As I made plans to participate in my third Women’s March in January, there had been one big change in my life this time around: I was no longer living with my husband.
Last fall, after 24 years of marriage and almost two years of dealing with the aftermath of the devastating 2016 election, I decided I could not live with this person anymore. Why? Because, while the results of the election were devastating for me, they were not for my husband. He voted for Donald Trump, and he has continued to support him. So as a staunch liberal and a frequent Trump protester, I had to do something.
Over a couple of months, I began to look for a full-time job to support myself. I toured apartment complexes in our area, I ordered new furniture on my credit card, and I began the process of moving my life to a new place—without him. I moved out of our house of 20 years during the last weekend in October and into an apartment. And I have not regretted it.
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Eric (a pseudonym) and I met in the early 1990s, when we were both in our late 20s. We didn’t talk much about politics, but I volunteered for Greenpeace and Amnesty International and was just beginning to identify as a liberal. From what I gathered, he was pretty apolitical and middle-of-the-road in his views. We seemed to get along great. We enjoyed going to parties with mutual friends, listening to live music at local clubs, going on hikes in the area, traveling, and laughing together. Looking back at it, that’s probably all we had in common. At the time, it seemed like a lot.
We got married in May 1994, adopted a dog, and had our first child in October 1996. He was followed by another son, and then a daughter. I guess our compatibility started to fray a little after we started a family. We had differences of opinion about raising our kids, but who doesn’t? He came from a more traditional, Catholic family who expected me to quit my full-time newspaper job when I had my first baby. That bugged me. I did resign, but that was because I had a tiny premature baby at home and couldn’t bear to leave him in day care and be gone all day working. So I started a freelance editing business and worked from home, which I continued to do over the years while I raised three kids.
Along the way, I realized that Eric and I were canceling each other out at the voting booth. He voted Republican or, later, Libertarian, and I never voted for anyone but Democrats. We joked about it, but it wasn’t a major deal.
Until it was.
Our differences—and the strain they caused—began to pile up over the years. I am the daughter of a women’s libber who was an activist in the 1960s and ’70s, and I was influenced by her. Eric seemed to disparage feminism. He made several sexist comments to me during our marriage, such as the fact that he thought he should be the head of our household. He once told me that he didn’t need me as a friend, because he had enough friends. It felt like he was relegating me to a more sexual, subservient role.
Our problems as a couple gradually increased. I became a gun safety activist, and toted my oldest son with me when I went to the Million Mom March on Mother’s Day 2000. Other marches followed, and eventually I joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, after the massacre at Sandy Hook. Being a parent definitely brought that whole issue to the forefront for me. But as a father, Eric never felt strongly about the kids being killed in schools in our country. I had passionate views about this topic, and he just laughed at me and my emotions. He didn’t argue about gun safety with me, but my activism seemed to be a joke to him.
Exactly when Eric started to move more to the right of center, I’m not certain. But as I suffered through the George Bush years, it definitely bugged me that Eric voted for him in both elections. Around this time, he also started to get more religious and explore new churches. I was not a churchgoer, and we didn’t get married in a church. But I started to suspect that he was sliding over to the religious right. I had participated in an abortion rights march before we got married, and now here Eric was reciting pro-life (and anti-choice) propaganda.
Then Barack Obama came along. I volunteered for his campaign, and was overjoyed when he won. My middle child was geared up to volunteer too, at just age 9. He went with me to the first Obama inauguration, and I was so happy that he wanted to be there. We bundled up in layers of winter gear that cold January morning and took a VRE train in from Virginia to Union Station. Walking out of the station onto the streets spilling over with such energy and excitement, I was thrilled to be part of this historic moment, and to be sharing it with my son. We both donned Obama knit hats that I bought from a street vendor.
But later, I went home to the person I had taken my marriage vows with. Of course Eric didn’t like Obama. He grumbled about him and his policies, and he continued to complain about him for the next eight years. It was another reminder to me that we just were not simpatico. I brought up the idea of marriage counseling, but we never went forward with it. I found it was easier just not to talk politics with him.
But all of that pales in comparison to what was to come next: Donald Trump. I truly think the 2016 presidential campaign and election heralded the beginning of the end of our marriage.
When I heard that Trump was running, I really didn’t think anybody would actually support him, especially in my circles. I said jokingly to Eric, “You better not vote for Trump in the primary,” never considering that he actually might. His synopsis of Donald Trump was simple: “He cracks me up.” I tried talking to him about all my objections: the racism, the misogyny, the blatant egoism, the corruption, the idiocy, the mocking of the disabled! But he didn’t care. He thought that Trump’s actions and words were funny and didn’t believe what the media were reporting. He hated Hillary Clinton and what she stood for. And to add insult to injury, he told my daughter he didn’t like Hillary because “she doesn’t wear dresses or skirts.” When I heard that, I was fuming.
And soon I was canvassing for Hillary. I joined Pantsuit Nation, and I got involved however I could. I was horrified when Trump picked off all his Republican rivals and eventually became the GOP choice for president. But like so many of us, I really didn’t think he would win against Hillary.
And then he did, and my worst nightmare came true. Waking up the morning after the election to confirmation that Trump was going to be president was surreal. I was too upset to talk about it with Eric—I was sure he would gloat about the Trump victory. I felt really distanced from him the week after the election. He knew I was distraught, but we had nothing to say to each other.
