Country music legend Darius Rucker is reflecting on what he’s learned in the years since he and his ex-wife of 20 years, Beth Leonard, divorced, saying it’s important to forgive yourself after parting ways from a spouse.
In an interview with Apple Music’s Today’s Country Radio With Kelleigh Bannen, he said:
“My 50-something self is a lot more forgiving than the mid-20-something self. You have to, because life goes on.”
He revealed that throughout the process of being divorced, he’s learned a lot:
“I learned how there’s help out there for people. Being raised the way I was and where I was, there’s not always [help] — and in the Black community especially, that’s frowned upon a lot, too. But I learned that there’s a lot of people out there that’ll talk to you, that’ll help you a lot.”
I’ve written about men who share reflections on their divorces before and I must say, I don’t always find myself as empathetic as I felt listening to Darius’ interview. In his case, I can feel his pain. I even gave the song a listen and it really does illuminate the magnitude of his sense of loss over his divorce. But there’s a reason I’m not usually very empathetic, and even in this case, my empathy was short-lived.
As I’ve written before, nearly 70% of divorces are initiated by women, which signifies to me that men are doing something inherently wrong in marriage. And more often than not, it’s things like working too much, not showing up for the milestones, or not showing enough affection. Though it’s not clear what led to this pair’s split, it was putting the pieces together that diminished the empathy I momentarily felt for him.
According to the statement they released back in 2020, it appeared that they wanted to move past their split as amicably as possible, citing Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s famed term of deciding to “consciously uncouple”.
But looking at Darius’ past interviews, it becomes clear that he wasn’t the easiest person to be married to. It’s something he’s admitted a few times, like during this interview with The Boot back in 2018, two years before announcing their separation.
"I thank her every day for staying with me and being the strong woman she is, because with Hootie & the Blowfish, I could be gone for three months and then I’d come home for two days and then I’d be gone again for a month, and she put up with all that crap," he said, before adding that Beth and country music saved his life.
So right there, he’s confirming that he was, in a way, a bit of an absent husband. And rightfully so, I mean, he’s a musician. But with three kids and a wife back at home, you have to decide which area of your life is going to get your attention. Or – come up with a system to balance your work and life in a way that’s more tolerable for everyone involved.
I do think that women that get involved with musicians or anyone in any industry whose work will keep them away from home for long periods of time are responsible for outlining what their expectations are, but it must be really tricky for everyone, especially as there are kids involved. I miss a lot during the one week my daughter is with her dad, I can’t imagine how much he’s missed over the course of those kids’ lifetimes, particularly if he’s gone for a month or so at a time.
"Marriage is not easy," he told The Boot. "You have to decide to work. That's what it really comes down to, two people deciding to stay together or not. I work hard to let my wife know how much I love her. I try to do that every day. Romantic stuff is not something I really remember. I'm sure she could tell you some stuff that I've done that's really cool, but for me, I just want her to be happy. She's a strong woman. It's hard to be married to me, and it was a lot harder when I was younger!"
He's saying so much in that passage. He’s saying he tried, but wasn’t really one to “remember” romantic gestures, which, let’s admit, are important. But at the same time, that he wants Beth to be happy, and that she stuck by him in times when it was difficult.
Plus, their kids are pretty much fully-grown adults at this point, and with Darius being absent, plus the pandemic, Beth probably had a lot of time to sit and think about two things – first, how much crap (read: absence) she had put up with over the years and how she bore the brunt of the child-rearing responsibilities, and second, what she wants her life to look like moving forward.
The tough thing is, Darius said that it was even harder when he was younger and more active in the band. So he’s suggesting that as he gets older, he’s becoming more present, he’s becoming an easier person to be married to. But that doesn’t erase what I imagine was a long-festering sense of resentment that built as he continued to tour while she was stuck at home raising kids and helping them with their homework.
This was something we also saw with Michelle and Barack Obama. Michelle revealed that while Barack was pursuing his political and presidential career, she had to do a lot of the heavy lifting at home. Now, we can totally see how the spotlight has shifted to her as Barack has taken a back seat and she is seemingly busier than she ever has been, even when she was the First Lady.
So though he’s right about marriage taking work, it also takes foresight. It takes being considerate of things like, my partner is here with me and sticking with me now, but at what cost? What is my absence doing to her deep inside? Even though it appears like everything is okay, what will the cumulative effect of all of this be in the next 10 or 20 years? And that is the thing that a lot of men do inherently wrong in marriage, it’s what they don’t seem to account for, which is a huge part of the reason so many women initiate divorces.
Darius also spoke about how his divorce inspired his latest album, Carolyn’s Boy, saying that the split inspired the song “Never Been Over”, saying that music has “always been [his] therapy”.
“It’s just one of those songs and I love it. That song, for me, when we were done with it, I was like, ‘Man, that was therapy right there.’ The chorus, you know, was pretty tough when we wrote it. You know, that ‘splitting up records’ [lyric], just that thought right there was, I was like, ‘Do we really want to say it like that?’”
For musicians and authors, and anyone who really has to incorporate their lived experiences into their work or their art, I find their reflections to be especially deep. John Stamos described the difficulty he had in writing the chapters of his book surrounding his marriage to Rebecca Romjin. And for Darius, art is imitating life in his case, as he mentioned, and he drew on the experience of physically separating not only from his wife, but from their joint possessions, like those records, the items that truly represented their union.
I shared a TikTok recently describing how reflective the divorced men I’ve dated have been. This idea that Darius is mentioning, about learning how to forgive himself is very powerful and in my experience, even the men I’ve dated who have been the ones to initiate their divorces also deal with the struggle to forgive themselves for their wrongdoings. While it’s great that after a divorce, these men are able to look back and pinpoint specific things they could have done differently, what might circumvent the need to forgive oneself, or the need to look back at all, is the ability to look forward instead.