Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. In the past thirteen instalments we’ve covered everything from the effect of lockdown on divorces to whether they’re contagious and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one whose husband announced he was leaving her to have an open relationship with a 19-year-old and another who was quite literally ghosted by her own husband.
This week we speak to Claire, who couldn’t quite believe it when her husband broke up with her… and then the message disappeared.
“Do you want to take a walk on the beach?” asked Ben*. He and Claire had just had a romantic dinner, right by the sea on their first night away in Rarotonga. Two weeks earlier she’d turned 30, so the holiday was a birthday celebration/long overdue break. And something about the way Ben was acting, immediately made Claire feel suspicious – so when he stopped, and dropped to one knee she wasn’t overly surprised, but was thrilled.
They’d been talking about marriage for the last few months and 30 seemed like the time to get serious – they’d been dating since they were 21 and living together since 23 – and people had basically given up asking when the wedding was.
“We both knew it meant a lot to our families – and our friends really wanted a party!” tells Claire, but she says she didn’t feel like it was a complete must-do. “I loved Ben and thought we’d be together forever anyway, so I didn’t really need a piece of paper to prove that. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but we’d been together so long and were so used to each other that I felt like neither of us were going anywhere – we were stuck together for life now!”
So, shortly after her 31st birthday she walked down the aisle in front of her very proud and excited family, and her very proud and excited friends who couldn’t wait for the free bar to open.
“It’s true what people say,” she tells. “It was absolutely the best, most fun day of my life. Everyone also said that being married would feel different, and I wondered if it would, but it didn’t really make me feel any different. We went home to the same house, our cats, and life kept going on like normal.”
Generally, there’s was a good, supportive marriage, says Claire. They had shared interests, but then very different interests that they both enjoyed taking time out themselves to follow.
They bickered from time-to-time, mainly about money and most of the time they were short-lived arguments, but a few times they were nasty and ended with one of them sleeping on the couch.
They’d had a fight like that in January – nearly two years to the day that they got married. They’d both been strict with money, saving up for a house deposit, but they’d each recently had some financial blow-outs they hadn’t discussed with one another.
In late February they had a wedding to go to – the hen’s do was three weeks out from the big day and Claire spent the weekend on Waiheke, vineyard-hopping and avoiding getting too sunburnt. The next weekend, it was the guys turn. They’d rented two houses near Mt Manganui and Claire could only imagine how rowdy things would get.
He hadn’t been gone long before her phone dinged with a notification – she and Ben, inexplicably (because no one else they knew used it!) often sent each other pics and messages through Snapchat. They’d had a fun evening trying the crazy filters years ago and somehow had just got into the habit of using it to communicate. Ben had sent a pic of the view from the house, so she messaged back, “Looks good! How’s it going so far?”
“Pretty good.” He messaged back. She sent a good night message, then went to sleep.
The next day she wondered from time to time how Ben was going and had just got home from a late afternoon drink with a friend when her phone pinged. It was a Snapchat message from Ben.
She still had bags in her hand from some shopping she’d done earlier in the afternoon and juggled them as she tried to swipe to read the message.
First up, she was surprised how long it was – it easily fit the entire screen, in fact she might have to scroll to read it all.
It began “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.”
Her eyes began to blur.
She skipped over words but a few jumped out at her “I can’t do this anymore, I’m sorry.”
In a complete daze, she put her phone down, dropped the bags off her shoulders and kept blinking her eyes to try to focus. She picked up the phone, but the message had already disappeared. She cancelled out of the app and back in again to see if it was there. It had already vanished.
Shaking, she tried calling Ben, but there was no answer. She messaged him back, saying that his message had disappeared before she could read it properly, but she thought it might have said that he wanted to break up? What was going on? Could he please call her?
He messaged back, saying yes, he was really sorry to do it like this, but he couldn’t be with her anymore. This time she screenshotted the conversation so she could actually digest it.
“I was in shock,” says Claire. “My husband had just broken up with me over Snapchat. It was too insane to be real.”
She tried calling again, but this time his phone was off. She thought about calling someone – a friend, or her mum – but felt too embarrassed to go through with it.
“A big part of me just didn’t believe that it was happening,” she tells. “If I called someone and told them, it’d just be embarrassing when Ben came home, apologizing for the insane stuff he did while he was drunk.”
So instead, she curled up on the couch, watched trashy reality TV and tried to distract her brain, which was swinging from feeling as though the sky was falling, to being in complete denial and disbelief. She kept telling herself that everything was going to be fine, and Ben would be back tomorrow, and everything would go back to normal.
Except, when Ben arrived home, he didn’t come back with flowers or an apology. He slunk in, his shoulders rounded, and instead of unpacking from his trip, he started packing another bag. He was going to stay with a friend, while they “worked out what to do with the house”.
Claire felt numb. “I remember screaming something at him, like, ‘Are you SERIOUS? You’re leaving me? And you did it over Snapchat?!?”
Ben apologized about the way he’d done it – he’d been drinking – but he’d been thinking about doing it for months, maybe a year. “So, we’d only been married for a year before he started thinking about a divorce,” sighs Claire.
“I asked him why and to explain it to me more, but he just said he was sick of arguing and couldn’t do it anymore.”
All Claire could think about was that long, long message on Snapchat that she didn’t get to read. She asked him what it had said – he said he couldn’t remember – but she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“He obviously had quite a bit to say about it then, could it he only tell me when he was drunk? I’m sure he wrote it on Snapchat for a reason – so he could tell me how he really felt, but must have known I wouldn’t actually be able to read it properly.”
The hardest part of the whole ordeal, says Claire, was going to the wedding two weeks later. She thought about not going, but wanted to be there to see her friend get married. Another friend switched seats with her at the reception, so she didn’t have to sit at the same table as her ex, but the whole day was excruciating, and exhausting.
“He barely even acknowledged me and just got insanely drunk – laughing, dancing and running around with the other guys like he was having the best time,” says Claire.
But in the long run, it did end up helping. “The way that he has behaved since has been so immature,” she reflects. “That’s not the kind of man I want to be married to.”
Two years on, Claire is feeling hopeful for the future. “I mean, lockdown put a bit of a spanner in the works, but this month I signed up for Bumble – I think I’m finally ready to get back on the horse.”
THE DIVORCE DIARIES
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