Today is the seventeenth anniversary of my wedding to R and a week after the first anniversary of our separation. Seventeen years ago, my finger joyfully received that little band of gold with the tiny diamonds in it. If you’ve been reading this since the beginning, you’ll recall that one year ago today I removed said little band with much sturm und drang.
This is also my 20th blog post (!), so it seems like an all-around obvious time to take stock.
Let’s start with some of the things I don’t like about being an unmarried woman:
OK, enough with the poor-me stuff. Let’s try to see the champagne glass as half full, shall we?
In retrospect, it couldn’t have happened at a better time–me finding out that R was seeing someone, that is. I was a couple of weeks into my fling with D, and the endorphins, I guess, had me anesthetized. Thank god.
R and I were on the phone discussing logistics concerning our daughters–a daily fact of life–when he casually announced that he was “seeing someone.”
I was looking forward to visiting D that night and consumed with my own romance, so, even though R’s announcement stung, I didn’t feel the full force of it. I actually responded with “Well, good for you! I’m happy for you.”
Can you believe that’s what I said?? I mean, it would be lovely to be that accepting and evolved, but I’m not. It was clearly a shock reaction, which isn’t uncommon when people hear news that they simply can’t absorb. (I know because I’ve seen it on Grey’s Anatomy.) Here’s a description of the phenomenon based on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief: The person may nod and accept the news without appearing to be troubled by it. Inside, they have frozen out the news that has not really taken hold yet.
Over the course of the next few weeks, as the protective shell of the D fling started to crumble, I re-experienced R’s news a little more fully — ie as a full body slam. The anesthesia was wearing off and the pain was excruciating. Ow. Ow. Ow.
By now you know that I am determined to use discretion in this blog–no graphic descriptions of carnal acts, no wallowing, no excessive bitterness; in keeping with that, I am going to steer clear of my complicated feelings regarding this so-called “seeing someone” matter (I have my kids to consider, remember, and I suspect it’s just a matter of time before they find this blog.)
Just believe me when I say that it really, really sucks to think of your long-term spouse with someone else–no matter how the marriage played out. It’s that losing-a-limb thing again–sort of like if my mother had called and said “oh, by the way, it was nice being your mother for 45 years, but, fyi, I went out and replaced you with another daughter and it turns out I like her better. See ya!”
Of course, since R and I were separating, I had to have understood that we’d both eventually find other people, right? And you’re probably thinking: Hel-LO! Christina, you were seeing someone too–so what’s the difference, what’s the fuss? Again, discretion prevents me from explaining in depth, but in my case, the seeing someone was more of a reaction and in R’s, more of an action (am I being too cryptic here?)
Back to that phone call with R: After telling him how delighted I was for him, I said “I’m seeing someone too!” And he responded with “Well, good for you. I hope you’re having fun.” I think he really meant it, which is so beyond annoying.
Plus, my fling ended; his continues–a gift that keeps on giving.
Check out this photo. See the teensy-weensy figure with arms outstretched? That was me this morning, flying through space on something called a zip line, on the campus of an all-boys camp in Maine.
What was I doing literally hanging around an all-boys camp? Have I completely lost it and started stalking pimply young lads in the woods? Oh, please.
Here’s the deal: I’ve got a two-week gig running a creative-writing program at Camp Move It, an all-girls arts camp here in Maine; this camp uses some of the facilities at the boys camp down the road, including the zip line. I arrived here a few days before the campers, in order to get the lay of the land and meet the rest of the staff, which consists mostly of lovely young women in their early 20s. (Never have I been so painfully aware of the fact that I am really, truly, not in my 20s anymore. Fortunately there aren’t a lot of mirrors in the great outdoors to help me confirm this.)
So, back to the zipline, which we were all invited to try, aided by a few of the staff at the boys camp. First, a counselor with the very summer-campish nickname “Crazy Dave” put me in a bright blue harness and clipped me to a rope; then I scaled a huge tree and was helped onto a tiny wooden platform that was at least 30 feet off the ground. On the platform was a reassuring English guy whose job it was to talk me off the ledge.
Here is what I learned: It is terrifying to throw yourself off the side of a very tall tree into open space. Terr. I. Fy. Ing. You have to trust that two little strings and a pulley are going to keep you from hitting the ground and busting open like a raw egg. But I did it and it was exhilarating and all day I’ve felt really cool and brave and like maybe I am still 22 years old.
But wait, this blog isn’t supposed to be about random events in my life; it’s about this very specific post-separation period. So watch as I tie it all together: As I was anticipating climbing the tree, I kept thinking: Metaphor alert! Metaphor alert!
Terror. Fear. Wishing you could turn back. A nice guy pushes you off the ledge. You think you will not survive. But you do. You put your faith in the two little strings and the pulley that are holding you up because you have to. You have no choice.
Me, being talked off the ledge.
