June 20, 2011

A second chance

‘SO why would you want to talk to an adulteress and a murderer?” quipped my irrepressible friend, Gracie (not her real name), as she sat down for an interview.

Gracie’s marriage to her college boyfriend Marty had been civilly annulled, but they still remain married in the eyes of God. Because she has just gotten engaged to another man, that makes her, technically, an adulteress. (Her ex had been seeing another woman while still married to her, and this, of course, was the cause of their separation.) And in the eyes of the Opus Dei and other fundamental Christians who believe that artificial contraceptives are “abortifacients,” Gracie can very well be dubbed as a murderer as well. She uses the pill, because she doesn’t relish the risk of being pregnant at her age of 46, especially after raising three grown children.

I have known Gracie since college. We were classmates in certain subjects, were members of the Student Council, and wrote for the college paper. I liked her because she was smart and a steady hard worker—always a good partner for any school project—and was always just a pleasant person to talk to.

I remember one day, after one of our classes I think, how she swooned when she told me she had fallen in love with Marty, her best friend. I had met him later, and while he was nice enough to me, he struck me as a bit full of himself. But Gracie’s love life wasn’t my business, and while we were friends, we weren’t really that close enough for me to tell her what I thought of her beau. (It was only during our interview that I actually told her I never like him.)

Gracie graduated ahead of me and soon thereafter I heard she had gotten married to Marty. She had become pregnant, but they had been planning to get married anyway. So their wedding plans were just moved up a year earlier, she recounted.

The union was blessed with three very smart children and for the 13 years that Gracie and Marty were together, “we were fine,” she said, until she discovered her husband was having an affair with a co-worker. Marty would often disappear to take his phone calls in private. Then Gracie would usually find the woman lazing around her husband’s workstation whenever she would drop by to visit. And he would also bring the woman home after long nights at the office.

Then, there were the too friendly bordering on “intimate” text messages between the two. Gracie also accidentally discovered a receipt for roses that Marty had given the other woman. “It started with my wife’s instinct, which turned out to be correct. I believe that eh—that you can sense your husband’s indiscretion. The little bits of proof came soon after.”

After a series of fights and reconciliations, they finally went to see a counselor—Gracie wanted to save her marriage. Marty of course promised to change and split up with the other woman. “Pero ’yung girl, sige pa din ng sige, habol pa din ng habol,” said Gracie. Then one day, seven months or so after she had discovered her husband’s infidelity, “I snapped. I threw all his clothes in the living room and asked him to leave the house. I discovered they were still having a relationship. My family got involved, his family got involved, it became ugly.”

I asked Gracie if there weren’t telltale signs that there was a problem with Marty. She said there were there were a few but she probably ignored them. For one, Marty’s relationship with his mother was troubled “And he has so much angst, like he was perennially trying to find himself. But when you’re 21 and in love, you don’t really go looking for these signs or ask, ‘Why does he have this kind of relationship with his mom?’”

Then when Gracie started moving up quickly in her career, Marty started resenting it. “People always viewed him as the smarter one. He was the more driven one. He was the more ambitious one. But I was getting ahead in my career faster than he was. I didn’t know it actually bothered him. Ako pa ’yung walang ambisyon, ako pa ’yung nakakakuha ng magandang trabaho,” she narrated. Marty, for his part, just couldn’t seem to hold down a job, despite his two MBA degrees. Gracie said she eventually stopped talking about her work, because he would make snide comments, wondering why her career was taking off.

Expectedly, their three children were devastated by the couple’s separation, and it bothered Gracie so much that she begged Marty to come home. She still wanted to work on her marriage. But he refused and he stayed at his parents’ home, while continuing on with his affair. Eventually, she had found out Marty had gotten his girlfriend pregnant as well.

Then one day in December, a few months after the couple separated, their eldest child Sarah was on the phone with Gracie, hysterically telling her that a sheriff had arrived in the house. Apparently, Marty had filed for a civil annulment and the sheriff was there to serve the papers to Gracie. But as she was at work, it was to be served to the next of kin, and that was Sarah, only 14 years old. “It was traumatic for her,” said Gracie. From then on, Gracie’s relationship with Marty became even more strained. “It was like corresponding with a stranger. Parang he was trying to keep secrets, I suppose the fact that his girlfriend was already pregnant, etc. He distanced himself from the children as well.”

