As the concept of starting relationships evolves in the 21st Century, the same is true for ending them.
“Do you want some relationship advice?” I asked my soon to be legally ex-wife early last year as she lay sprawled out on the love seat in the living room of the house we still rented together. Her boyfriend had just left a couple minutes prior, leaving a scene that would have made my mother roll her eyes with unbridled ferocity before once again lecturing us on how we were handling this divorce.
The three of us, sitting in the living room; I on the couch and the two of them on the aptly named love seat. A scene both strange and indicative of a behavior that is nothing short of unorthodox.
We got married in the spring of 2001. An ominous year for sure, but there was nothing to deter us at the time. I mean, save for the things that we didn’t notice. We had nothing in common. I was 22, she 19 and already a mother of a one and a half year old. We were both lost in life — neither having truly found a competent path or set of goals.
Needless to say, when I found myself with a 19 year old girlfriend whom I had just gotten pregnant I was forced to create some goals. Family became my primary goal, regardless of the absence of love and attachment. My son was born in November of 2000 and marriage was the next logical step.
The only reason why marriage was the next logical step is because that is the way it is done. My parents were sticklers for following this life path that seemed to be written in some instruction manual I was not privy too. I always preferred to live life to my own instruction, rather than some societal standard. I never went to college.
I spent the three years after high school traveling and smoking a ton of weed. My eventual career as a business analyst was still a few years off. My son was being born into something of a gypsy state of mind. Based on what I knew of this playbook, I had to get married.
It never felt right though. It felt like the right thing to do, and for the most part we got along. There were the normal arguments, the normal bickering and the time she almost burned down the apartment we were living in — but there was so much missing from the relationship.
To be fair, I’ve never been good at relationships and am a very peculiar thinker and person, but who isn’t really? 13 years later it is easy to look back on the entirety of it and see the pieces that were missing. The romance pieces, the love pieces, the connection pieces — the pieces that make a marriage something more than just two people hanging out together.
So we hung out. We nearly got divorced several times. The first time, my toddler son washed the decision from my mind. He needed his mother. The second time was similar. We conceived our daughter, in February of 2005. It was after an argument, divorce papers were filled out. I remember there was anger involved and I performed like it would be my swan song.
This was it I thought, my last show; I am finally going to ride off into the sunset. Alas, it was not to be and my daughter (now nine and the most interesting, weird and awesome person I know) was born. For the first 18 months of her life she was very sick (eventually diagnosed with Celiac disease) and divorce wasn’t even a thought. When she started to get better, the thought of divorce came back up, but a daughter needs her mother I rationalized, and the marriage went on.
Something changed though. Finally we were having adult conversations about the prospect of divorce and eventual separation. These conversations started right away and were not full of venom that previous conversations contained. Again, we never hated each other but the prospect of divorce scared her to death. I understood that. Complacency and the needs of the children took over.
We are good parents, that much is true. Just ask any stranger that has come into contact with our children. We floated through the next seven years with little contact with each other. We occupied the same space, but as roommates would. We slept in separate bedrooms. We led separate lives. I found emotional, intellectual and spiritual attachment elsewhere and I assume she did as well. I was never unfaithful as I have general rules for living, but the thought did cross my mind. Time went on.
For my parents, who hail from a generation that didn’t necessarily embrace the concept of divorce, the logic of two happy but separated parents being more beneficial to children than two together but unhappy parents seemed to escape them.
So when we announced our divorce to my parents late in 2013, my parents first took it with a bit of shock. Even though they had certainly seen the signs and I was never silent about my eventual intent with this marriage it still seemed to surprise them. Continuing a sham of a marriage for the sake of the children would be something ingrained in their minds as the right thing to do, but it would not be.
That would be the wrong thing to do. We both wanted to be happy (and my wife at the time admitted that it took a certain level of maturity for her to come to that decision). Now was the time to find happiness. Like many couples getting a divorce we were done. Finished. There was nothing left to hold together.
The kids surely must have noticed their parents drifting further and further apart – when they were never close together in the first place.
