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I Folded First

"Was it mutual?"

This from a woman who works at the daycare we take our kids to two days a week.

The question arrowed into my heart as I stumbled into what felt like the millionth awkward conversation explaining that my husband and I live in different houses — different towns, actually — because we are separated now.

I still feel uncomfortable offering up the information, which I am forced to do at least once a day: co-workers, new neighbors, daycare lady. We have three children, so we are together a lot. Together, but separated. As a result, the separateness of our union seems to come up during the oddest moments and an explanation is immediately warranted. This time was different, though. It was the first time someone had the balls to straight up ask who initiated the separation.

If I had my druthers, I would have chosen to keep that particular nugget of information to ourselves, offering up the succinct, Hollywoodized “mutual decision” non-explanation proffered by stars like Brad and Jen and Gwyneth and Chris. But Serge is a writer, and a writer writes and all that jazz, especially during difficult times and so, although he isn't exactly shaking an accusatory finger my way, by writing about his darker moments during our separation, has made it clear that our separation wasn't “mutual,” whatever the hell that means.

RELATED: If You Love Someone, Set Them Free. And Other Lies.

Yes, technically, I was the one that decided separation was needed, but Serge was certainly mutually unhappy right along with me in the months — no, years — leading up to my decision. He mutually argued with me — angry, terrible arguments, and he mutually said awful things to me in response to the awful things I said to him. The oceans of anger, bad behavior and chronic unhappiness that led to the separation were absolutely mutual and yet here I am, feeling as though I'm shouldering the blame for the end of our marriage because I was the one who folded first.

There’s this passage in a book by the famous Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, where he talks about perspective.

“The source of our perception, our way of seeing, lies in our stored consciousness. If ten people look at a cloud, there will be ten different perceptions of it. Whether it is perceived as a dog, a hammer, or a coat depends on our mind — our sadness, our memories, our anger. Our perceptions carry with them all the errors of subjectivity. Then we praise, blame, condemn or complain depending on our perceptions.”

So now he writes his admittedly beautiful missives about heartbreak and love lost and everyone is swooning and wondering, How could she leave a guy like that? I can only answer that being able to write eloquently about love isn’t necessarily indicative of what you’re like in a relationship

It’s something I’ve thought a lot about as Serge and I dig through the wreckage of our marriage and attempt to write about it. His writing is filled with love for me and the life we had together and mine is … well, mine isn’t. Because my perception of our marriage is different. It doesn’t make his version wrong and it doesn’t make my version wrong. He writes his truth and I respect that, even if it isn’t my truth.

They say hindsight is 20/20 but in this case it doesn't seem that way. Every time Serge reflects on our marriage or even just me as a person, he whips out a really big pair of rose-colored glasses. The glasses are brand new. I don’t recall him wearing them at any point during our marriage, only now that it appears to be over.

This new, positive Serge wrote me a really beautiful email the other day, reminding me of all the good times: Christmases, riding our couch through "The Sopranos," "Breaking Bad" and "The Real Housewives" of Wherever; and yes, I remember plenty of happy times. Of course there were good times! I also remember pain and hurt so blindingly intense I had to force myself to live on autopilot for years just to make it through the days. So while I feel like Serge is choosing to only remember the good, I remember it ALL.

I made a decision I thought would ultimately be in everyone's best interest. It wasn’t an easy decision, it was the hardest of my life but it felt right. Still feels right. Drowning in unhappiness, anger and resentment, we had crossed the line where staying together was more harmful to our kids than separating. We were going through the motions of life but not really living. So I called attention to it and said we needed to find a different way. That I needed to find a different way.

I was doing it for him as much as me and also for our kids who I desperately don’t want to witness a broken relationship of the same variety both Serge and I experienced when we were young. Yet, it appears to me if you’re the one initiating the separation and the other person is against it, you're somehow considered the "bad guy." Not only that, but your pain isn’t as valid. Well, you wanted this so … But I didn't want this. I didn't want it to go this way. It took a long time to get to the point that leaving seemed a better option than staying.

So now he writes his admittedly beautiful missives about heartbreak and love lost and everyone is swooning and wondering, How could she leave a guy like that? I can only answer that being able to write eloquently about love isn’t necessarily indicative of what you’re like in a relationship. I’m not interested in detailing for the world exactly what went wrong in our relationship other than to say that both of us share the blame. We mutually allowed our marriage to crash and burn.

But now, as our separation plays out, I am wondering if, by default, my legacy is going to be the cold, emotionless person who ended a marriage with a wildly romantic guy who appears to be desperately, madly in love with her. While it doesn’t matter to me what you think, it hurts me that my kids will think I gave up, that I didn't try hard enough to save our family. Because I tried. I tried hard for a long time.

The best way I can describe it is in the words of a friend I was speaking to who initiated a separation from his wife about a year ago. I asked him if she was still sad and he said yes. I asked him if he ever has second thoughts and his answer thunderbolted through my being.

I don’t have second thoughts, no.

I just need to live.

Without really saying anything, he said everything.

There comes a time in a bad marriage when you realize you can’t keep on keeping on anymore. I love Serge. I love him hard. I always will. He will forever own the key to a very specific part of my heart. I have children with him; together we created the three loves of my life and I wouldn’t have them without him — without us. I will always be grateful and love him madly for that, and for the dad he is, and for the way he's treating me throughout this super difficult situation. With all that said, sometimes people just aren’t right for each other. It just doesn’t work. We weren’t working. Something had to be done.

In an airplane emergency, you are told to place your oxygen mask on yourself first and then tend to your children and loved ones.

I folded first. I walked away. I just need to live. To figure out who I am and how to be a better person for my children.

No one is a hero for walking away. But it doesn’t immediately make them the villain, either. While I was the first one to acknowledge our marriage was no longer working, we both played a role in its demise. So yes, Daycare Lady, to answer your question, it was mutual, regardless of who finally pulled the plug.

In this new column, "Separating, Together" Serge and Monica Bielanko will be writing about parenting, separation and navigating their relationship in an entirely new way.

Serge: If You Love Someone, Set Them Free. And Other Lies.

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