A draft for a letter I’m thinking of sending….
Dear Black America,
In the midst of what is for you the joyous occasion of the inauguration of the first black president of the United States, I’m really sorry to have to write something that I know is going to hurt you. It’s the last thing I would ever want to do. But I’ve been thinking about it for a long time now, and there’s no getting around the truth.
You know it and I know it. Our marriage is not working out.
I want a divorce.
I have not come to this decision lightly. When we married, we promised to stay together for the rest of our lives, “till death do us part.” And I’ve taken that vow seriously through all these years, and tried ceaselessly to fix what was wrong with me to try to make you happy. And then, there are the children, who didn’t get to choose their parents and now will have to suffer from our failed marriage. But you know, sometimes, a marriage is just so impossible and so hurtful to everyone that there’s nothing left to do but cut your losses. I’ve decided that’s what I need to do.
I’m not playing the saint here. I wasn’t a saint at all. It was I who started things to begin with. I seduced you and took advantage of you, and I forced you to do things against your will. It was terribly wrong and there’s nothing I can do to fix the way I hurt you. True, that’s the way everyone did things in those days. I did try, in my own way, to treat you well…. Well, I don’t need to remind you what happened after that. We got into a situation where the only honorable thing to do was to offer to marry you. I gave you the option to get out quietly, but you said no, we were together and you meant for us to stay together, and so we were married.
We never got along completely peacefully, but I think that, at least at first, we both tried to make it work out. You asked me to teach you about what was in all those books of mine, so you could improve yourself and so we’d have more in common to talk about. And I think we were both pretty excited about the progress you made, at first. I tried to get to know your interests, too, and really came to appreciate your charms and your talents and your own special kind of wisdom. We went places together, and we helped each other out in all sorts of ways. I thought things were going pretty well there for awhile. Even you have to admit we had some good times.
I always tried to be good to you, and I think I did many things to help you. But I admit, despite my best intentions, I could sometimes be abusive and violent and cruel to you. I didn’t mean to be, but I was. I was used to being in control and I felt threatened when you challenged me on it. Oh, you provoked me often enough, and nobody can be meaner than you when you want to be, but I’m not going to use that as an excuse. I take responsibility for my own actions. I eventually managed to get myself under control, and I thought you’d forgiven me for the past and that we had an understanding now of how to settle disputes between us. And we had a period where I thought we got along pretty well. Don’t you think so?
Well, it came as a shock when you came out and said you were miserable and that I was still mistreating you just as badly as before. You wanted us to be equal. You wanted an equal say in how our household was run, you wanted an equal share of our possessions and prestige. Well, I was completely shocked because I’d always figured the arrangement we had was what was best for both of us. We weren’t completely equal, but each of us had his own sphere of activity and it seemed to work smoothly most of the time. But what could I say if that’s what you wanted? I believe in marriage as an equal partnership; I don’t want to keep my spouse under my thumb. So I promised to devote myself to making our partnership into an equal partnership.
Well, I believe I have done the best any person could do to meet your request. I’ve had myself analyzed and re-educated; I’ve apologized and renounced my acts; I’ve been punished and rebuked. I cut off ties with those relatives of mine who didn’t accept you; I sent money and gave my help to your relatives across town and invited some of them to join our family. And I never lost faith. Every time I tried something new, I believed that this time, you would be happy.
Instead, I’ve ended up the victim in an abusive relationship. First there is the physical abuse. I just never know when you’re going to lash out and hit me or worse. There’s been some sexual abuse too, I’m sorry to say. Then there is the psychological abuse. You are constantly talking about our past and how I’ve mistreated you, and I’m starting to realize that you’re exaggerating and making up things that aren’t even true. And you’ve made me a stranger in my own home, talking about me with your friends and telling the children lies about me to get them to side against me. Then, when I draw back from you, you get teary-eyed and sentimental and tell me I need to understand you, that if we both just try a little harder we can get along. Something about you is so sweet when you cry to me like that that I begin to believe what you say. But now I realize it’s part of the way you manipulate me.
And I don’t know why it’s only recently that I’ve noticed you never say you love me?
I have to be honest with myself. Living with you makes me miserable. I’ve given up my friends, my hobbies, even my values and beliefs, to try to make you happy. But it’s just not working out. And I’ve realized that it never can. You know why? We are just naturally different. We don’t fit together, spiritually, intellectually, or physically. And we really have known it all along. I’m not saying this to put you down. You are a wonderful person. But you need to be with someone else, not me. And the same is true for me. If I stay with you, I seriously feel it is going to destroy me.
What I’ve said may be very hurtful to you. So though it may not help any, I want to say that I care about you very much. We have been together for a long, long time and our lives have been changed forever by the experience. In some ways, we know each other better than anyone. I value the good times we had together and all the things you have taught me. It is a cliché, but I sincerely hope that we’ll be able to be friends, once the pain of separation has subsided. We like and care about many of the same things, and sometimes we really enjoy each other’s company. And I assure you that if you ever need help in the future, I’ll do anything in my power to assist you.
I want to be friends. But I don’t want to be married to you anymore. I want a divorce.
Please try to understand.