because I didn’t want to. I wouldn’t let myself. Because if I did accept reality, I would have had to do something about it. We would have had to talk. My attitude was, “Just grin and bear it. You have young kids. This is a hard time for every couple, and things will get better.” I now realize he was probably thinking the same thing. Maybe I’m just a better faker.
Had I had the guts back then to let myself see reality, who knows what would have happened. Looking back at the marriage, I wish I would have listened more. I wish I would have been more considerate. I wish I would have been more respectful. And I wish he would have been more of all of those things to me. But these are the things divorced couples only figure out in retrospect. And some never do.
I told my girlfriend about looking at the photos. “I’m so sorry,” she responded. “Are you OK?”
I told her what makes me completely OK is, one, it was a long time ago, and, two, I am now in a relationship with someone who makes me feel more loved than I ever have in my life. Back then, I didn’t know that the kind of love I have now existed. The way my ex loved me seemed like the norm to me. Why be sad that a time in my life when I wasn’t loved is over? On the contrary; I should feel ecstatic that I am in such a better place. Still, to realize you weren’t loved is a very hard thing to accept.
So many people are shocked by their divorce. They can’t believe it is happening to them. Then time goes by, and they start to look back and see things more clearly. They start to see what they couldn’t see during the marriage.
Have you seen the movie 500 Days of Summer? It offers a perfect example. A guy and a girl (named Summer) meet and fall in love. They break up after 500 days, and the guy is miserable. He misses her. A couple months later, the girl calls and invites the guy to a party she is having. He shows up, thinking they are getting back together, only to find out she is engaged to someone else. She tells him gently that she is so sorry, that she cares for him deeply but she just didn’t feel with him the way someone in love should feel, and when she met her now fiancé, she felt it right away. The guy starts to think, and then the camera shows us scenes from the past that we haven’t seen before (because neither did he). The scenes show Summer’s body language: the way she let go of his hand, the way she kissed him. He didn’t want to see that she wasn’t in love with him. But after time went by, he saw it because he was away from it and therefore more objective.
Seeing “the real past,” I guess I’ll call it, hurts like hell. It makes us feel like crap, but we hope the feeling doesn’t last too long. The benefit of seeing “the real past” is that it helps us accept the circumstances of a breakup and let go of what might not have been true: “He left me for another woman,” “It was all his fault,” or “We fell out of love.” Accepting the real reason often helps us to move on.
In closing, I will choose to dwell not on the photos I saw of a husband I couldn’t make happy, but rather on the photos of the early days of our relationship, when neither of us could stop smiling and there was enough love for each other to create two beautiful children.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, I’d say a picture is worth a good year of therapy!
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