I remember how thrilled I was the first time I referred out loud to R as “my husband.” It was on our honeymoon, which took place in the Pacific Northwest. We took a red-eye flight to Seattle the day after our wedding and arrived early in the morning, completely exhausted. Our reserved room at the B&B wasn’t available until the afternoon and we were simply too tired to function, so we checked into a motel for a four-hour nap.
I was at the front desk, drowsily arranging for the room, and couldn’t resist mentioning that my husband was parking the car, even though the desk clerk hadn’t asked and didn’t care. When R entered the lobby, I announced “oh, look, here’s my husband now. Why, I guess he parked the car successfully, that husband of mine.”
I may as well have been wearing a Cinderella costume, such a dorky Disney princess was I, so out-of-my-mind delighted to have become a wife, and before the age-30 deadline too! Sure, I was raised in the 1970s, but Gloria Steinem could eat my veil. I had married for love, but I was also proud in a weird 1950s kind of way. My childhood had been difficult and sad and I’d always felt on the outside, always envied the “normal” families. Marriage made me part of the status quo, legitimate and safe.
Fast forward to the present: I’m sitting on a bar stool drinking Sauvignon Blanc with my friend, recounting my latest dating adventure and secretly feeling sorry for her because she’s a wife with a husband and a long marriage. This was during my BDF (brief dating frenzy), when I crossed over to the other side and became convinced that long term marriage was an insane idea, a bogus concept, an anthropological abnormality.
Suddenly, instead of envying my cozily-married friends and longing for my old life with R, I pitied my pals, who, I noticed, had a kind of glazed, trapped look in their eyes. How tragic that they couldn’t flirt and date and pursue reckless abandon like I could! Hell, I was the lucky one, the one to envy. I had to stop myself from blurting, “Do yourself a favor and get out now, before the chin hairs start to multiply.”
My married friends were fascinated by me and hungry for updates. The morning after a date, I’d wake up to emails asking “SO??” “Did you have fun? Where’d you go, what did you do?” There was frequent use of the word “vicarious.”
But then we already knew that–right?–that the single grass seems greener to the married sometimes and that most people in long exclusive relationships ache for a break from that exclusivity.
I don’t know what the answer is. My BDF died down– to the great disappointment of my friends–and I’m confused all over again. I still believe that long term marriage is, in general, a dicey proposition, but I am not at all convinced that it’s a gift to be a single gal in her mid 40s. Sometimes I’d kill to be able to say “oh, look, here’s my husband, home for dinner.”
Fortunately, the demise of my 8-week affair with D didn’t leave me shattered like the end of my 16-year marriage did; in fact, it had a galvanizing effect. My fling with D successfully re-routed me, at least in terms of re-introducing me to my feminine power and that kind of thing. You could say I was suddenly man-hungry (but please don’t say it because it sounds dumb.) I definitely craved male attention and used it to soothe my still-smarting separated ego.
Dating became an all-consuming hobby, the dating website a Netflix queue of constant, ever-renewing possibility. I didn’t actually go on that many dates–maybe 7 over the course of 4 or 5 months–but I engaged in a bunch of email exchanges and a few phone calls. Call it armchair dating, if you will (will you?)
Some days my inbox overflowed with messages from interested men and some I found interesting. At first, I thought it was only polite to respond to anyone who emailed me, but over time I became more selective and clicked “delete” with impunity.
I deleted anyone who didn’t provide a photo or whose photo depicted a grossly muscular and/or heavily tattooed guy, usually shirtless, washing or leaning against a Trans Am. I tried not to instantly write off guys from Staten Island or Parsippany, but my ingrained snobbery won out.
A few men were clearly too good to be true, like a surgeon who spoke 5 languages, wrote children’s books and looked like Javier Bardem. Delete. Too many exclamation points in one email? Delete. Eighteen photos of his King Charles spaniel? Delete. Picture of himself wearing a goofy hat or costume of any sort? Delete. Delete. Delete.
There seemed to be no way around the word easygoing, however, so I let that one go; I was taken with one guy for a few weeks, but I lost interest because he ended every email with “Happy Wednesday, March the 11th!!” or “Have a great Saturday April 3rd!” (I don’t know, was I too harsh?) Another guy was funny and charming via email, but freaked me out when he started to suggest names for the children he saw in our future.
I graduated to the phone-call stage with a few men and met a handful in person. One-third of those I mentally ruled out within five minutes (one looked a little like Hugh Jackman in his photos, and a lot like Eugene Levy in Best in Show in person; another wore a Pink Floyd t-shirt to dinner and when I asked him if he was a fan of that band, he flatly answered “No.” He also ordered himself two Coca-Colas at once–what is that about?)
And two notes to self:
But the dating endeavor wasn’t a total bust. I met some smart, interesting men and I went on some thoroughly fun dates; for one reason or another, though, the requisite chemistry has thus far proven elusive.
So that takes us roughly from February to the present, as far as my dating life is concerned. My subscription to the website expires in about two weeks. I assume I will revisit man-hungriness at some point. For now, blogging is my new all-consuming hobby.
