The “D” Word: Untangling Thoughts and Histories in Divorce

I wish I’d waited until now to write my first novel. The main character had just come out of a divorce, and knowing what I do now, I could have provided a lot more insight.

My ex-wife and I recently filed for divorce. We were married for sixteen years and have known each other since 1998. That’s a long time. We were kids when we married. Just barely old enough to drink, and we didn’t because we came from households that demonized drinking as a gateway to the dark side.

We both held to our parents’ worldview because we hadn’t lived long enough to experience the events and changes that develop our own. And when we married, we assumed those adopted worldviews were the way “everyone did things.”

It’s not.

We experienced life changes and curveballs that shook us at different times and ultimately began to change who we were. Some of those changes brought us together and some drifted us further apart. We brought three amazing human beings into the world. We weathered the storms and beat the odds that statistically were stacked against us.

Or, more likely, we lived in denial out of a fear it would forever harm our kids.

But they heard the arguments. All eight million and six of them. Who’s counting, right?

I wondered if I should write about something so personal so soon, and yet it’s something shared by so many people in the world. For some cultures, it’s taboo to even think of getting a divorce. Our churches, temples, synagogues, and even just groups of friends have clear messages and stances on when it’s “okay” to do it and how it should be done and when it should never be done.

In a country as diverse and large as the U.S., there are different stigmas attached to the word that are based on those cultural norms alone. In the South where I’m from, it’s frowned upon — though I don’t know anyone who likes getting divorced. And ultimately, it doesn’t stop people from getting divorced in the South.

And what if through the process, you actually do work things out well enough with your ex that it brings you oddly closer together? Not in a “let’s rekindle this thing” because — let’s face it — by this point in the game, both of you know that’s not a good idea. But what if it makes you understand each other just a little bit more? What if you can look back on memories — good, bad, and ugly — and instead of getting angry or sad at those past events, you actually can laugh and go through games of “Remember the time we…?”

My ex and I have done exactly those things over the last two weeks. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we had plenty of WTF moments and plenty of head scratching and finger pointing as we each made sure the other wasn’t somehow ripping us off in the divorce papers. But once they’re where we both wanted them, once we both signed them and had them notarized, we were able to process the experience and say, “Yeah, this sucks, but we really had to see it coming.”

Learning to Let Go

I had seen it coming. For a long time. I didn’t really always pay attention to the fact that I saw it coming. I never faced it head on, but that’s more because I was afraid. I was afraid of hurting my kids, afraid of disappointing my parents, my friends, her friends, our friends we made together. I was afraid to lose friends and extended in-law family members (and maybe even my own extended family members) who would ultimately choose sides.

I feared not being able to see my kids.

I feared they would suddenly be prone to more teenage angst than normal, that they would grow up to have trust issues, that they would grow to fear commitment, that they might turn to drugs or alcohol or teen sex.

But these were all things that we might have predisposed them to already, with all the fights in the closed-door bedroom (which doesn’t have soundproof walls). Or, they might just turn out to be relieved and turn out completely healthy and normal.

There are strange statistics on both sides.

I think my ex stayed with me for some of the same reasons.

Also, I think we were both afraid to some extent of being alone. We were both older, we both had kids, we’d both had conditions that made us unable to have more kids. And approaching forty, gravity has begun to do its job, at least in my case. Specks of silver and white showing up in my beard and head and making me look like one of those metallic looking Christmas trees.

Here’s what we learned: Fear is a stupid reason to stay in an unhealthy marriage.

Now that it’s begun, now that the changes have started, now that the papers are filed, I look back at all the history. I look at all the stupid things we said to each other. Things I said that I couldn’t have possibly been mean enough to actually believe. But I’d said them. There they are, right there against the wall. The trust issues, the insecurities, the obstinate behavior, the refusal to really care what the other thought or felt about things. It’s a messy looking wall.

There were adventures, though. There were cross-country moves and job changes and family outings and Christmas lights viewing and walks on the beach.

And there were moments of genuine passion. Moments and memories that we will never share with anyone else. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

When I stand back and look at everything against the wall, I think, “I’m glad we made it through that.” And at the same time I think, “What was I so afraid of?”

Now, we’ve hugged each other and given our new signature “see you next week” with high-fives.

Ready to Face the Future

I’m ready to move on with life. I’m ready to see what it feels like to start raising my kids on this side of the event and see what kind of amazing people they become. I’m ready to partner with their mom as a friend and learn what it means to parent together when we don’t fear the worst from each other.

I’m not ready to love again, but I will be. And I want to feel that, too. To feel alive the way I did in the early days of my marriage. Yeah, that’s psychologically just infatuation and can’t possibly be a mature love, but there’s a feeling alive that is like a drug.

I am ready to pursue me. For the first time in a long time, I’m ready to pursue goals, dreams, and aspirations that I’d long put on the backburner, and for the first time in years, face the daunting fear of failure to succeed in those. Now, I have no one to blame but myself if I don’t follow through on them. The truth is, there was never anyone to blame but myself for not doing them. But now, I am ready to face that fear head-on.

I’m ready for my ex to find the support and love and joy she deserves and longs for. I won’t say happiness for either of us because that — I’m coming to learn — is an arbitrary concept and isn’t a lasting emotion. But we can experience joy and passion and wisdom and laughter and experience what it means to be fully alive. I want that for her. I want that for me. I definitely want that for my kids.

A Heaving Sigh and a Next Step

My divorce will be final sometime between sixty and ninety days. My ex is still in my home (sleeping in my bed while I’m on the couch — I gave her that.) until Saturday. My kids will go with her then. And I fully expect to feel all the feels that come along with being left alone in an empty apartment. And then I’ll pick my kids up for a week of fun before they start school.

It’s a necessary ending. And that means that there’s a necessary next-step. I’m stepping out of a chapter that has had a lot of ups and downs, and I’m stepping into an unknown next chapter.

I’m ready to face that unknown. And so I heave this sigh of exhaustion and history and insecurities and memories, and I pick up my bearings, and I walk into the light. I can’t see what’s beyond it yet, but somewhere out there is a new chapter and a future. And now, I take the first step through the door.