What happens when you've convinced the world your relationship can be saved only to realize you don’t want to save it? Ann talks with Glennon Doyle about the demise of her marriage, the book she wrote about it, and what came next.
GLENNON DOYLE: I always knew that I didn’t have the romantic love that I heard about in other places. That I saw in the movies, that some of my friends had. I didn’t relate. I even remember saying, “You know, for me… love is like a light. And some people use it like a laser, pointed at one person. And some people are more like a flood light and they just spread their light everywhere and that’s the way I love.” I just never once had laser-like love.
ANN FRIEDMAN: Glennon Doyle built her career on revealing her innermost insecurities and secrets about marriage, motherhood, and religion. First through her immensely popular blog, Momastery. Then in bestselling book, a memoir called Carry On, Warrior... and then in another bestselling book, Love Warrior. She built her life on transparency. But then she fell in love with someone—a someone she was not married to—who would challenge her to be uncomfortably honest with herself. And risk everything she’d worked for.
I’m Ann Friedman, and this is Going Through It: a show about how hard it can be to figure out when to quit and when to keep going.
On this episode: What happens when you’ve convinced the world that your relationship can be saved, only to realize that maybe you don’t want to save it?
FRIEDMAN: If I’m a follower of your work, what do I know about your husband Craig, and what is the story you’ve told me about your marriage at this point?
DOYLE: We got married very quickly after we met because I was pregnant. Was a bit of an arranged marriage. [laugh] Sometimes wondered if we got married because it was the right thing, instead of because we were the right ones. Even though we were thrown into this marriage, we built this beautiful little family. You would know Craig to be an incredibly kind person.
You would also know that we had some some major challenges with intimacy. I wrote very honestly about sex and connection and how confusing that often was for me.
FRIEDMAN: Not to be crass but you just mean that you weren't turned on by him, or your sex life was not satisfying?
DOYLE: Right, I just didn't like sex. Like I just didn't like it. I didn't... I felt like I was missing something. I always told myself that maybe it was my body issues. I became bulimic when I was 10 and I always struggled with body issues and food issues and I just tied it all up with that. Honestly, I felt a lot of anger during sex.
This sounds so weird, but I truly thought of sex as kind of an oil change of a relationship, like, I just have to do it every once in awhile so that things keep running smoothly. But it was never... something that I desired.
I for sure always thought there was something wrong with me. Why is it so confusing for me? Why is it so... Why is their anger wrapped up in it? Why is this all wrapped up in sex for me when it seems so easy for everyone else?
Of course now looking back, I know maybe there was nothing wrong with me. Maybe there was just something wrong.
FRIEDMAN: When did you know that something what just… wrong? Where were you?
DOYLE: I was sitting in a freezing cold therapist's office. I felt… ice. It was very strange because I just started having this hunch. And I didn't have a hunch before. I just thought there was something wrong with me. But I had just started having this weird hunch that there was a missing piece of information. And I know this feeling well now. I've started to trust myself enough to know that if I'm super confused, it is very likely that I'm missing an important piece of information.
We were sitting in that therapist office and I was expressing angst about something and the therapist looked at me and said, “Well I don't know Glennon how we can move forward until you can understand that Craig is being honest about everything.” And I just turned and said, “I actually don't think that Craig is being honest about everything.”
I was just calling everybody's bluff, right? And damned if Craig didn't turn and said, “She's right.”
All I can tell you is that it felt like a card game at that moment. So then Ann, the therapist, who is this man, who is now completely confused, says, “Oh, oh, OK, hold on.”
All three of us in that triangle in that room right knew that Craig was about to reveal infidelity. That was very, very obvious.
The frickin therapist says, “There's a process for disclosing. So what we'll do is we'll leave this meeting, and Craig and I will meet, and then we'll all reconvene.”
And Ann, I just burst out laughing.
FRIEDMAN: That is wild!
DOYLE: Wild! Oh ok, OK. I'll just go back and give you guys some frickin time to get your story straight and then I'll come back in what, three weeks?
So I burst out laughing, which is now my new strategy for any time a man is trying to pull the wool over my eyes, because nothing freaks anybody out more than a woman who just bursts out laughing. And I turned to them and I said “I'm going to go outside and use the restroom, I'm going to be back in two minutes. Craig is going to tell me every damn thing that he hasn't told me yet.” And I walked out.
I came back and Craig started talking and he said he'd been unfaithful throughout our marriage. From right after the wedding until this point, and that none of it was an ongoing affair, it was just, one-offs. And the therapist at one point said, “What made you tell her this right now?” And he said, “Well I've been watching Glennon tell the truth about who she is, and still have people love her. And I wanted to know if I could have that too.”
FRIEDMAN: How did you even deal with that? As you were walking out of the therapist's office, what was going through your mind?
