Further to my comments last week on Conservative proposals to repair the ‘broken society’, I am moved to take an opportunity to seek catharsis with regard to my own past. Those of you of a nervous disposition might wish to look away now…
I’m a bit of a poster child for how not to get divorced, and in the week when the last remnants of the breakdown of my relationship with Rachelle are finally swept away, I thought that it might be a good time to reflect on the events of the past fifteen or so years, in the hope that my words might save others from the fate that befell us.
In fairness, I don’t intend to allocate blame, one of the key messages I hope to convey. In hindsight, gloriously 20:20 in this instance, the writing had been on the wall for some time, and I was simply too blind, and in too much self-denial, to read it.
I fell in love with Rachelle gradually over a period of about a year, although with astonishing naivety, I didn’t actually work out what was happening for most of that period. We didn’t see an awful lot of each other, she was living in Brussels, I in London, but ran into each other at international young liberal events. Eventually, Rachelle took the initiative (a decision for which I was subsequently most grateful) and, after a lightning romance, we were married (I consider that four months from consummation to marriage meets the criteria for ‘lightning’).
For some time, we lived together happily enough. We had occasional differences of opinion, but no more than most couples do. Then, Rachelle’s political career took off exponentially. She became involved in the United Kingdom chapter of Democrats Abroad, the overseas ‘wing’ of the Democratic Party, and rapidly climbed through the ranks until, within six years, she became Chair of Democrats Abroad Worldwide, and with it a member of the Democratic National Committee. As Chair, she achieved more than any Democrat Abroad had ever done, attaining a status never before reached and influence far beyond that of her State Party.
I loved the fact that she had made it all happen through her own efforts, and was incredibly proud of her achievements. I followed her around the world, from Japan to Guatemala, from Australia to Canada, attending events, smiling sweetly, shaking hands and saying nothing even remotely controversial to anyone who might possibly object.
Unfortunately, the cracks had already started to appear. Rachelle was on the road for up to fifteen weeks a year, meeting local groups, attending conferences and playing with the big beasts of US Democratic Party politics. Her priority was to focus on that role, and when not doing politics, deliver upon her work contracts, all of which left little time for our relationship.
Instead of talking about it, I ducked the inevitable argument which would have followed had I done so. And that was the beginning of the end. All that I wanted was to be loved (a bit, I’m not that ‘high-maintenance’) but as time passed, I rather gave up hope that it would ever happen, and consequently began to care less than I had. The glue of mutual respect that bound us together began to lose its adhesiveness.
To cut a long story short, Rachelle eventually returned from yet another trip, and announced that she was leaving, and that we should undergo a six-month long trial separation. In my usual hapless manner, and possibly stunned by the unexpected turn of events, I agreed, and blithely let her go. And that, dear reader, was that.
I’m not generally the emotional type, and as someone not entirely confident as to where he fits in, I tend to hide my feelings behind a mask of my own creation (thus, Faceless Bureaucrat) and play a role that doesn’t encourage too much deep analysis. And so I allowed my own self-doubt to contribute to the loss of a relationship which, at the time, mattered to me deeply, all for the lack of will to really communicate. It has been an expensive lesson to learn, in every sense, the knowledge from which I intend to apply for the rest of my life.
The divorce itself was uncontested, as I had no desire to fight to save a marriage holed below the waterline, although despite this, it took a year for the decree absolute to come through, ironically two days before polling day in 2005. As agent for our Parliamentary candidate in Dulwich and West Norwood, it was perhaps a blessing that news didn’t reach me for another six weeks…
Curiously, no effort had been made to initiate moves towards a financial settlement, and I maintained a naïve hope that all could be dealt with amicably and quickly. Two years of increasingly vitriolic exchanges later, two firms of solicitors had made an astonishing sum of money, I had blocked Rachelle’s e-mails after a pair of wild threats of legal action to have me evicted from the family home, and I was older, wiser, poorer and considerably more cautious than ever before.
Let me assure our friends in the Conservative Party that divorce is not always done lightly. When I married Rachelle, I intended it to be forever - I remain true to my Catholic roots to that extent, at least. And, no matter how unhappy I might have felt, I would have felt obliged to stay and fight to save it, had there been even the faintest glimmer of hope that I might be successful. We were lucky in that we were childless (by choice, I hasten to add), and that nobody was seriously hurt, apart from us.
And yet there was collateral damage. Friends sometimes felt it necessary to make choices as to who they would see, family had to deal with my urge to audibly rationalise what was happening, work colleagues had to endure the occasional mood swing. A divorce, especially one where the two parties have been together for some time, and have a plethora of mutual friends, can be difficult for those around them, and I suspect that it raises the odd doubt in the mind of other married couples (“Are we like them? Are we in danger of making the same mistakes?”) – sowing the seeds of doubt in otherwise healthy relationships.
But the worst aspect of divorce is the rather desolate sense of failure that it engenders. The most important thing in your life has been lost, and you become prone to a sense of drift and a loss of self-belief which, in my case, took about two years to overcome. For that, I thank family and friends, without whose love and affection I would probably still be a subdued, introverted soul. My Party colleagues, who showed touching belief in me at a time when I didn’t have that much in myself, finished the reconstruction rather nicely, to the point where I can look into my future with hope and confidence.
Yes, divorce does come with tangible costs, and the Conservative Party, and Iain Duncan-Smith’s policy commission, are quite right to say so. But the intangible costs of keeping families together in a state of shared misery, are just as real, just as significant, and just as worthy of consideration. When you’re dealing with the emotions, you must always look beyond pounds and pence, to the psychological health and well-being of individuals, and I’m disappointed that a Party suddenly claiming to first believe in, and now care about, society cannot apparently see beyond the impact on the public purse…