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Why Can’t We Be Friends?
Apr 15th, 2011 by Christina

As year three–yes, three–of my separation looms, I sometimes ask myself: Why aren’t R& I back to being friends yet?

Shortly after we split, I confidently told myself, my kids and my mother that my relationship with R started as a friendship (1985-1989), then became romantic/marital (1989-2008) and was now back to being a friendship (2008-eternity). See? Nothing to it! Toss the wedding bands aside, and—boom—just like that we’re back to being friends again. It seemed like a positive way to spin it and a lovely idea, given that R and I never stopped fundamentally liking one another, even if the love part went awry.

But so far, the sweet post-marital friendship I envisioned hasn’t quite panned out; we’re not even Facebook friends. There was an unforeseen circumstance about which I’ll be terribly cryptic–but that notwithstanding, it’s all turned out to be more complicated than I could have imagined.

It’s not that I hate R, nor do I love him anymore. We’ve both moved on. He’s had the same girlfriend for three years; I had a boyfriend for over a year (that ended a couple of months ago, fyi–not a tragedy in itself, but more on that in a future blog post). What I’ve come to realize is that when you have kids and joint custody, the post-marital relationship is the real til-death-do-us-part one. It’s the arranged marriage after the voluntary one–and for me, it sometimes requires a lot more effort.

Almost every day, we email or talk on the phone—about summer plans for the girls, about whether the girls need new sneakers (probably, don’t they always?) or should have less screen time (yes, of course. Their brains are melting.) About this or that adorable/infuriating/worrisome/brilliant thing one of them did or said. (Oh, and did you send a check to afterschool? Because I didn’t.)

We work one block from one another and often meet at a mid-point to exchange something one of the girls left at his place and needs at mine. Then there’s the weekly transfer of stuff from one house to the other, the incessant stopping-by to get something someone forgot, which usually involves a little chat on the threshold of the house that used to contain the four of us.

R & I are pleasant and friendly enough during most of these exchanges–but I, for one, could use some space. I find it wearying and confusing to constantly be interacting with the man who made a big fuss about living separately. It makes for a chronic low-grade tension, a perpetual neither-here-nor-there-ness. Limbo personified. How do you really move on when your ex-spouse is in your face all the time? And yet, what choice is there? Who else is going to help me figure out summer camp? Who else shares the same ridiculous degree of pride in our daughters’ sparkling report cards? Who else is R going to depend on to host the girls’ birthday parties and fill the goody bags? Who else does either of us call when one of the kids is sick or when the help required can only come from the other parent? We still need each other, which is both comforting and claustrophobic.

I’m not sure what form a post-marital friendship should take, or if the very concept is pure oxymoron. Maybe friendLY is the best one can hope for. Can you really go back to holding–rather, shaking–hands once you’ve given birth in front of someone? The notion of remaining “perfect pals” with your ex, as the book The Good Divorce describes, is, frankly, kind of weird. We’ve all known ex-couples like this–who hang out and even vacation with each other and their new partners. What is that and why?

It’s hard to know where the boundaries are. When R&I are too chummy, I wonder why we’re not still together. On the occasions when he comes over–say for Christmas morning, or one of the kids’ birthdays, I sometimes think: “Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t we all live under the same roof and that way I’ll have another adult to help me cook dinner and fix stuff, buy milk on the way home and get the girls to bed?”

Conversely, it feels icky when I’m too angry or chilly towards him. When he’s looked clearly sad or stressed, I’ve even had the crazy impulse to give the guy a hug–but how do you hug that? You can’t.

It’s complicated, for better or for worse.

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Ex-Rings and Other Stuff
May 19th, 2009 by Christina

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?

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