DOYLE: I remember my rage being... just that he'd screwed our family, right? I've come to understand that since Craig and I didn't have passionate love, the betrayal that I felt so deeply was for my family. It was for my children. And I remember my friends saying, “It's so weird, like, you don't talk about it like I would talk about it.” And I didn't know what they were talking about then. But it was always about my kids and about my family and, how could he f- over this family? And it wasn't about our bond.
FRIEDMAN: So you wrote a whole book about essentially, like, in the big picture, not deciding to get up and leave, right?
DOYLE: Yeah, I didn’t. I decided to stay actually. I mean I don't I think back on it now. And I was so frickin practical about all of it.
I was that practical because I could be. Because I wasn’t lost in passion. I mean I think that women throughout history have made calculated decisions about this stuff. I looked down the barrel of the next years and decided I have to find a way to buy some time here, because my kids were unbelievably—they were so little, so what I’m going to do is freaking warrior up, in my own way that I know how, and do whatever it takes to make this a little better.
What that looked like for us is that we went into counseling. I went into counseling separately. He went into counseling separately. We did counseling together. The truth is that he worked his ass off, and so did I. We forgave each other. It took us a couple of years, but I forgave him.
FRIEDMAN: So you write this book Love Warrior, about that process. About your relationship with Craig, about this moment in your life. How does that book end?
DOYLE: [laughs] So I'm in this place where I have decided that our family has made it through, right? It's years after the infidelity bombshell. We have been through hell and back. We have rebuilt a relationship, and I would say it was good enough. It was a good enough relationship. We probably had more respect for each other than a lot of people do. We had three happy kids. We had a good life. And I told myself all the time, “You can’t have it all, Glennon. You can’t have it all.”
So I wrote Love Warrior about that journey. Then, I finished the book with that ending. This is what we have, the new thing we’ve created. The new marriage and it’s good enough. Send to my publisher, Ann. This book is now… [laughing]. So the book… is good. It's a good book.
Oprah chooses it as her Book Club book for the year.
OPRAH CLIP: Hi everybody. I’m here with Glennon Doyle Melton. I’m thrilled to tell you that Glennon is the author of my NEXT Oprah’s book club selection it’s called… LOVE WARRIOR!
FRIEDMAN: Oprah don't mess around. If Oprah likes it, it’s a good book.
DOYLE: Right, Oprah likes it. That's like the call that every author and editor wants to get. And so now this book—because everything has to be has to have a niche—this book is now being touted as a book about one woman's marriage redemption.
FRIEDMAN: And what’s your reaction to it being called a “marriage redemption story”?
DOYLE: I feel the same way as I feel when people call me a “parenting expert,” I think it’s hilarious. My entire goal is to be an “un-expert” I mean… “marriage redemption,” what does that even mean? I remember Martha Beck reading Love Warrior and being like, “All I know about this book is it ain't a love story.” I mean—it wasn’t. It's not. [laughs] I don't know what it is, but it's not. You don’t read it and think, that is just exactly what I've always dreamed of.
FRIEDMAN: So Love Warrior hasn’t even come out yet and people like Oprah are promoting it like crazy. Are talking about it as this story of how you've gotten yourself and your family to this much better place, or at least a place that’s good enough. And then what happens?
DOYLE: So, a few weeks before the publication of Love Warrior… no it must have been months.
At my first time I was going to speak about Love Warrior in public. It was BEA [BookExpo America]. This big librarian’s booksellers convention that happens once a year. I have two jobs. The first is to go to this little dinner with a bunch of these writers.
For whatever reason, Ann, I desperately did not want to go to this thing. So I walk into the backroom where this dinner is. I sit down. I find the other person—like I always do in every situation, I try to find you know the other raging introvert. So I'm sitting there at the table in the corner asking this woman questions about her book and I turn to the door.
And Abby Wambach walks in.
She had a long, gray trench coat on. She had bright red, funky shoes on. She was almost as tall as the doorframe. She had the coolest hair I'd ever seen. She just looked like she did not give a fuck.
And, Ann? I looked at her in the door, and my entire being just said there she is. It was the weirdest thing. The weirdest thing that has happened to me in a lifetime full of very weird things. I didn't know what there she is meant, exactly. All I knew was that there was a person that I had been waiting for to come into my life for a very long time.
I stand up, Ann, and like a complete freak. It just felt like a very important moment to me. So now I am standing. I'm the only one standing this entire room and I can't explain why I'm standing. But it's too awkward to sit back down. So she goes around and shakes everyone's hand at the table while I'm still standing. And then makes it around to me, and we just look at each other and just hug. And... I don't know what happened during that hug other than I just was like this is home.
I… Ann , have never kissed a girl. This is not something that has ever entered my consciousness. I've only dated men my whole life. So I was more shocked than anyone else could ever be shocked about the situation.
