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We Are Here

Jeff and I are in Madrid. Yes, my ex-husband and I went to Madrid together. Many potentially fascinating theories could explain this odd development, but here, let me save you the trouble: we are in Spain together simply because we both wanted to go to Spain.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been as overcome with deja vu as I was when we walked down the jetbridge together, toward our plane. I don’t know how to explain the certainty of that moment, the certainty I have always felt at that moment when we receive our boarding passes and fall into step together, our luggage rolling into alignment behind us to form a rumbling procession, but I will try: it felt less like what we used to do and more like who we had always been. It didn’t feel nostalgic, but it did feel profoundly true. It felt like that little bit of home that you recognize even more readily when you are exploring somewhere else entirely.

This isn’t to say that we don’t experience the occasional culture shock. “I feel like I’m on the wrong side of the bed,” Jeff joked from his side of the room as we were falling asleep; he had always slept on my right, and we had accidentally claimed our beds backward. Likewise, when he is at my elbow, I am embarrassed to admit that I sometimes forget to pay for little things that I’m buying, like my own latte; he was always the one who carried our money.

Mostly, though, we just laugh, because if you don’t insist on getting all schmaltzy about it, it really is sort of funny, the way everything is the same and yet not at all the same, in this foreign country we find ourselves navigating.

Here is the thing I feel strange admitting in a culture hellbent on convincing everyone that divorce is some kind of cultural poison: I love having an ex-husband. It’s a shame I don’t have several more of them, really, in case the first one is too busy to go out to dinner or one of them gets hit by a bus or something, or maybe we just decide we want to play a more complex round of Monopoly than two people can allow for.

(Though, I suppose if I had several, I would have to change my plans to get a “#1 Ex-Husband” mug made for Jeff for his birthday, which would be a shame, because I think he’s going to get a kick out of it.)

Sometimes I don’t see him for months, but when I do, he always knows what sorts of restaurants I will like and which movies I’ll want to see. Awhile ago, we stood out in the cold so he could teach me to change my car headlight, and I met him at the coffee shop a few weeks ago to help him write a letter. He kept borrowing my snowboard, so eventually I just gave it to him; we’ve passed our DLP projector back and forth a few times now, depending on which of us is less busy and more in the mood to watch movies. I’ve told him he can have my car when I get around to getting another one (he still has the keys, and has been known to re-park it in the event that he sees a space closer to my door, which is nice except when it makes me feel as if I am going senile), and if/when I sell my book, some of that money (all four dollars of it) will be his, for supporting me as avidly as he did, both emotionally and financially, while I wrote most of it.

I married very well, it turns out. I am even more sure of that now that it’s over.

People tell me that what we claim to be doing is impossible–that we either did not have big enough problems from the outset or that we have not yet moved on romantically. “Oh, just wait until one of you remarries,” they say, because God forbid we all avoid getting ahead of ourselves and just enjoy some good news for once. (He has a girlfriendish who has far more claim to him than I do at this point, and I would totally go to his next wedding, if he would have me. My love life is even more complicated; frankly, Jeff is the simplest and most platonic thing in it.) There must be some reason, they contend, that we have been spared from animosity or estrangement, and obviously it is through no effort of our own. They list all the reasons that most people could not do what we have done, and they question whether our divorce was even necessary in the first place, forcing me to either explain to them in detail all of the awful things that Jeff and I have done to each other or endure the destruction of my credibility.

And you know what? I think people need to stop it, for their own sake. I think they need to stop assuming that it isn’t possible and start finding ways to make it possible, because not only is divorce not going away, but divorce is not even the problem, or at least it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I am not the only one in the history of divorce to feel that way–nor are such positive outcomes reserved for the childless. Jeff’s parents, for instance, used to move in and out of the family home every six months so that their children wouldn’t have to, and they remain friendly to this day. I grew up living up the street from duplex families who had mommies on the first floor and daddies on the second floor.

Can it always be done? Of course not; it takes two (and sometimes more than two, if new girlfriends and boyfriends and wives and husbands are involved). But I do think that, as a society, we need to learn to divorce better, because staying married is sort of like staying abstinent: the best solution is not the best solution at all if it routinely fails to happen, so perhaps we should stop acting as if life has to be so goddamned ideal all the time and start working with what we have.

Should you ever find yourself ending your marriage, I encourage you to draw solace from the manner in which various people console you. Many married people reacted to my situation with horror; what was happening to me was their worst-case scenario, romantically speaking–their monster under the bed. The smartest and coolest divorced people I know, on the other hand, were both more sympathetic and much less alarmed on my behalf. They didn’t say it, because they didn’t want to patronize me or minimize my pain, but if I had paid attention, I would have seen that, deep down, they never had any doubt that I would be fine, if I wanted to be.

Who are you going to listen to: the well-intentioned but inexperienced people who have never been through it and are nearly panicking on your behalf regarding everything miserable you will surely be required to endure, according to their imagined version of how awful divorce must be, or the people who have been there–the ones who reassure you calmly, discuss the situation without theatrics, and treat your eventual healing as a foregone conclusion, as if you are merely suffering one really epic zinger of a scraped knee?

If you have decided to listen to the latter, and you need to hear it one more time, I am ready to pass along that message, because it’s true: divorce happens, and it can’t erase you, and you will be fine, if you want to be.

