Parting Ways

David Gartland

IN 1980, MY FIRST WIFE and I spent the Labor Day weekend with friends on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We went out for breakfast and I drank a lot of coffee. Our friends were planning a day at the beach. This is not a good idea for me because—being of Irish descent—I come in two colors, red and white. Either I look pale and sickly or I’m red as a beet. To avoid this latter state, I suggested they go ahead and I’d walk back to the house where we were staying. 

During this walk back, I came across a 1960s Porsche sitting in a repair shop’s parking lot. I stopped to admire it. I continued on my walk back to the house and began fantasizing about how cool it would be to own a Porsche.

At this point in our marriage, I’d begun my insurance career, while my wife was progressing in her career as a teacher for those with special needs. We were both finally making okay money. The caffeine was kicking in and my brain was racing. I began to think about how I could buy a Porsche. My thoughts led me to decide that, if we never had kids, our financial position would improve even faster, and that would lead to the car I now desperately wanted.

I kept the idea to myself on our ride back home to Brooklyn, as well as the next morning when we went to work. But on that Tuesday night, I decided to broach the subject with my wife to see her reaction. She went ballistic. The evening culminated with her walking out and never coming back.

My first wife was also my first girlfriend. We met in college when she was a freshman and I was a senior. We dated for the four years she was in school, and got married the September after she graduated. I was ready for “and they lived happily ever after.” But it was not to be.

At the time of our breakup, New York didn’t have a category of divorce which applied to us. My wife decided annulment was the way to go. I always thought if a marriage had been consummated, it couldn’t be annulled. She argued there was a defect in our relationship since I hadn’t told her before our marriage that I didn’t want kids. The truth is, I never thought about kids. I just wanted to be married to her.

She hired an attorney and filed the papers. It was an uncontested annulment since we had no children and few assets. Her lawyer asked if she wanted to sue me for legal and court fees. She said “no.” She was the one who wanted out, so she felt she should pay all the costs.

My wife also did this because she knew how important money was to me. My goal in life had been to get rich ever since my father died when I was age 15. I’d assumed that, because of his death, my mother and I were now poor. We weren’t, but the empty feeling stayed with me for years. Money was the answer.

My first wife was raised Catholic. She went to a Catholic grammar school and high school. I was raised Protestant, so a Catholic annulment meant nothing to me. But it was important to my wife, who I was still in love with. I didn’t want to prevent her from getting married in the Catholic church at some point in the future, so I cooperated with the priests and nuns who interviewed me prior to the annulment.

After the tape recorder was turned off, the priest asked me if I had any thoughts. To ensure my wife got the annulment she wanted, I proceeded to tell him my views on the Catholic church, which were not complimentary. I’m sure the papers were airmailed to the Vatican that day for approval. Mission accomplished.

My first wife went on to marry a Protestant (go figure) widow who already had kids, so she knew he’d be willing to have more kids. She eventually became principal of a public middle school in Massachusetts. She always demonstrated that a successful career was in her future, and I’m happy she got what she wanted.

I believe it’s important to pick and choose our fights. Financially, I made out better by not fighting my wife’s decision to divorce. Emotionally, it was a huge hit since it wasn’t what I wanted. But as the expression goes, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” and it did. I’ve heard many stories from others about how expensive their divorce was and how ugly it got. Because ours was an uncontested annulment, it didn’t cost me anything and it didn’t cost my first wife much.

I never did get that Porsche. Still, as a reward for the divorce ordeal, I attended the Skip Barber Racing School in Lime Rock, Connecticut. Some kids dream of being a baseball or football player. I wanted to be the next Mario Andretti.

After completing the program, I realized that a racing career wasn’t in the cards. One of my fellow racers owned a Porsche. He was impressed at how I “took this one corner” and thought I was pretty good. He’d never let anyone drive his Porsche, but he said he’d let me drive it around the Lime Rock race course. I finally got my Porsche experience—and it didn’t cost me a dime.

David Gartland was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and has lived in central New Jersey since 1987. He earned a bachelor’s degree in math from the State University of New York at Cortland and holds various professional insurance designations. Dave’s property and casualty insurance career with different companies lasted 42 years. He’s been married 36 years, and has a son with special needs. Dave has identified three areas of interest that he focuses on to enjoy retirement: exploring, learning and accomplishing. Pursuing any one of these leads to contentment. Check out Dave’s earlier articles.

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