I’m determined not to let this blog veer off into sad/weepy/bitter/poor-me territory (as it is, I visit that arid zone in person more often than I’d like). That said, Saturday kind of sucked and I need to get it off my chest, so please bear with me. (It’s not all reckless abandon here in Splitsville, you know.)
R, who lives nearby, arrived at about 9 am to help me move some furniture. I live in (formerly-our) house and we will be renting out the top floor soon. Since (formerly-our) bedroom was up there, we needed to move the bed downstairs to what will be my new room. Maneuvering the huge mattress down the narrow staircase seemed like such an obvious metaphor. I had that out-of-body feeling where you’re simultaneously living your life and observing it.
I was thinking: Look at the once-loving couple as together they move their marital bed into a new room because now only one of them sleeps in it. Notice how big and unwieldy it is as they turn the corner, cram it into its new location and let out sighs of relief. Life sure is crazy sometimes.
That planted a seed of sadness in me that blossomed later in the day, when we were at our daughter’s dance recital. It was the first big event R and I attended in our new incarnation as a formerly-married couple, the first time we arrived separately and didn’t sit next to each other, and the first time both sets of grandparents were in the same room together since the separation. I was a bit of a basket case.
I had a lump in my throat while watching our beautiful daughter dance so beautifully and while thinking about how R and I created her and how we now know and admire our ever-changing children from different vantage points. R is two rows down and to the left. Oh, I get it: he is not next to me anymore.
After the show, everyone milled around while waiting for the dancers to appear. I greeted my (former) in-laws, R greeted his. R and I stood side-by-side, awkwardly chatting about our child. Assorted members of these two families–who spent almost every holiday together for years and years–were now nervously making pleasantries.
I’m sure we were all relieved when our young dancer emerged from back stage and quickly stole the spotlight from the elephant in the room.
So where was I? Oh, right, D’s. He and I spent a lot of time over the next few weeks alternately forming a mutual-admiration society and driving each other crazy.
He proved to be just as quirky, intense and difficult as I initially suspected. Allow me to count the ways (btw, he knows I’m writing this, so don’t worry that I’m dissing him behind his back. Believe me, he likes the attention):
And that’s the tip of the “quirky, difficult” iceberg. However, he also did things that redeemed his impossibleness to some degree:
And now that I have devoted–what, five posts to this guy?!–it’s time to bid him farewell. He goes down in history as the perfect rebound guy for me, but I hope it’s clear that a steady diet of him would have sent me to an early grave. One thing I never felt around him was calm.
After a couple of months, things drifted into a friends-with-benefits type of arrangement and then into friends-sans-benefits.
In fact, D stopped by the other day and we had tea in my backyard. It was almost like having a tame cup of coffee with a nice man. Almost.
This seems like a good time to take a little break from the D saga so I can talk about something really exciting: books (c’mon, don’t give me a hard time. I warned you I was a word geek.)
I’ve always loved reading, but mostly for purposes of entertainment, education, or edification. During those months when separation was imminent, though, I clung to books like lifelines. No more snickering at the self-help genre for me; as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no cynics facing marital dissolution. The “relationships” shelf at my local bookseller is currently depleted.
It’s funny (but not necessarily “ha-ha” funny) how the titles I’ve read represent a chronology of the past couple of years. First came the shiny, hopeful, you-can-save-your-marriage books like The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, which sports a giant wedding ring on its cover. I read it and left it on R’s bedside table. He said he’d get to it just as soon as he was done with Remembrance of Things Past and then Kristin Lavransdatter.
Once I realized I was the only one reading the marriage-saving books, I chucked them and bought When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron. She talks about not resisting change and pain, but instead embracing them in a Buddhist/Zen kind of way (got big points with my spiritual yoga friend for having this one lying around). I liked the concept a lot, but surrendering to the beauty of agony was not where I was at just yet. So I ordered a few from the “ok-now-it’s-an-emergency” category. Their covers tend to be bright yellow or fire-engine red with lettering in all caps and no time for illustrations. These include Divorce Busting and The Divorce Remedy, along with How One of You Can Bring the Two of You Together. They offer lots of solo stealth techniques, which are interesting in theory, but didn’t work for me; kept those in my closet (R was reading Trollope’s The Barchester Chronicles at that point.)
When R moved out, I went for a few workbook-style books, including Divorce and New Beginnings, which has a helpful custody planner in the back, and The Good Divorce, which, oxymoronic as it sounds, does a good job of making divorce seem like something to which we should all aspire. By then, R had taken his literary tomes with him and his bedside table was all mine.
Around when I joined the dating site, I added Mars and Venus Starting Over and Mom, There’s a Man in the Kitchen and He’s Wearing Your Robe: The Single Mother’s Guide to Dating Well without Parenting Poorly. I hid those from the girls, who really did not need to know what I was up to.
Now, it seems, I’ve come full circle. I’m reading American Wife. But this time, it’s fiction.