Michael was 22 when he married Suzanne, 21. Michael met Suzanne while they were both in college. He had the lead in a play; she was one of the crew. They were married for two years before they divorced.
Q: How did the romance develop?
A: It was never a romance. It was just sex. We had a phenomenal time in bed. We'd get stoned and it was unbelievable. After a year of this, we got married.
Q: Why did you want to get married?
A: Because I was about to enter the army as an officer and I thought I would be going to Vietnam. I wanted to get married before that so Suzanne could live with me on the army base before I went overseas.
Q: Did you love her?
A: Funny you should ask. On the way to the marriage ceremony, my father asked the same question, and I got mad at him.
A: The truth is, I never asked myself that question. We had great sex. I was young and I didn't think too much about the future.
Q: How long were you married before things didn't seem to be working out?
A: I was so preoccupied with the army that I didn't even notice if things were working out or not.
Q: What did Suzanne do while you were busy with the army?
A: First of all, I ended up getting sent to Germany, not Vietnam, and she got a job as a librarian on a base.
Q: So what went wrong?
A: What went wrong was that I withdrew...
A: I was depressed and conflicted about being in the army and I was all bottled up inside of myself. I didn't have the ability to communicate.
Q: So what did she do?
A: She started developing a friendship with the civilian son of the post commander. He was into yoga, acid, and was a real free spirit. The three of us spent a fair amount of time together. He was kind of my oasis from the army.
Q: What do you mean by, "She started developing a friendship"?
A: Well, maybe this seems stupid, but they seemed like they had a very compatible, platonic relationship, and I didn't suspect anything. I was just pleased that she seemed happier than she had been. I had been feeling guilty about the fact that I was so preoccupied with myself and wasn't giving her any attention.
Q: Didn't she say anything to you about not getting attention, about being lonely?
A: She never said it directly; she just talked about hating being an officer's wife, about feeling that there was nobody around here who she could relate to. I think she also understood that I was pretty miserable and conflicted. I guess I should have noticed something was wrong, because we rarely had sex anymore, and that had been our main connection. I think we were both pretty depressed.
Q: So when, and how, did the two of you realize that things were really bad?
A: For me, after it was too late. This is how it happened. My wife and I had just made love, and we were having a deeper connection than we had had in a long time, and I was talking about how I wanted to resign my commission, and she was being very supportive. Then there was a knock at the door, and I put on a robe, and answered the door, and it was Peter. And he said to me, "Michael, I'd like to talk to you." So I said, "Sure, come on in." It wasn't uncommon for Peter to just show up in the evening. So I said, "What do you want to talk about?"
He said, in an uncharacteristically serious way, "I love Suzanne."
I know this might sound strange, but I was so unsuspecting, that I answered by saying, "So do I".
So he said, "No, you don't get it. I love her and we have been lovers for the last few months and we've decided that we want to go away together."
I was in a state of shock. It was as if my whole world suddenly collapsed beneath me.
Q: What did you do?
A: I called for Suzanne, and she came out, and I asked her, "Is this true? Did you plan to go away?" She just nodded.
A lot a time has passed since then, and it is hard to remember what I felt and what I did. I only remember being totally numb. I didn't yell. I didn't cry. I just remember being immobilized, not knowing what to say. Later on, I felt betrayed, lied to, cheated, but at the moment, I didn't feel any of that - just shock.
One moment your life is one way, and the next moment it's turned upside down. I had no experience that I could draw on here. I never knew anyone who had been divorced, and I never assumed that my wife would have an affair with a friend of mine and leave me.
Q: So what happened?
A: She left with him.
Q: That night?
A: No. I convinced her to stay, so we could talk about this. Her whole demeanor changed. Five minutes before Peter came, we had been very intimate with one another. I can only assume that she must have felt very guilty. The way she expressed it was by becoming cold and distant. All she could say was, "I don't love you anymore. I love him, and he's the person I want to be with, not you."
And I kept saying, "But we're married, shouldn't we work on this? I realize that I've been wrapped up in my problems, but shouldn't we work on this?" and she said, "He's the one I want to be with, not you."
Strange as it may seem, I never lost my temper. I think a part of me felt like I had pushed her into this.
Q: So when did she finally leave?
A: The next day.
Q: What did you feel?
A: An overwhelming sense of emptiness. I called in sick and I went to a lake and skipped stones and tried to make sense out of this. I must have done that for hours, when I began to realize that I had never loved her, in part because I didn't know what love was. I had been feeling like it was not fair, that I was betrayed, and then something clicked for me, and I realized that I was responsible for my life. You know, I didn't want to spend my time blaming them; I wanted to find out who I was, and try to take charge of my life.
Q: So what did you do then?
A: I decided to leave the army. That's a long story, but I succeeded. And I started to meet women again. Let's just say I became alive again. And I learned an important lesson - that the circumstances of your life don't control you. We can learn to grow out of painful experiences.
I look back now, many years later, and see this as the beginning of my growing up.