I had to find comfort with like-minded people; I wasn’t going to find it in my marriage. So I texted my Democrat friends and invited them out for drinks at a local restaurant, to commiserate. After hugs and symbolic safety pins were passed out among us, we made plans to go to the resistance march in January 2017 that we were just starting to hear about. A friend offered to charter a van to get us into Washington for the march. And with our plans taking off that night, my heavy heart was lightened a bit.
But there was one thing I couldn’t say to my friends as we discussed going to the Women’s March and protesting the new administration: “My husband supports Trump.” I could not admit that. I was too embarrassed and ashamed, so I hid it.
But my mood got better as word spread to family and friends about our transportation for the march, and that one van ended up becoming four chartered buses from Vienna, Virginia, to the National Mall. My mom flew out from Chicago to join us, along with my aunt from Maine, and my 14-year-old daughter planned to go as well.
The night before the march, the four of us carefully took colorful markers to poster board, creating our heartfelt protest posters—even while Eric was spouting off ridiculous pro-Trumpisms to my mom and aunt. I tried to shush him, and I’m sure my annoyance was palpable. But he just didn’t seem to get it, and I felt myself disconnecting a little more from him with each moment.
Before the election, I had asked Eric not to show his support for Trump in front of my family or friends. At one point, I almost stormed away from the table when we were out to dinner with a couple in Annapolis who also were staunch Democrats, because he was defending Trump. I asked him to stop or I would have to walk away. He just didn’t seem to get the scope of my deep disdain for Trump, and my utter annoyance with him for supporting the man.
The day of the first Women’s March was amazing, such a momentous time to be out there with thousands of other protesters in pink hats. I was proud to be part of this moment with my mom and my daughter, and gratified about the numbers of people from all over the country and world taking part in this and the sister marches. But the fact that my husband was home disagreeing with what we were so passionately doing on the streets of the nation’s capital just gnawed away at me.
I had no idea that day that the Women’s March would be the first of many such protests of the Trump administration that I would come to take part in. There was so much to object to, I just couldn’t stay home, especially living as close to Washington as I do. I was an occasional activist before Trump became president. After that day, resistance became my life’s norm. I continued to march, to go to rallies and protests, as every week there was something else to be alarmed about. All the while, Eric made light of my activism, embarrassed me in front of people with his comments, and usually managed to express the opposite of what I believed in.
So I started to seriously think about getting out. I realized the truth: Eric was not my soulmate, and he probably never was.
After a too-long beach vacation with my relatives in August 2018, I was feeling more resigned about ending our marriage. We didn’t get along well during that trip, and I was always worried that Eric would open up his mouth and spout out words supporting Trump, or that sounded vaguely homophobic, or that expressed his inane belief that climate change was a myth. And I noticed he had become so rigid about everything, like an old man I didn’t know. How did I end up here with this person? I couldn’t even look at him anymore, and the long car ride home seemed endless.
I came back home determined to find my way out. I knew he would never leave our house, and if I wanted to separate, I would have to be the one to move out. I wasn’t working full-time then, but I started to apply for jobs and also went to secretly tour apartment complexes in our area. It wasn’t the first time I had explored the idea of moving out, but this time I felt more sure and actually went to see possible new homes. I told no one of my plans.
Eric could tell that I was troubled about our relationship and that I was distant with him. He tried, however halfheartedly, to make it better. I went back and forth on what to do. I felt if I was going to do this, I had to leave soon. But how was I going to explain to anybody that after 24 years of marriage, it would be our difference in politics that would end up tearing us apart?
I delayed my decision for a little while and tried to see the positive side of staying with him and the life we had built together. But then came the last straw.
Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. I couldn’t bear this and knew I had to go resist, again. I found out about a big protest being planned. The night before, I brought it up to Eric, hoping that he would finally agree that this all was a travesty, but no—he angrily stated that Kavanaugh was innocent and the “Democrats have waged a smear campaign on a great federal judge.” I lost it. I couldn’t believe that he was defending a sexual predator like Kavanaugh, especially when we have a teenage daughter.
The next day, I called the apartment complex next to my daughter’s school and told them I wanted to sign a lease. I was prepared to call it quits. I knew I couldn’t live with a Trump supporter anymore. I told Eric I was getting a full-time job and moving to an apartment. I felt terrible, but it was hard for me to talk about it with him without getting very emotional, so I kept it brief. However, I knew it was the right thing to do.
Soon I moved out of the house we shared for 20 years, and it was a relief. Eric and I later talked about the reasons why I left. He replied that he didn’t think politics was something to split up over, that it didn’t matter that much to him. I said that it does to me. And that was the heart of the issue, right there: It matters a lot to me.
* * *
Now that I’m in the new apartment, although it is much smaller than the house we shared and I don’t see my kids quite as much, I have felt my anger, annoyance, and shame dissipate. And that’s better for everybody. I am happier now that I no longer share a bed and a life with someone whose beliefs are so contrary to mine.
So as I recently prepared to march again in Washington, I reflected on how this was my first political protest since moving out of the house and marriage. This time I was in a much different place, both figuratively and literally, as I headed out to the third Women’s March. When I stepped into the streets with my sign and started chanting, I knew that I could live with myself a little bit better. Because now when I continue the resistance, I’m no longer going home to the opposition.
And that feels great.
Jennifer Merrill is a freelance writer, former newspaper copy editor, and current editor at a science education trade association. She is the author of Chasing the Gender Dream on Amazon. You can follow her on Twitter @Hey_Jen_Merrill.