This is not mine, btw.
This past weekend I decided to wear a bracelet that I haven’t worn in years. No big deal, really, except that the bracelet was from R, and for a long time I boycotted most of the jewelry he gave me in a misplaced, don’t-mention-the-war type attempt to protect myself from sentiment. (Plus, the books say that removing physical reminders of the spouse is necessary to heal and rebuild.)
The downside of my jewelry boycott (mancott?), though, is that I have been wearing the same wimpy handful of non-R-associated necklaces and earrings for two years now and I’m getting bored. About 80 percent of my jewelry collection was given to me by R, and,whatever one may or may not think about the man’s other facets (tee hee—get it, facets?), one can’t deny that he had excellent taste in baubles. In fact, it instilled in other females the kind of awe and envy that is usually reserved for that lone remarkable dad pushing his kid on a swing at the playground on a weekday morning.
My friends routinely expressed amazement. “R got you that? He picked it out himself? All by himself?” Then would come the sad stories of having to return–or, worse, keep–ill-chosen husbandly gifts of jewelry, or of having to actually accompany one’s husband to the store so as to avoid faking an “Oh, honey, I love it!” moment.
I never understood this stereotypical cluelessness among men, because it seems that if someone truly knows you, he also gets your style and sensibility. Right? It’s so simple. (The truth is that toward the end of our marriage, R’s jewelry prowess began to falter, and I ended up returning a pair of whimsical, but not wearable, antler-shaped earrings. Something was clearly amiss.)
At one point during those stormy pre-separation months, I weepily gathered every last bit of jewelry that R had ever given me into a tangly mass and chucked it into the wastepaper basket next to his dresser. Fortunately, a sliver of my rational brain was still functioning and knew I would regret that move. I dug it out and tossed it into a drawer instead.
And now that I’ve lifted the ban, it’s like I have all this new jewelry! There are a few key pieces that give me a pang, but it’s amazing how time has diluted most of the voodoo.
Once I found the bracelet, I started sifting through the other stuff. I even reluctantly opened the gray suede box that now serves as a tiny coffin for my wedding and engagement rings. I put the engagement ring—one of my favorite pieces of jewelry (and yes, R chose it all by himself)—on the ring finger of my right hand. Then I put it back in the box because that one’s still a little fraught, plus it seems wrong to wear a symbol of a marriage-to-be when the marriage is now a has-been. But IS there any real reason not to wear it, now that it’s not so much my engagement ring as just a pretty ring that happens to have been given to me during a prior engagement?
What do you think?
Anytime you become a member of one of life’s many clubs, you’re introduced to new terminology. When you’re planning a wedding, you start tossing around terms like registry and flatware. Parenthood brings forth birth plan and lactation consultant. In the divorce zone, the lingo includes custody, mediator, and spousal support (that last one sounds like an uncomfortable device you might have to learn to live with after an operation, doesn’t it?)
Well, I was thinking recently about some of these terms and how one might want to customize them to suit one’s particular needs. Here’s what I came up with:
I wanted to come up with a third thing in this vein, but I couldn’t. So it’s your turn. What’s your personal fantasy twist on the customs of separation and divorce?
On Friday during my lunch hour, I went shopping for a birthday present for R on the girls’ behalf. As usual, they had grand ideas about what they wanted to get their dad–all of which were way out of my price/affection range–and no ideas about when we would actually have time to do the shopping required in the 24 remaining hours prior to his birthday.
I tried to convince them that the most meaningful gift would be something they made with their dear little daughterly hands–something out of Sculpey, maybe? (I love Sculpey, btw.) I should have just pinned a “kick me” sign on my butt, given the withering, disgusted looks that sweet suggestion inspired from my teenager. (Sometimes I worry that her eyes will roll so high into her head, we’ll have to go to the ER.)
So, fine, I offered to grab R a shirt on their behalf—a shirt being the default 11th-hour gift for all men.
This is the kind of task that you still have to do even when you’re no longer married to your kids’ father. Even if you don’t care anymore about appropriately acknowledging your ex’s birthday, you need to make sure your kids do.
And if you’re me, such an exercise reminds you that you did care once, which leads to having a blog-worthy experience in the men’s shirt department at H&M. (No, nothing like that.)
In the old days, back when I loved R, I would have spent weeks trying to find the perfect item, even if it was just a pair of socks, even if it required me to splurge on something at Barney’s or Bergdorf Men. I would not have dashed into the closest, cheapest store I could find, hell-bent on getting out of there with enough time to eat my sandwich in the park.
But, because I tend to analyze everything to death, I became profoundly aware of my ever-shifting level of investment in the shirt purchase. Here are a few of the thoughts that went through my head:
Last Thursday was my younger daughter’s birthday, so the four of us went out for dinner to celebrate.
The four of us means R was there.
We’ve done this before, of course–re-enacted scenes from our former life as an intact family. We’ve done it on Christmas morning (twice) and on the girls’ birthdays.
I realize it’s good that we can pull off the amicable thing. I sense how happy it makes the girls to have both of their parents in the same room. According to Constance Ahrons’ rubric in The Good Divorce, R& I are “Cooperative Colleagues.” She defines five types of divorcing couples, ranging from “Perfect Pals” (i.e. such good buddies that they should just stay together) to “Dissolved Duos” (think icky, mean Hollywood-style splits). Says Ahrons: “Cooperative Colleagues don’t consider each other close friends, but for the most part cooperate quite well around issues that concern the children … They spend occasional time together–usually special occasions, such as birthdays, school plays, or parent-teacher conferences.”
As sad and second rate as it is, I take pride in the fact that we effortlessly deceive restaurant staff into thinking we’re just another intact family, one where the parents don’t regularly meet in a mediator’s office. We leave the restaurant and walk together down the street, with the youngest daughter up on Daddy’s shoulders. We totally pass.
I find these times of temporary togetherness both grounding and unsettling. On the one hand, I’ve so adapted to my single-mom role with the girls that when R joins us I feel vaguely intruded upon–like, who is this guy who thinks he knows my kids so well that he can tell them what to do as if he’s their parent or something? But it’s also such a gift, one that I took for granted during all those years when the-four-of-us was a given. Another parent? Seriously? Someone who understands these two children–their dynamics, their strengths and weaknesses, their histories, their everything–exactly as I do? Someone around whom I can let down my guard a bit, as if I’m not the only one in charge? It almost sounds too good to be true.
When R showed up at the restaurant the other day, part of me wanted to say: “What are you doing here?” while another part wanted to shout: “Well, it’s about time you showed up! Where the @#$%^&* have you been for the past 20 months?”
But, being that we’re so amicable, and that it was our daughter’s birthday, I simply said “Hi.” Then we ordered sushi.
As usual, the end of the decade is being marked by countless articles, TV and radio specials–all of them scrambling to accurately distill the ’00s into a tidy list of significant people and events.
Oh sure, there was that 9/11 thing and a few wars started here and there–but apparently one of the most shocking things to happen in the past 10 years was that a rich, famous athlete had extra-marital affairs.
If you are among those who claimed to be floored by this news–who has perhaps smashed the face of your Tag Heuer watch in disgust–here is what I say to you: Give. Me. A. Break. You are so not shocked and you know it. You know it. Whatever one may think or feel about Tiger’s indiscretions on a moral level, I find it impossible to believe that anyone is genuinely shocked. Disappointed? Sure. But not shocked.
Since when has anyone with a squeaky-clean public persona lived up to it in his personal life? If you are a rich and famous married man, you are required to cheat on your wife. It’s not a choice. Ask David Letterman, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and all the others. Having extra-marital sex with younger women is written into their rich-powerful-man contracts. They are not allowed not to cheat. (OK, there’s the occasional Paul Newman, who finds a loophole by making salad dressing and pretzels.)
My cynicism about this should not suggest that I am one of those bitter divorcees who thinks all men are weak and pathetic–because truly that is not what I’m trying to convey. I certainly don’t condone adultery or deception, and I feel for all the duped wives involved.
I just think it’s naive to be surprised, given that unremitting monogamy seems like a longshot for most humans–rich, poor, male or female. In fact, what Woods did was so predictable that that’s what he should be most embarrassed about. Couldn’t he have instead surprised the world by not philandering? That would have been refreshing.
I like the way Frank Rich put it in a recent New York Times op-ed called Tiger Woods, Person of the Year: What’s striking… is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it.
I just hope our president, who has so much riding on his own image as The Perfect Husband, has something like the Paul Newman clause written into his powerful-man contract–because if he ends up in a Monica Lewinsky-type situation, we will surely be looking right in the face of Armageddon.
What are your thoughts? Why is our society so, um, wed to the concept of lifelong fidelity, and why do we feign shock when we discover that, for the gazillionth time, someone has cheated on a spouse?
Last weekend, my daughters and I got our Christmas tree. Pulling out the decorations had a similar effect as the one I described in my post about my country house, where the familiar backdrop forces you to acknowledge the things that have changed in the intervening months.
Two Christmases ago (my, but it still seems like yesterday sometimes), R & I knew our separation was inevitable, but he was still living with us and the kids had no idea that our cozy foursome was on un-cozy ground. Not surprisingly, it was hard for me to enjoy Christmas that year. Everything we did–getting the tree, decorating the tree, hanging up our four stockings–was laden with the awareness of it being the last time we’ll ever do this. The last time we will all four decorate the same tree and wake up on Xmas morning together. The last time for this, for that. I happen to be especially bad at last times. When we took down the tree and packed up the ornaments into their usual boxes, I wondered which ones had spent the holiday in my house for the last time.
Last Christmas was difficult for the opposite reason: It was full of firsts. The first time I bungee-corded the tree on top of the car (may she RIP), the first time only three stockings hung on our mantel, the first time the girls woke up on Xmas morning and came into a bed that was mine alone. R joined us for breakfast, which felt absurdly normal and also miserably not so. I felt incredible pressure to hold myself together, to exude a see-everything-is-OK! attitude for the girls. The minute they left with R to visit his family, I sobbed for an hour (maybe two). Then, for the first time ever, I spent Xmas day alone, reading a new book–sad, but also, secretly, guiltily enjoying the solitude just a little bit.
And here we are one whole year later already. The girls and I decided we didn’t really need to drive to get a Christmas tree, so we got one around the corner and brought it home in the shopping cart. When we discovered that the trunk was too wide for our tree stand, I cursed, but at least I didn’t feel helpless or cry. I went into Mom-saves-the-day mode, grabbed the bread knife and shaved the trunk ’til it fit.
I can’t say that everything has come up roses (one look at my checking-account balance will quickly convince you of that), but a few aspects of my life are indeed much rosier than they’ve been for a while. For one thing, the gap on our mantel where the fourth stocking used to hang is not nearly as glaring.
On Xmas day, R will again join us for breakfast and I imagine it won’t feel as awkward as it did last year or as poignant as it did the year before that. To quote an old friend, it will feel, as so much now does, like the new normal.
And I won’t be spending the rest of the day alone this year either. What a merry thought.
So now I’m really gettin’ bloggy wit’ it, referencing studies and trying to seem cool and opinionated and stuff. Today, a press release landed right smack in my in-box and I couldn’t resist. Did you know that middle-aged-and-older men who don’t ditch their wives for younger women are actually exhibiting suicidal behavior?
A study released last month found that men who marry women between 15 and 17 years younger than they are lower their chances of dying early by a whopping 20 percent. Men decrease the risk of premature death by 11 percent if their wives are seven to nine years younger. The certifiably insane guys who opt for older women have an 11 percent higher chance of dying earlier.
Assuming that “early” in this case doesn’t mean in the morning as opposed to in the afternoon, this information really puts my mind at rest. My own separation did not involve cradle robbery, so I have no personal axe to grind. But just this past weekend I was at a Big Chill-esque dinner party. A group of us who went to college together gathered to reconnect with one another–and also to bolster the spirits of a friend whose husband recently left her for a significantly younger woman after three decades and several children.
No one said it out loud, but I suspect many of us were thinking that this woman’s husband was just one more dumb-ass middle-age cliche.
How wrong we were! I mean, this new research proves that the guy went the younger-babe route purely for health reasons, just as one might suddenly start taking fish oil or a multi-vitamin. Instead of dissing him and jumping to conclusions, we should be grateful that he didn’t have a death wish.
(The research only applied to men in Denmark, but I think it’s safe to extrapolate, don’t you?)
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.
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?