You don’t know how soon you will land or what you’ll find when you do. In fact, you surmise, there’s a strong possibility that you may never land at all. Welcome to the world of divorce; a subject I know something about, having survived two.
I thought of those sad experiences recently after learning that a committee of the Philippine House of Representatives had approved an “absolute divorce bill,” effectively putting this predominately Catholic nation on the cusp of legalizing permanent marital separation. Currently, the Philippines is one of only two countries in the world that outlaws divorce, the other being Vatican City.
Let me confess something right up front: I have mixed feelings regarding the probable outcome of this modernizing process. Before you throw bricks, however, please hear me out.
My first divorce came after 15 years of marriage involving two children. Bored and unhappy, perhaps caught in the clutches of what some have rationalized as a “midlife crisis,” I made the unwise decision to have an affair. Long story short; my wife caught me and, quite literally, punched me in the nose. Then she threw me out of the house and, whoosh, the life I had known disappeared in an instant. In fact, that singular event marked the beginning of a decade as dark and long as the aforementioned pit.
The second marriage ended more quickly. After just a handful of years with an attractive young Filipina I’d married in Zamboanga and ferried to California on a spousal visa, she made a surprise announcement: that she had fallen in love with another man. This time I was the one who did the evicting and, voila!, found myself once again in that familiar black pit. This one proved shallower than the first, however; the urge to throw myself in front of fast-moving busses soon subsided and, well, I made the conscious decision to simply move on.
Which brings us to wife number three; another lovely Filipina with whom—after thirteen years of marriage, two beautiful children, and a clean karmic slate—I have managed to weave a wonderful life.
My point is that people change. I have changed. From shaky beginnings as an adventurer driven by strong hormonal impulses, I have evolved into a relatively stable and loving husband who—and this is the important part—truly values and cherishes the importance of family. And understands how easily those bonds can be frayed.
Which is one reason I have always admired the Philippines, where family is paramount and—at least until now—divorce not an option. Compare that to the United States, where automatic uncontested divorce is as close as the nearest courthouse, a destination towards which nearly half of all couples eventually tread.
Ah, but like all coins, this one has a flip side. Filipino couples separate too. Like Americans, they argue, disagree, and sometimes drift apart. Lacking a legal remedy, however, they are not free to move on; a reality that is often especially hard on women. I know of several couples where the husband has disappeared, leaving his wife to care for the children. Or, worse, stayed with the family, resorting to alcohol and/or physical abuse to salve his aching soul.
Anna Cristina Tuazon, a columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, expressed it rather well in a recent piece entitled Divorce Should Be an Option. “Not allowing divorce as a legal option,” she wrote, “is like not allowing emergency exits in a building… Imagine there’s a fire… and you were expected to keep managing the fire, not escape it. Imagine still a building infested with toxic mold that you were not permitted to evacuate…”
And so I have reluctantly surrendered to the flow of history and the inevitability of toxic mold. The Philippines, I’m convinced, shall have divorce. My fondest hope, though, is that never again will it darken my door.
Click here to receive “Expat Eye” weekly by email.
David Haldane’s latest book is a short-story collection called “Jenny on the Street.” A former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times where he shared in a 1992 Pulitzer for coverage of the LA riots, Haldane is an award-winning American journalist, author and broadcaster currently dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.