Because she wanted to save her marriage, Gracie filed a countersuit for a legal separation. “My initial plan was after filing that suit, I would file a case of alienation of affection against the girl,” because the latter had broken up the marriage. Gracie also wanted to file a case of concubinage but it would have cost so much money to pay for the surveillance that would prove Marty’s infidelity.

(In the Philippines a husband has to be caught in the act of having sexual intercourse with another person other than his spouse “under scandalous circumstances,” or keeping her as a mistress as proof of concubinage. On the other hand, a man can just sue his wife for adultery for having sexual relations with another man.)

For five years, Gracie had to go to Family Court and wait in line along with others who had cases there. “Meron mga juvenile delinquents na tinapon na ng mga magulang, tinutubos ng kapatid; mga madre na nag-aayos ng adoption papers ng mga bata, etc. Sabay-sabay ang hearing n’yo that day.” She said she dreaded going to court, not only because she would see Marty, but because “there were all these strangers listening to the muck and the lies he raised against me!” She found the system and the proceedings humiliating and undignified.

When the court finally granted Marty’s petition for an annulment, Gracie felt relieved and “also a very deep sadness. I felt that I had wasted my youth on this stupid man. I still felt rejection, and that I had closed a really ugly chapter of my life. It was tough for me the year after Marty left—people urged me to date. But it was horrible. It was like I had a neon sign on my forehead that read: ‘Newly cheated on; vulnerable, so come take advantage of me.’”

There was also the court order for a halving of the conjugal properties, and unfortunately for Gracie, because Marty had made her appear to be earning more than him, she got the short end of the stick in the separation. (She regrets not having hired a better lawyer.)

Gracie even had to raise P2 million just to be able to pay off Marty for his share of their “dream house,” so that she and the children could stay there. “So ako na ’yung kinaliwa, ako na ’yung nag-alaga sa tatlong bata, ako na ’yung heartbroken, tapos lalabas ako pa ang magbibigay ng pera sa kanya! I got penalized for working hard and taking care of my career!” Aside from the P2 million she had to pay for Marty’s share of the house, the civil annulment had cost Gracie close to P500,000 (including the hiring of a private investigator which was how she found out Marty’s girlfriend was pregnant).

Like many women who have gone through bad marriages or terrible separations, Gracie supports the divorce bill now pending in Congress. “An annulment says your marriage is void. I actually had a relationship with this man, I actually fell in love with him. We had children. But an annulment is the only way to get separated in this country, and allow women like me a second chance at marriage. Which is why I prefer divorce, because a divorce acknowledges that we had a relationship. It's not pretentious.”

Gracie adds that an annulment also confuses the issue when there are children involved. When she tried to explain “annulment” to her children, they asked if that meant they were illegitimate. Though the Family Code says the children of an annulled union are still considered legitimate, Gracie finds this inconsistent. “I’m a mother, a working mother, and you’re struggling na nga with your husband’s affair, and you have to explain these inconsistencies to your children, who happen to be very smart people.”

She also had to pull out her two younger children from their Opus Dei schools because these institutions prohibited children of separated or annulled couples from being enrolled there.

In other countries, she points out how divorce makes a couple’s separation a little more civil and dignified. In Australia for instance, there are state-sponsored mediation proceedings so divorcing couples can calmly discuss their demands just among themselves. The mediators are not lawyers, but parties with no interest in either of their spouses, so the discussions take on a less defensive tone.

But now Gracie faces another daunting prospect—she is about to file for a Church annulment. While she doesn’t mind the financial burden of going through another set of proceedings, “at our age, P75,000 is not so hard to save up for. It’s really taking the time off work to put things together, asking favors from other people to become witnesses, and you’re not sure of the outcome. It’s not like divorce. Dito, you can work your ass off and you’re still not sure your petition will get approved!”

And because she has found another man who loves her despite her three children—not the easiest thing to happen in this world—they want to get married in Church. “I still consider myself a practicing Catholic. I have deep respect for my faith. I just have a different point of view [from the clergy]. I still want to get married in Church.”

As we parted ways, I could only wish Gracie good luck that she gets her church annulment. Everyone deserves a second chance at love—and a lasting union with a better spouse.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on June 10, 2011.)

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