This whole thing, this entire trip, has been so us. This is us, this exchange of gleeful expressions while we strap ourselves in. This is us, this passing back and forth across the aisle of headphones, powerbars, sweatshirts, and everything else we share as communal property in an unconscious habit ten years in the making. This is us, this tandem head-scratching over coins and rail passes and signs lettered in a foreign language. We stop, we lean in, we contemplate, we figure it out, and we keep going.

“You Are Here,” the maps tell us, and it’s true: we still are.

10 Comments

  1. molly wrote:

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Almost ALL of the gossip/discourse/writing/talk about divorce shares one big thing: the assumption that it is Bad. When my husband and I split (amicably!), I felt doubly frustrated by the shame that seemed to go along with divorce, like I was supposed to whisper the word, or risk making everyone around me uncomfortable. (And divorce makes married people very uncomfortbale, in my experience.) Divorce happens. Sometimes it’s ugly and sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it just is but the idea that marriage is good and divorce is bad does not help anyone – it doesn’t help people who are married but maybe shouldn’t be, and it doesn’t help people about to get married and it doesn’t help people going through a divorce. Shit happens and relationships can take on infinite shapes and dimensions and people can be happy or unhappy – gasp! – independent of their marital status.

    Divorce doesn’t mean erasing the marriage or the ex, it means moving on and I consider that progress.

    I have, um, a lot to say about this topic…

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 6:07 am | Permalink
  2. Teej wrote:

    This is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink
  3. I’m so glad for you and Jeff that you have the relationship that you have, that you found a way to be friends and still care about each other because DUH of course you do. You were married for ten years and you love each other.

    I’m thinking of my husband, who was engaged and planning his wedding before his ex-fiancee decided she wasn’t ready to be married to him, so they broke up. I met him a few months later, and met his ex-fiancee at the same time–they both worked as RAs in the same building as me. It was rocky for them at first but they managed to stay good friends. When Troy and I got married, Jenn and her boyfriend Eric were at our wedding, and when Jenn and Eric got married a year or two later, we were at their wedding. When we explained to several people that we were attending Troy’s ex-fiancee’s wedding we got hilarious reactions from people. We’re still friends with them, and there are those who still find that painfully weird. If people act that way about a broken engagement, I can imagine that it’s a thousand times worse for a broken marriage.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink
  4. This post gives me the Jealousies because my ex-husband refused to speak to me from day one of us being separated. It was weird to have that giant hole. I am now close friends with just about ALL of my ex-boyfriends and I really value the way they know me so well, but can still operate in a friendship space.

    Also? This was insanely well-written.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 9:51 am | Permalink
  5. evaberry wrote:

    Well, even if you had several more ex-husbands later, Jeff would still be your “#1 Ex-Husband”, wouldn’t he? Chronologically, at least? :)

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  6. Avitable wrote:

    I’d be open for that type of relationship with Amy, but it takes two, and she’s totally ag’in it.

    Have fun in Spain!

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  7. Jen wrote:

    Bethany: The people closest to me, thankfully, have embraced the situation, which has put a damper on the frustration I feel at the reactions I get in passing. Jeff often swings by my parents’ house when I’m hanging out there, and my parents always greet him warmly, offer him something to eat, et cetera. Initially, I think they did such things more because of my insistence than any real desire to be nice to the guy who MAYBE POSSIBLY HURT THEIR BABY!!!!, but as time has gone on, they’ve relaxed quite a bit.

    That’s great about your husband and his ex-fiancee. I love that it’s worked out so well!

    Avitable: A lot of people have told me the same thing–that they wish their ex were more open to at least going to dinner now and again and catching up. I always hold out hope that once some of the hurts heal over a little, it may still be possible, but yeah. It most definitely takes two. Anyone I date now needs to demonstrate good relationships with his exes, or at least the kind where you don’t sit around wishing the other person will fall down a well, because the latter is definitely not healthy and not a sign of the sort of “deal with it and move on” personality I’m looking for.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Permalink
  8. Johanna wrote:

    Good for you, girl! You are one of the most grown up people I know (and at the same time one of the most non-grown-ups, in a good way). :-)

    I end up having quite a bit of contact with Chris (my ex-husband from 10 years of marriage for those who do not know me here), and it is primarily because of the need to communicate about things pertaining to our daughter. At the same time sometimes we end up casually talking about his work, life, and things in general. He comes to my boyfriend’s house (yes Jen, it’s still PSG I’m dating. He makes me very happy) to pick Jenna up when I’m there with her and it’s his turn to take her, and we all usually chat casually for a while before he leaves, and it’s not the least bit strange to have the 10-year past and child producing relationship talking to the man currently in my life. It is really nice to not lose contact with someone who was such a part of my life for such a long time, and I completely understand your relationship with Jeff now.

    I think Chris is in Spain right now by the way, or at least somewhere in central Europe. You should have Jeff e-mail him and say hi – maybe you guys could meet for drinks while you’re there. :-)

    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 4:25 am | Permalink
  9. Issa wrote:

    I think it’s great that you have this. I strive for this Jen. I really do. I’m not ready yet, but maybe one day.

    Because I married my best friend and I’m a little lost without him.

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  10. Kerri Anne wrote:

    I just told you I loved this, but it bears repeating.

    I’m constantly navigating what it means to be “divorced,” how I feel about it, and how I don’t, and what bothers me and what doesn’t. It’s interesting to gauge other people’s reactions to my new “situation.” We as a society love to label. I love mold-breaking scenarios. And realizing divorce can be pretty amazing? Is pretty much the best thing ever.

    Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink