I’m taking a short break from the dating chronicles (can you stand the suspense?) in order to address a couple of housekeeping matters–those little changes that come with everyday life here in Splitsville that may seem incidental, but are in fact huge, pervasive and defining (see soy milk incident.)
The first of these dilemmas is: how should I refer to R now? We’re not officially divorced yet, so “ex-husband” doesn’t seem legit. Plus, I’ve always bristled at the term “ex,” which strikes me as pejorative. R is technically still my husband, but then again, not so much, so that title doesn’t fly anymore. Identifying him as “the girls’ father” or explaining that “they’re with their dad” works, even though it makes me feel kind of like a farm animal used for breeding purposes.
In her book The Good Divorce, Constance Ahrons, Ph.D., bemoans the fact that in this day and age there is no better word to describe someone with whom you may have had children and/or a long, meaningful relationship. She chooses to drop the hyphen as a way to make the “ex” component less rejecting, but I’m not sure I get the point of that. Isn’t exhusband pronounced exactly like “ex-husband?”
There’s also “wasband,” which is clever, and “hasbeend,” which is trying too hard. For now, I’m just calling him R.
Dilemma number two: What do I with my rings and other marriage memorabilia? At the moment, the rings are safely tucked in the cute gray suede boxes from whence they came (good thing I saved those, huh?).
With divorce so common these days, a cottage industry has even sprung up to deal with the cast-off rings. Some jewelers cut a chunk out of wedding bands to represent the fractured marriage, and I’ve heard of divorce rituals where people smash their rings with a sledgehammer and then have the resulting precious-metal blob fashioned into a new piece of jewelry. I’m too sentimental to go that route–plus, I doubt I could hit such a precise target with a sledgehammer.
It was hard parting with the rings, not only because of what they symbolized, but because I grew attached to them; they were my constant mani-companions. Sometimes they snuggled together on my ring finger and sometimes I let them each have their own hand. We had a history, the three of us.
The wedding ring I can live without, but I love my engagement ring–a simple oval sapphire set on a modern, braided gold band. I’m not sure what the etiquette is, but I plan to wear that ring again, dammit.
Then there’s the intricate cross-stitch sampler my aunt painstakingly wove and presented to us on our wedding day. Predictably, it hung over our marital bed for years. It seems wrong to banish it to the basement, but what other option is there?
And my wedding dress, which has been in R’s parents’ (also known as my former in-laws?) attic for years, creepily stuffed and preserved in a coffin-like box from the cleaners. Would my girls consider wearing it if/when they get married, or is that forever tainted too?
And so I dipped a toe into the kooky world of online dating. I looked at lots of profiles of men who theoretically fit my criteria and whom the site had deemed “95-percent matches” for me. In most cases, I so did not agree.
Now is when I reveal just how intolerant I can be at times. I am a huge language snob–sometimes obnoxiously vocal when people make grammatical and spelling errors, and bordering on homicidal when people describe something as “very unique” or use “impact” as a verb. (At the moment, I bristle at “uptick.”)
So there I was, finally ready to let loose and embark on a carefree midlife dating adventure and I felt like I had been plunged into a verbal hell. I was horrified–I mean, horrified in italics–to discover just how many men cannot spell or punctuate or even be bothered to use the toolbar functions that will do those things for you. (Is it really too much to click on spell check? And if you won’t even do that much to find true love, what does that say?) Worse was the heavy reliance on cliches that plagued the profiles, turning all men into generic “easygoing,” candlelight-loving, moonlit-beach-walking, special-someone-seeking clones.
Was there anyone out there who had a nuanced personality? Who didn’t feel the need to state that he “lives life to the fullest” or “knows how to treat a lady like a lady,” or, my favorite: “enjoys good food.” I won’t even get into the swarms of men who think it’s OK (perhaps even cute?) to refer to themselves with lower-case i’s or who use apostrophes to make words plural.
Clearly, this was not going to be easy for me. My spiritual yoga friend has a refrigerator magnet that says “Leap and the Net will Appear.” Well, I leapt, and there was the net, crammed full of my pet peeves. I wondered what William Safire was doing Saturday night.
Hey, wanna date me? (friend on right not included)
I was still getting used to the heady, yet lonely, kid-free every-other-weekend life a few months after R moved out when my married friends across the street—one of those internet-dating success stories that make you feel OK about the whole enterprise—suggested I join an online dating site. Given that I work at home, still socialize primarily among the hitched, and am way too shy to pick up someone in a bar (do people really do that?), I figured my chances of meeting a man any other way were not good at all.