Of course, our kids already knew. Something my parents had a hard time wrapping their heads around (and a lot of other people as well) is that we always ran a transparent household. That doesn’t mean we all walk around naked and talk about our bowel movements (well, the boys and I do talk about our bowel movements). What it means is we tell the truth and are honest with each other.
We talk – daily – about life and about school and about whatever is going on in our lives. We have honest conversations about love, about relationships and about the human mind. The announcement of finally coming to the point where divorce would be a reality for them was not wholly a surprise. The kids took it in stride and while my daughter could not possibly comprehend the complexities of adult relationships at that point was moot. Children of divorce will always be affected. With conversation and attention, the kids continued their reign of happiness and contentment.
This is where we took the divorce playbook and doused it in lighter fluid. There was no vitriol, there was no fighting over assets or the children. There was only mutual respect and the knowledge that this event did not have to consume our lives, that we could move on without the pain of traditional divorce.
Due to financial constraints we decided the best course of action in the early stages of the divorce was to continue living in the same house (we now have lived apart for some time). Not a traditional decision to be sure, but one that was necessary. Without the hate found in normal divorce situations it worked. The kids are always the priority and whether or not my mother thinks that one of us should be as far from the other as possible – that is just not viable.
Of course, this is why I found myself sitting on the couch opposite my ex-wife and her boyfriend, watching them interact with vested interest. Her happiness means a lot to me, as I hope mine does to her. This is not a person I dislike, just one I never really loved. This is a person whom I want to see succeed. For her sake and the sake of our children together.
After the divorce was filed and all interested parties informed of the decision (including her Facebook audience and my Twitter audience) we have each found a sense of freedom never experienced before. She found a man that needed finding and they appear to be happy. I found myself in a whirlwind of experience, to put it lightly – reliving the portion of my 20s that was never experienced.
The truth is that for all the years of complacency we never mutually agreed that perhaps there was more to life than just muddling through a routine for the survival of the children. Children need much more than routine.
Children need positivity and well defined psyches. They need parents who are comfortable in their own skins, with confidence in their own lives and relationships. Children need to see that there is more to life than this mysterious manual that appears to have been written generations earlier without any updates for the changing of generations.
Children need to be told and shown that they matter, but they also want to give the same assurances to their parents. They want both parents and would prefer both parents together, but are very adaptable to change especially if it yields better results. Contrary to the manual my parents seem to be following, children need to be told the truth about life, within limits of course, but honesty breeds trust.
With trepidation and knowing the eventual reaction of my mother I allowed my ex-wife to introduce the children to her boyfriend. At the beginning she lived with him on the weekends and the occasional weekday. Of course, this was highly irregular but she is very involved in the community and a public reveal and acceptance was a better option than names being dragged through the mud.
Eventually, she moved in with him fully, and the children joined her several months later. Continuing the non-traditional, I get the children every weekend rather than every other. As well as some weeknights, and still play taxi when needed. There is a lot of crossover in our lives when it comes to the children.
We like to say that little of what we are doing is traditional. Something of a humble brag I suppose. Proud of our honesty in our family, proud of the fact we don’t hold any ill will towards each other and proud of the fact we can both face the future together as friends with our children by our sides – not in tow. Often the older two ask questions about our relationships, which we have given them the freedom to do so. And my mother has finally learned to stop asking the children about their parents’ relationships and to ask us instead.
So here I am more than a year later. Once again in life both lost and found. It took many years of deep thought, but I am looking forward to looking forward. The past is just that, and while I have never been an optimist to be sure – I was always a realist. At 36 I have the opportunity to find my happy and have plenty of time to enjoy it.
At first it was is hard for me to fathom not seeing my kids daily, but they are smart kids and have survived and handled it all with creative gusto. While they are part of my overall happiness, it is time to be more than just a great father. It is time to make other people happy. It is time to be appreciated and treated with more than just a nod of existence. It is time to start living.
Oh, and my advice to my ex-wife moments after her boyfriend left the house to go home? “If you really like him, don’t just make it work, enjoy making it something more. Be happy.”
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photo: courtesy of author