As soon as we get up from dinner to walk to the dais I go into the bathroom because this is like an awkward transition time, and I can't handle transition times, so I go hide. I come back and she's waiting for me because she wants to walk to the dais with me. So I'm very nervous. So she starts talking to me about her life a little bit—she just retired from soccer, she's going through a whole lot. We walk up they've seated us next to each other on the dais.
We stare at this room full of thousands of people—maybe a thousand librarians. She goes up and talks about her book. She sounds as fierce and kind as she looks. She sits down. I get up and talk about my book.
FRIEDMAN: But it is clear from your reading that you're married and this is a part of the book you’re currently promoting.
DOYLE: Yes. Absolutely yeah. So I'm walking out of the of the room and I'm just like, I don't know, I just feel weird and amazing. And my publicist says, “So how did how do you think that went?” And I said, “I think it went amazing. I just I feel like I have such a connection with Abby.” Of course she meant, how do you think it went like with the book, the revealing of the book? But I said, “I feel like I have this major connection with Abby.” And she turns and looks at me and says, “Yeah, like you two would have been together in another life?”
And I was like, “What! Yes! Exactly like that!”
I went home. I didn't know what was going on but I knew something really important had happened to me that had never happened to me before in my life. So I'm trying to figure all of this out over the next few months. I email my team that works with me and I say “I need everyone to stop what they're doing and figure out who the curly-haired assistant of Abby Wambach is.” ‘Cause I need to write Abby a letter. And I don’t want to give it directly to her. I think she’s in a hard place right now with her retirement and some stuff that had happened with her. And so I want her friend and assistant to decide if a letter is good for her not.
We found the assistant. I got the letter to her, so this opens up what turns out to be maybe a two-month letter writing.
Maybe a month into this letter writing thing, I just sit down one day and say, Jesus Christ I'm completely in love with this woman.
I am married. I've got three children. This book now is about to literally be released. We're no longer in the prep time anymore where it's time to release it into the world. About my marriage redemption and I'm madly in love with this woman.
FRIEDMAN: Oh my god. How did that make you feel?
DOYLE: You know what I felt like, Ann? I felt like, oh this is the first thing that I have truly known for myself. This love is an idea. It's a feeling. It's a reaction that I can know for certain is from me. Because it doesn't make sense to anybody else. Nobody else on earth would tell me to want this. This isn't something that's been planted in me by culture. This isn't something—this is so crazy... that it has to be pure.
It felt like the first thing that had happened to me, or that I had decided, as a free woman.
FRIEDMAN: Who was the first person you told about that decision?
DOYLE: [laugh] My sister. I don’t really pee without my sister knowing. And I told [author Elizabeth] Gilbert.
FRIEDMAN: What did they say?
DOYLE: I was sitting on the floor of a kid’s dressing room while my son tried on suits for something, I don’t even know for what. And um… the first thing I said to my sister is, I'm in love with Abby and I'll never be able to be with her. And my heart is broken.
And that I was just like sitting there staring at the freaking phone, because who does that to their sister? Who drops a bomb like that in a text? I do.
FRIEDMAN: In the middle of a Tuesday or something.
DOYLE: Exactly. And we probably talked 12 times that day. But this is how I do it. So I'm looking at the freaking dots, waiting for her to write back. And I can tell she’s writing and erasing because it’s taking awhile. And she just writes this sentence, she writes: Glennon, you've spent too much of your life brokenhearted.
I remember one of the first things that Liz [Gilbert] said to me, and it was early on, and I remember saying “I mean what are the chances that this actually works out. Right? Like I leave everything, I blow up my family, I blow up my career, I blow up all of it. And then what are the chances it actually works out? Like chances are that it's not going to work out.”
It was always the kids, it was the kids, it was the kids. And I remember her saying “Well you know what Carl Jung said, is that nothing hurts a child more than the unlived life of a parent.”
And I remember that all the time. And I remember looking at Tish, my middle child, who is super sensitive, a lot like me. And she was always the one that I thought, “well I could never leave. Because it'll break her.” And I remember looking at her and thinking “OK. I'm staying in this marriage for her. But would I want this relationship for her?”
And it switched things inside of me, because I thought, “Oh my god, my job is not to slowly die or settle for her. It’s to show her not to settle!” If she were coming to me with this story, with this feeling, with this background, with this life, with this marriage—what would I say to her? And I would say to her, “After the pain, what is the truest and most beautiful outcome for your family?” If I'm liberated that means that the people around me are too. It just gets really messy at first.
FRIEDMAN: What were you thinking of in terms of the options ahead of you?
DOYLE: I could pretend that this had never happened. Not speak to Abby again, and just carry on with this marriage—this good enough marriage forever. I could choose comfort and the approval of others and not rocking the boat. And be safe. The other option was that I could go through all of the drama and fear of doing it—of leaving Craig. And there was no middle ground.