I tried to feel all perfectly fine and this is what everyone does nowadays about it as I forged ahead, answered 300 multiple choice questions about my favorite things to do, eat, read, watch, drink, smell, touch and step in. I was asked to rate on a five-point scale ranging from “never” to “always” inane statements such as “I dislike some people” and “I often clean the house before company arrives.” Yes, really. Apparently there is legitimate science behind these questionnaires. Most of the bigger sites, in fact, claim to have had theirs developed by a well-known psychologist or anthropologist.
Then I had to select traits that I found acceptable in a mate, a task which led to much obsessing on my part. I knew I couldn’t rule out “bald,” given that I was shooting for middle-aged men, but that led me to wonder if men my age even want a 45-year-old woman. Was it true that men in their 40s got to date women in their 20s? I decided it was fine to insist on someone my height or taller (I’m 5’ 9”) and checked off “athletic and toned” or “slender” under body type. As for “languages spoken,” I went with Tagalog and Urdu (did not; just kidding.)
It took me a few weeks to complete the profile, and more than once I considered bagging it entirely. But then I pictured myself old and all alone with my increasingly-challenging jigsaw puzzles, and forged ahead. Sometime in late October, I finally coughed up my credit-card digits, clicked on “submit” and became a member of a major online dating site.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day–the first with R in absentia. The girls served me coffee in bed and gave me the perfect gift: a GPS. It’s a gift for them, too, because, hopefully, it means they will never again have to see their geographically-challenged mother become hysterical after missing an exit. (Plus, if I choose the device’s “Ken” voice, it’s a little like having a man in the front seat with me, tee hee.)
When R was still in residence, he made sure I got to sleep late on Mother’s Day and my birthday, a formality the girls chose to dispense with yesterday morning. But thanks to our 50/50 custody arrangement, I know that next weekend I can sleep as late as I want.
It took me a while to adjust to my new double life, where every few days I morphed from harried single mom into … what, exactly? Floozy divorcee? Sexless spinster? The jury was still out.
Those initial weekends sans kids were surreal. I hadn’t spent 48 hours alone in over a decade and there I was, on my own for an entire weekend in our eerily quiet, very, very still house. Without sibling squabbles to moderate, snacks to serve, and playdates to plan, what was I supposed to do to take advantage of this crazy new freedom? Should I run with scissors? Dance naked in the living room? Dance naked while holding scissors? The possibilities were both thrilling and terrifying.
At first, I felt naughty even contemplating doing something just for me, and worried that the Social Services Dept. might show up if word got out that I’d done something self-indulgent like taken a mid-day nap. In the end, here’s what I did during those early kid-less stretches:
R and I had a pretty traditional male/female division of labor. He worked full time; I worked at home, part-time, and spent the other part tending to our children. I packed lunches, did the laundry, made sure the kids’ fish didn’t die of starvation, and tried hard to create birthday-party goody bags that made my kids happy and the other mothers envious. R fixed things, could lift an air conditioner, was completely in charge of anything involving our car, and didn’t flinch when faced with a water bug the size of his shoe.
So, naturally, the minute R moved out, my life turned into an I Love Lucy episode. For example:
But there were also a few positives to being the only grown-up in residence:
Me, pre-split and so innocent
On my sixteenth wedding anniversary, I stood with my left hand submerged in a sink full of soapy water, grimacing as I tried to force my wedding ring over my knuckle and off the finger that had been its longterm residence. The whole experience–the waves of pain, the relief when it was all over, and the tender, wrinkly white circle of finger flesh it revealed–was oddly reminiscent of labor and delivery.
My husband, whom I’ll call R (because it bears no resemblance to any of his initials) had moved out a week before.
The separation itself was unexpected, lengthy, and miserable, and propelled me into a coma of disbelief for months. When I finally came to, I had to wrap my mind around the unwieldy fact that I was single for the first time in almost 20 years. And not just single–a word tinged with desperation–but also a “single mom,” to me an even more pity-inducing moniker. I found this new identity unsettling, to say the least. Devastating, to say the most.
When you’ve spent almost half your life as part of a twosome, losing your spouse is akin to losing a limb. It requires a whole new way of being in both day-to-day and big-picture ways. There have been a million moments like the one during my first post-separation grocery shop when I found myself staring blankly into my shopping cart. I knew I should put the soy milk back because the soy milk drinker in the house was no longer, um, in the house–but it seemed so wrong to go home with no soy milk that I actually debated what to do (I put it back). On a grand-scheme-of-things level, I’ve been asking myself questions like “Who am I without this guy?” and “Now what do I do with the rest of my life?”
Let me now confess that I kicked and screamed my way to the blogosphere. But now that I’m here, I see that this phase of my life lends itself particularly well to the form. It’s been 10 months since R moved out, which means I have some wisdom to share, yet the unmarried midlife me is still very much a work-in-progress.
Come along as I discover where life leads me, one post at a time.