Lindsey and I met on Tinder in June of 2014 and immediately hit it off.
As is the case with most online connections, we started with your typical introductory questions:
"Do you smoke?" she asked me, explaining it was a nonnegotiable. Although I wasn't sure if she was referring to tobacco or drugs, I had never smoked anything so I was in the clear.
"Do you have kids?" I questioned, noticing a young child in her pictures and wondering if a baby daddy was involved. I was relieved to hear the photos were of her nephew.
Things moved quickly from there. Messaging turned into exchanging numbers. Exchanging numbers turned into becoming Facebook friends (where - let's be honest - the real digging starts).
Our first date was 5 days later. One month later I took her on a family vacation. Ten months later we were engaged. And in the fall of 2016, we were married (#TheySwipedRight).
Despite my attempt to be brief (and comical), understand that our marriage started off amazing.
We aligned philosophically on everything - from religion to politics to everything in between. We listened to the same music, loved our baby kitten (Sophia), had a penchant for Dunkin Donuts, liked each other's families, and - most importantly - enjoyed the same television shows (House Hunters and Stranger Things being two favorites).
Lindsey and I complimented each other very well. She took care of the things I wasn't good at (e.g., cooking, decorating, fixing stuff) and I handled the tasks she didn't like (e.g., paying bills, planning activities, laundry). I taught her about Iowa Football and she taught me about Snapchat filters. From every indication ... we were the perfect couple!
However, in 2018 - when I began my job as a superintendent - I started putting in more hours into my job than before. I went to work early in the morning and didn't return until early evening. And when I was home, I was reading, writing, and building my website. While "doing work" sounds depressing, the truth is I enjoyed putting in these hours. I was extremely motivated to perform my job at high level, and felt deep satisfaction by knowing I was improving every day.
On the other hand, Lindsey was the type of person who needed time together. While she would never be described as "needy," Lindsey expected more from a marriage than a once-a-week date night or watching a quick episode of the Trailer Park Boys before falling asleep. With "quality time" and "physical touch" being her top love languages, Lindsey needed me to be more present in our relationship. Rather than focus on on my laptop screen, Lindsey needed me to focus on her.
The longer our different mindsets continued, the further apart we grew. Every couple months, Lindsey would muster the courage to bring up the elephant in the room.
“So what’s your deal?" She asked. "Why don’t you like me any more?”
"I do like you!" I responded.
"So why do you spend so much time working?" she questioned. "That's all you do."
"Because this is what motivates me! Working hard gives me a sense of fulfillment," I told her. "I wish you could understand..."
"Well I wish YOU could understand that you need to make a little more time for your wife," she said.
We had these conversations every few months for a couple of years. Each time we would discuss ideas to meet each other's needs; me spending more quality time with Lindsey, and Lindsey being more understanding of my personal endeavors. For a brief period, we would do better. But after a few weeks we would fall back into our regular routines.
The COVID lockdown of 2020 did us no favors. One might think being forced to spend two months together would bring us closer. But in reality, the situation only magnified our issues. Whereas Lindsey saw the quarantine as an opportunity to finally focus on our marriage, I saw the quarantine as an opportunity to do two things I had always dreamed of: write a book and start a podcast.
By this point, we were living separate lives. My days were spent in the basement while Lindsey occupied the living room. When we finally did come together at dinner, few words were exchanged. And at bedtime, she remained in our bed while I started sleeping in the guest room.
"What are we doing?" Lindsey asked one night at dinner.
Playing dumb, I looked up from my phone and said, "What do you mean?"
"We're just roommates!" She explained. "You never want to spend time with me. All you care about is your work, book, and podcast."
"But I feel like this is my purpose - this is what excites me when I wake up in the morning," I explained. "Besides, you know I'm always willing to hang out at night and on the week-"
"That’s not what I need, Jared!" she interrupted. "I need someone who will make me feel loved at all times, not just when its convenient for your schedule."
"I do love you at all times," I answered. “We just have two different mindsets. Whereas you need my full attention and want to spend lots of time together, I need my independence and don't mind being apart. And to be honest, I'm not sure either of us is wrong. I just think we're ... different."
