‘My children live in the Netherlands, are adults and have their own children, but they don’t need me’

Picture Max Kisman

Maartje (69): ‘I wanted to be different from others, not to live up to my parents’ expectations with their good marriage, so when I was 29 I chose a relationship with a South American. He stood in front of my help desk in the municipality, told a heroic escape story and radiated strength. I wanted a child with him, I was ready for a permanent relationship and wanted a family. Others said, dude, why with him? He had nothing to do with my family, nothing with Holland, resisted everything and everyone. But I said of course. I can do it.

The need to separate myself with my choice of partner, to revitalize myself so to speak, was so strong that I ignored everyone’s red flags. This man gave me the prospects I had longed for. It wasn’t blind love, but a statement.

Jealous of my life outside the home

Soon I became pregnant. He didn’t have a job or a car or a driver’s license, so he sat at home all day and I was forced to work full time. He was jealous of my life away from home with colleagues. He started belittling me, but when he insisted on getting married, I said yes anyway. Because I thought, maybe marriage is the security he needs to survive here. On September 11th, forever my private 9/11, I went to a florist and bought my own wedding bouquet. Meanwhile he was getting more and more frustrated and taking it out on me, calling me ugly, threatening me, but I kept trying to understand him, stubborn and indulgent at the same time. A seemingly toxic combination.

One evening I went to a concert with a colleague. It did me good, someone who was just nice to me that I didn’t have to be wary of all the time. But when I got home, my husband went crazy with jealousy and pushed me down the stairs. I was just stopped by the stair gate. We already had two children at that time. The third was conceived shortly after he demanded proof of my surrender, by getting pregnant I wanted to show that I really didn’t care about that colleague. I don’t understand why I let it happen. On the other hand, I love my children, they were my only joy in the house. And I kept hoping I felt sorry for him when he started crying after every tantrum.

Regret every day

Something changed when I got a new job and with it a new life that had nothing to do with my husband, with colleagues to whom I could tell my story. For a while I seemed to be better until I suddenly had a severe blackout in the car on a sunny day. The only thing I remember about it is that I suddenly stood in a phone box and called one of my new colleagues if I could stop by. That decision, the first I’ve made in a very long time without my husband, sparked a new sense of freedom. Obviously I had a choice. My colleague received me very kindly and just listened. There was nothing threatening in that listening, and suddenly I understood that I had to leave my husband.

But that night I made a mistake that I regret every day. When I got home, I told my husband that I wanted a divorce and wanted to leave that evening. I grabbed some essentials and headed for the front door. My daughter cried: don’t go, don’t go. But I went anyway. And when I wanted to pick up the children, then aged between 4 and 12, the next day, I was not allowed to enter the house. There was a bag of things on the pavement, but the children stayed with him.

No need for me

In the years since, I have hardly been able to see them, two of my children have not been for twenty years now. In my mind I fill in the missing years like a slide show, all the ages I missed; Now I have to figure them out myself. It is still hard for me to talk about it, when it is told in words the loss becomes even more intense and irrevocable. It overwhelms me. My children live in the Netherlands, are grown and have their own children, but they don’t need me, we have never been able to build a bond.

My ex did not comply with the access scheme and of course I could have called the police, but I would not do that to the children. I have been to the judge four times, all times in vain. A lawyer called me a career bitch because of that full time job. My letters to my children went unanswered. I had to drop off the gifts I brought for their birthdays at the front door. How many times in the last twenty years have I thought that I should have put all three of them in the car that night and driven away. I would never leave them, only their father. I have also often wondered if I knew I would barely see them again, would I still have stayed? But it just didn’t work anymore. I was about to collapse, scared and crooked. I couldn’t take the humiliation anymore.

Conflict-free love

The colleague offered me a completely different world. From him I learned what safe love is. I fell in love. This time I organized a big wedding party and had a fantastic wedding dress made. His faithfulness and love soften but do not heal. They are two separate entities: the joy of being with him for many years now and the sadness of the disrupted contact with my children. When I got to know him he said: you have eyes on stalks, and it took me a long time to calm down. He is a man who makes ordinary life special. Sometimes he stops me in the middle of a walk in the woods and hugs me. When I introduced him to them, my parents were overjoyed. They saw in him my savior. I had rebelled against their ‘ordinary’ middle class existence and chosen an adventurous life with a South American. But I turned out to be a woman for whom conflict-free love for an ordinary man is much better suited. A painful lesson.’

At the request of the interviewee, the name Maartje has been changed.


For this column and the podcast of the same name, Corine Koole looks for stories about all types of modern relationships, about people of all ages and all preferences.

Take part? Mail a short explanation to: deliefdevannu@volkskrant.nl.

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