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.