"You're right," she said with tears in her eyes. "We're different."
Finally, in April of 2020 we called a lawyer. We were filing for divorce.
"So that's it?" you may be thinking. "You gave up just like that?"
Please understand that the full unraveling of our marriage took place over the course of a few years. Whereas I could have written a whole book on our relationship, I tried to summarize our differences in a few short paragraphs.
And before I go any further and get myself into trouble let me be clear: marriage should be viewed as a life-long commitment and by no means am I advocating for divorce. I feel terrible every time I think about breaking the promise I made to Lindsey in front of family, friends and - most importantly - God.
But let's be honest for a moment: Odds are, half the people reading this post have already experienced divorce or will experience divorce at some point in their lifetime. And with lifelong learning being the focus of my blog, how could I not touch on the biggest event in my life over the past 15 months?
My story highlights the tug of war many school leaders experience in their marriages. Whereas ambitious individuals are eager to put in the work needed to move up the professional ranks, their spouses are eager to put in the work needed to grow a relationship.
While there are no wrong answers to the career versus relationship debate, couples must get on the same professional trajectory page. As I reflect on my failed marriage, I wanted to make our relationship work so badly that I avoided bringing up this potentially divisive topic. Little did I know avoiding these conversations would be a primary reason for our unraveling.
"This doesn't pertain to me," you may be thinking. "My spouse and I are completely on the same page!"
If you can say these words with genuine honesty, consider yourself lucky. Many leaders who publicly say they are happy in their marriage privately feel professionally hamstrung by a spouse.
"I would love to take this job, but my spouse doesn't want to move" and "I would love to get my masters, but my spouse doesn't think I have time" are two common justifications. Whereas some people are passionate about school leadership, their partners' lack of mutual enthusiasm makes these visions a pipe dream.
In full transparency, these conversations tend to happen more often with females in our profession. Often, aspiring female leaders feel held back by their husbands. Fearful that their wives will not be at home to manage the family (or make more money than them), husbands are lukewarm about their wives pursuing administrative jobs.
For anyone who feels held back professionally by a spouse, consider this quote by James Smith in his book Not a Diet Book:
"Sometimes your partner is creating drag on your progress. We need to be selfish in life and make ourselves happy. People all over are in unhealthy relationships but don't have the guts to call it a day and end it. There is someone out there who will support every aspiration you have in your journey so never settle for less. It's time to cut your losses on anything that's going to slow you down."
While Smith's stance may be a little brash, there are leaders out there who absolutely need to hear this perspective.
"I'm 39 and single. Something must be wrong with me."
These were the thoughts I had when I spent Christmas 2020 by myself. Quite frankly, being single during the holidays is brutal. There were many lonely moments when I questioned my decision to separate.
A couple weeks later I was at Barnes and Noble and came across a book called Single. On Purpose. by John Kim. I picked up the book and discovered the following paragraph:
"We must get rid of one of the greatest misconceptions about life, the idea that you can't be happy unless you are with someone. The truth is, you don't have to be in a relationship to be happy. Sure, relationships can bring you lots of joy. But a relationship is not required for you to be happy. It's not the only way to find joy in your life. Your happiness isn't contingent on loving someone else. That's something that's been programmed into you by movies, advertising, social media, and social norms."
Immediately, I felt a sense of relief by reading this paragraph. A month later, I picked up a book called Relationship Goals by Michael Todd. His book shared some similar ideas:
"If you're single, I'm sure many people and messages in this society have made you feel like you aren't enough without a significant other.... People at your church whisper when you come around, “She's still single? What's wrong with her?” Your parents keep pressuring you to hurry up and marry someone because they want grandkids. Being single can start to feel shameful. Your life seems incomplete or even like a failure. This kind of thinking can cloud your judgment until you find yourself rushing into relationships that don't suit you, settling on someone – anyone – just to satisfy others and calm your fears."
My purpose for sharing these quotes is twofold. First, for anyone else going through divorce, feel comfort in knowing nothing is "wrong" with you. There are lots of "normal" people going through similar experiences.
Second, look for silver linings. You might be alone, but what advantages does your situation bring? One of the biggest positives people discover is they have time to focus on themselves. Whether it's getting in shape, writing a book, going back to school, or reuniting with old friends, look at divorce with possibility as opposed to futility.
When I realized divorce was imminent, I began searching for information. Too embarrassed to ask any one individual, I completed a lengthy Google search. After two hours of searching, I was getting advice that was all over the map. Frustrated, I called a local lawyer and asked my most basic questions. While she did a great job of answering my questions - and eventually took on the case - much of what I learned about the process was self-driven.
In the paragraphs below, I share six of my biggest takeaways from divorce. With this being said, I again want to be clear that I am by no means attempting to glorify divorce. Plain and simple, divorce sucks. But understanding that half of you are likely to encounter this scenario, my hope is that the following information saves some frustration:
Amicable: If there is one key idea you get from this passage, let it be this: being agreeable with your ex is the most important part of the divorce process. Everything goes much more smoothly when you can talk through next steps and come to harmonious agreement. There was no drama, no fighting, and no hostility between Lindsey and I. We have all heard of horror stories about couples that get into knock-down-drag-out fights during the divorce proceedings. Act like an adult and divorce goes much smoother.
Lawyer: If you are cordial with your ex and can come to agreements on house, car, finances, and separation agreements the lawyer process is pretty straightforward. Whereas many couples get their own lawyers, we were able to hash things out on our own and go through a single lawyer. Our particular lawyer had a $1,500 retainer fee. The retainer fee covered most of our expenses. However, make sure to ask what the retainer fee does/dot not cover, as I realized that anything "beyond" the retainer fee cost $200 per hour. Again, couples who figure out solutions together save themselves lots of time and money.
Finances: One of the biggest questions I had going into divorce was how much I would owe Lindsey since I was making more money than her. I had heard horror stories about people having to give up half of their retirement - which scared the crap out of me as someone who is part of a lucrative public employees pension program. Although I don’t want to share all the details, my biggest takeaway was the amount of money you split is proportional to the length of time you have been together. Since we had only been together for short period of time (four years), the amount of money - also known as alimony - was fairly minimal.
Custody: Although we didn’t have kids together, we were the proud parents to two cats - Sophia and Zelda. Some people may laugh, but this was one of the toughest parts of the divorce. We agreed to let Lindsey take the cats, but while things were getting finalized I had "custody." You may be thinking "well they're just cats - who cares!" but something can be said for pets keeping you company when you suddenly find yourself alone at night. I can only imagine how difficult this process would be for people who have kids!
Communication: Lindsey did a great job about cutting the cord. Although we are still pleasant toward one another, she drew a clear line in the sand around communication. First she told me that we needed to stop texting. Then she unfollowed me on Snapchat. Finally, she unfollowed me (and many of my friends and family) on social media. To be honest, this was tough. Not that I "wanted her back", but it was hard to go from knowing someone for seven years to completely blocking them from your life. I'm glad that Lindsey was clear about communication, and would highly recommend other separated couples do the same thing.
Brace Yourself: “I’m seeing someone else.” I received this text while at work one morning. Even though the divorce was 90% my idea, this text still came as a surprise and literally took my breath away. I was bummed. "Did I make the right decision?” I questioned as I thought about her moving on. At first I felt a bit of jealousy. "Who is this guy!" I wondered. It's a strange feeling to think of your spouse having feelings for someone else. However, after the shock wore off, I actually was happy for her. I know that I had hurt her, and hoped that finding someone else would lessen her pain. With this being said, if you are willing to file for divorce, make sure you are mentally ready for the other person to start seeing someone. I have a feeling I reacted much calmer than most!
My divorce is still fresh, meaning that I still have a lot to learn from my situation. I may look back on this post ten years from now and think, "What the (heck) were you thinking!?"
However - as is the case with all of my blogs - I am hopeful that my "real-time reflections" resonate with readers and help them understand we all go through similar experiences.