DOYLE: One of my whole life mottos, or ways that I live, is to always keep my deathbed in mind. I know it sounds morbid but, like, I actually think it's a brilliant way to live. And I knew that if I chose that option one it would have been turning my back on myself. So all I can tell you is it was—as soon as I knew, as soon as I could look myself in the mirror and say I'm in love with this woman, I sat down with Craig and said “I need to tell you something,” and told him that I was in love with Abby. And that I was leaving.
FRIEDMAN: The private decision has been made. But you're about to go out on tour. And you're public, right, about the fact that you are separated, but you're not public about 100 percent of the story, is that correct?
DOYLE: I mean even announcing separation was a huge drama. You know there were plenty of people who told me—in my professional circle—”this book will fail.” If you come out right before your marriage redemption book hits the shelves and say that your marriage is over, no one is going to buy this book. What was said is “This is career suicide. This is career suicide.” And I remember saying, “Fine. I choose career suicide over soul suicide. That is my choice.”
There was also a trusted group of people who said, “No, you start with the truth.” It's so hilarious that everybody can have a certain opinion that you shouldn't tell the truth. But then when you call Oprah and she says “No, we tell the truth,” everybody suddenly agrees that we should tell the truth. Because Oprah said it.
FRIEDMAN: I mean even the phrase when you call Oprah. I'm like yes. Tell me everything.
DOYLE: Right. And of course, Ann, as we know—the book did fantastic! Everybody was fine! I had nuanced ,great conversations on the road. We talked about how hard marriage is. We talked about how there is no happily ever after. That we’re always starting over again. The conversations were beautiful and real and so much better than they would have been if we just tried to pretend that every story has a beginning, middle, and end like a book does. Books end. Our lives go on.
Two, three months later I announced Abby and I’s relationship. The response was utterly, stunningly gorgeous. I think people are fascinated, yes about the relationship with Abby, and I don't think it has much to do with the gay thing. I think the reason why people are fascinated is because I did the thing that I wasn't supposed to do. I went after, and claimed, something that I longed for, and desired. And none of the things that are supposed to happen to a woman who does that happened. My life actually became much more beautiful. It's like, wait—she did that thing, and the world didn't fall apart.
FRIEDMAN: Glennon Doyle is the founder of Momastery, an online community for “people who are tired of making life harder by pretending it isn’t hard.” Her book Love Warrior became a New York Times bestseller. And not only are she and Abby Wambach still madly in love, they got married, and they live blocks from Glennon’s ex-husband and current co-parent Craig. He and Abby have even played soccer together.
FRIEDMAN: Going Through It is an original series from MailChimp, and I’ve been your host Ann Friedman. I’m supported like a fine-fitting bra by producers Eleanor Kagan, Megan Tan, Gabrielle Lewis, and Claire Tighe. This episode was edited by Joel Lovell. It was scored and mixed by Hannis Brown. Thanks Max Linsky, who is always disrupting the status bro, and everyone at Pineapple Street Media.
FRIEDMAN: On the next episode: what happens when people are telling you to wait your turn, btu you’re certain that waiting would ruin your life?
CLARESSA SHIELDS: I was just praying to God, asking him “I’m not asking you for an Olympic gold medal. I’m asking you to give me a chance to compete for one.” I don’t want them to discriminate against me because of my age.
FRIEDMAN: Claressa Shields first stepped into the boxing ring at just 12 years old. And she spent most of her time in the gym, training for the Olympics. But when they told her she might be too young to compete, they threatened to take away everything she had worked for. Claressa tells me about how she was going through it, both in, and out, of the boxing ring.
Ann Friedman sits down with writers, comedians, politicians, and musicians to hear about the pivotal moments in their lives, careers, and relationships when they had to decide whether to quit or whether to keep going.
Ann Friedman sits down with writers, comedians, politicians, and musicians to hear about the pivotal moments in their lives, careers, and relationships when they had to decide whether to quit or whether to keep going.
Antje Danielson was fired by her best friend.
Ellen Pao lost her lawsuit—and her job.
Charlotte Cho never thought her skincare hobby could be her career.
Soledad O’Brien’s dream job wasn't a dream at all.
Jessamyn Stanley couldn't stop saying "I'm sorry."
Samin Nosrat wanted to be a writer, not a chef.
Glennon Doyle fell in love with someone who wasn't her husband.
Claressa Shields was told to put her Olympic dreams on hold.
Hillary Clinton almost dropped out...of college.
Cameron Esposito got her big break...and then it fell apart.
Amanda Nguyen took Congress to task for survivors’ rights.
Rebecca Traister went freelance and almost went broke.
Audri Scott Williams ran an unlikely political race.
Kathleen Hanna hated being the face of Riot Grrrl.