This Song Sums Up Divorce Perfectly


A handful of years ago I got divorced. I experienced some trauma.

Trauma is a big word. It’s an impactful word too, if perhaps a little ham-fisted, the type of word to barge into sentences, to punch you in the arm, or disturb the ambience in a fancy restaurant with a loud voice and uncouth behaviour.

Though it’s a simple thing too. Simple but powerful, a beast grown from an emotional response to something negative that happened.

Trauma doesn’t have to be boisterous, it’s often quiet, insidious, tenacious. It seeps into the psyche like spilt ink on blotting paper and you’re left to process it numerous times over as the ink seeps deeper.

I thought I was more than over the meltdown of my first marriage and subsequent divorce in 2014. But such a monumental life fuck up sticks with you, it revisits when least expected, it knocks on your door during a busy afternoon and won’t leave.

I’m married once more. I tied the knot to a wonderful woman in August 2018, and I have a family. I’m happy.

My first marriage was nothing like my current marriage. It was tumultuous, impulsive and emotionally exhausting.

And that was just the wedding.

When it unravelled, it was her, not me, that pulled the plug. But quickly, and guiltily, I acknowledged she’s done us both a favour.

After the initial shock and denial (boy oh boy that’s a deep plunge), I was hit with a wave of emancipation, free from a situation that, one way or another, didn’t fit either of us.

It was hard, but initial trauma was kept at bay by a deliberate pushing back against the upheaval using Albert Camus’ words:

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” – Albert Camus

This singular quote kept me afloat.

I don’t blame her for what happened. We were both looking for stability in all the wrong places; namely, each other.

We shared chaotic and unpredictable childhoods and carried them, arms and legs, into our new life together. We were victims of programming, looking, longing, for consistency.

It was a match of two sorry souls who grabbed hold of a rock in a storm and thought “this will do”. And to be fair, it nearly did do. We were sometimes good. But nearly isn’t enough. Nearly means not quite. Nearly means it won’t do.

When we split, there were a series of odd meetings between us and I didn’t understand their purpose.

I still don’t.

What I know now that I did not know then is she’d left me for someone else, her mind was already made up, but still, she wanted me to perform, to fight for her, to make my case, to take full responsibility for our crumbling relationship so she could atone for her adulterous sins.

Oddly, she asked me to wine and dine her, and I booked a table in an expensive restaurant in Mayfair but cancelled it after we bickered on the phone, or by text, I can’t remember. Instead, we met in a coffee shop in Notting Hill where we argued over cake and warm tea.

That was the last time I hugged her. I remember saying “This feels good”. She said nothing at all.

Why were we even there?!

That’s part of the processing I’m still doing, fitting together the pieces. I don’t think about it every day, but now and again, a jigsaw piece will present itself out of my subconscious and slot into place.

Oh, so that’s why we met. That’s why she said that. I think these subjectless meetings were her attempt to let me down easy, it was aftercare to ease her guilt.

Another rendezvous was outside a train station. I had a bag of her belonging in the car. She arrived, took it from me and left immediately. I was expecting a talk, a drink, a negotiation, or even just some kind words. None of that came.

One of the objects I brought was an empty bottle from the top of the fridge she’d kept because of the funny cat face on the label. We’d laughed about it before and when I said “Do you want this?” she just screwed her face up, as if I was crazy for placing any value on an empty bottle of ale.

I could see my marriage unravel in front of my eyes, in real time, but simply couldn’t fathom what was happening. It was a bizarre time when nothing made sense to me, naively unaware she had an agenda.

“I misread every warning” wails lead singer Mike Scott on The Waterboys track ‘The Long Strange Golden Road’, a song ostensibly about divorce, separation, delusion and eventual realisation.

I can identify.

I’m a long-time Waterboys fan. My obsession with Scott’s music ran through that first marriage. My first wife once bought me a Waterboys t-shirt for Christmas.

I’d argue this song, ‘The Long Strange Golden Road’ is perhaps his greatest of all. He certainly thinks so (in May 2021, Scott put Golden Road at the top of his favourite Waterboys’ songs) and some of his biographers agree. It’s a nine-minute propulsive blues-rock epic that tracks Scott’s relationship breakdown and his personal epiphanies and renewal. It’s a giant sighing story of redemption sitting at the end of the album Modern Blues, a long, confessional footnote to a record steeped in self-reflection about his past.

Until this release, Scott positioned himself as a chaser of universal truths, a spiritual journeyman with secret knowledge to impart, a lover, a poet, a seeker. This all collapses in ‘…Golden Road’ where he refers to his uncertainty repeatedly. In the last words of the last verse he yells;

“I’m just a bunch of words in pants, and most of those are fiction.”

Scott’s portrayal of protracted confusion when a relationship breaks down resonates.

In TV and film, relationship breakdowns are always clean. Couples are together then one of them is caught cheating, or a huge argument erupts, and then they are separated.

Before and after.

But real life is different, messy and readily disorientating. The trauma of an initial event may pass, but then comes the slow understanding of what took place and it knocks on the door once more. It must come in and be welcomed to tea several if we want to finally be rid of trauma as a house guest.

On the day she left, I had got home early and set up camp in bed, TV on, the covers my protection. I braced for her homecoming as we had been arguing. I heard her come in and move around the flat for ten minutes and left, leaving me a letter. It was long and pre-written, it said everything I didn’t want to hear but I knew was coming.

Her plan had been set in motion days or weeks before and I had only just stumbled upon it.

I was hoping for an apology, or to be persuaded to give mine.

“I was longing to be wooed, I was ready to be humbled” sings Scott in the opening line, before realising he’d merely been summoned by his then-wife to be told his relationship was over.

“But when I heard your ragged voice, something switched in my perception, And I knew I was the victim, of a beautiful deception.”

Is this exactly what Scott meant when he sang these words? Is this song even about what I believe it’s about? Perhaps not, but to me, it is.

This is how it is with both art and relationships. When the dust settles, it doesn’t much matter what anyone else thinks, it’s your memory and emotions to process, it’s your reaction, your takeaway, your life.

For me, ‘…Golden Road’ isn’t just one of the greatest rock songs of the modern era, it’s a freakishly accurate narrative of my emotional journey through divorce.

Scott doesn’t own the words he sings once I’ve heard them, I do. It’s up to me how I feel about ‘…Golden Road’ just as it is up to me how I feel about my first marriage and subsequent divorce, the girlfriend I loved at 15 who didn’t love me, or the five-year relationship with another girl that ended when I was at 23. These are my memories and my experiences to process. Like art, like music, I apply my own meaning and that’s all that matters.

My first wife did try.

Only tonight I felt, out of nowhere, piercing guilt about the time she visited my mother looking for guidance when we were having problems. She was trying.

Who knows why that thought leapt into view?

We also spent a lot of time in couples therapy before we were married, fighting for what could be a promising future.

In those sessions, she cried endlessly and I took on the blame for her upset, only later to realise she’d had some sort of affair with someone else and was trying to process her guilt, in code, as it was squeezed out in sessions on the couch.

This is another post-divorce puzzle piece that slowly settled into place. In the years that follow, dots are connected, facts are stitched together. Trauma is revisited.

She wasn’t perfect. But neither was I. I overstepped the line in my own way. We mirrored each other’s errors, we amplified each other’s mistakes.

My self-help journey began after my divorce as I plundered books and videos looking how to rebuild myself. As Scott sings;

“I read the books of lore, And contemplated in seclusion, But I took my leave embittered, Still in love with my illusions.”

Today, the trauma of my divorce is subtle and soft-edged, it mostly resides in how I could have been better. We are all in love with our illusions as they shield us from pain. We paint a narrative of a relationship and stick to it as fact as it’s easier than facing the nuanced truth.

Sure she left me for someone else, no doubt, and she’d done it before, but I had left her mentally and emotionally too, I was always looking for something more, always fishing for new attentions. We were both building a home and dismantling it simultaneously.

“I’m trying to take a stance, And rise above my contradictions” sings Scott, a man who has written some of the greatest love songs ever, but is likely to be an emotionally unavailable creature of the road who puts music above all else.

Perhaps, it’s not for me to say, but his words ring true. I said to my first wife I loved her, but I was unavailable. I was angry when I realised she’d had an affair, but only because it wasn’t fair play, only because if I knew, or realised, I could have won the argument.

Ultimately, ‘…Golden Road’ isn’t just a musical triumph, a pulsating, old school rock-epic Dylan would be proud of, it’s a confession, a great reveal, where Scott, for all his spiritual quests, for all his romantic songs, for all his fame, money and coolness, is just a confused man swept up in a relationship meltdown of his own making.

Once again, I can identify.

And yet, perhaps like Scott, my divorce was the making of me. It felt like a rite of passage, a coming of age, a truth rising to the surface. Transformative, embittered, revelatory. Impossibly difficult and yet alarmingly easy, very simple and yet oddly complicated, traumatic and yet, just something that once happened. A memory. A photograph.

I still don’t know what I feel about it. And perhaps I never will. Scott draws no conclusions by the end of his song, either. But he does acknowledge we are all on a journey, and to keep on moving. As he sings in the chorus, and in the closing of the song;

“Keep the river on your right, and the highway at your shoulder, and the front line in your sights, pioneer. Keep your eye on the road, remember what you told her, this is all in code, my dear.”

Listen to the Long Strange Golden Road on Spotify, here.

This post was previously published on


The post This Song Sums Up Divorce Perfectly appeared first on The Good Men Project.