The Community Of Divorce
There is no such thing as a broken family, only, I think, a broken and empty heart. Families are made in the heart and soul, and broken there. "The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying," wrote Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love.
I never meant to harm or hurt anyone, I was not angry or vengeful, I just wanted to slip out of one life and into the other, the one I was destined to live, without causing any harm or suffering. I wanted everyone to nod and clap, and say, of course, this is what you needed to do.
In that, of course, I was naive, and failed.
I thought I would die in that other life, that my heart would choke to death, not through the fault of anyone, but through the sometimes cruel and unalterable nature of life. I set out on my hero journey, to find out who I was. I think sometimes that the only thing worse than not knowing who you are is finding out who you are.
In 2008, a therapist helped me to see something I could not bring myself to see.
My marriage of 35 years had ended, without any conscious plan or decision. "You are not married," she said. I was stunned. I had moved away from my life, my wife then, a very good person, and I were living apart most of the time, living very different lives, convincing one another that this separation was an act of love.
When divorce proceedings began, a friend cautioned that getting divorced "was like being in a car crash, every day for two or three years." I did not, frankly, believe him. My wife and I were rational people, committed to being civil and compassionate, and sparing our family any further conflict or trauma.
It took us five years to complete the divorce proceedings, and it left our family torn apart and ravaged, and me with a new understanding of what it means to live in a country that cherishes money and the false notion that it can buy happiness and security. Divorce is so common we rarely think about it, and our culture rarely speaks of it. Perhaps this is why I was so unprepared for it.
I know many people who got divorced, but I had no idea what it would be like, how confrontational the process demands us to be, how centered divorce is on this idea of what it means to be secure in America as we enter middle-age and beyond. Once the first lawyer is hired, the process spirals well beyond our best intentions and out of our control. It seemed from the first that I was fighting for my life, not changing it. Perhaps I was.
Divorce taught me many things, and altered my life in ways that are permanent. and can never be forgotten. It felt like me to be a huge bomb that blows a family apart and leaves everyone staggered and wounded for many years. There are so many scars. Perhaps divorce exists so that we should never forget, it is not something to ever be taken lightly. The process of dismantling a life together is simply horrifying, no matter how justified it may sometimes be.
I am re-married, and happily, and my former wife is secure and happy in her life, or so I believe. I have found my life to live, and am living it with someone who shares it fully with me.
My ex-wife hasn't told me she is happy. We don't speak of those things. We rarely speak any longer, but when we do, it is warm and supportive and comfortable. We have a daughter we both love, and that will bind us for life., along with our support and love for one another for many years. Thirty-five years is a long time to be married, and I sometimes dream about my former life, sometimes even call Maria by my ex-wife's name.
That doesn't happen much now, but the therapist warned me to expect it. Don't hide it, she said. Thirty-five years is a lifetime.
Soon, we will be drawn together once more, in support of my daughter, who is having child in August. We will be grandparents, and no divorce can eliminate that connection.
I think of my other wife once in a while, and the things we did together, and the habits we had together, although that is getting less frequent. My daughter and I have both worked hard to re-define what it means to be family to one another, and to reconcile what I felt I had to do with what she felt and saw. We are getting there, I think we shall always be getting there.
That is what the other divorced fathers tell me.
There is no one left in my life from that long time, from that other life. It is astonishing to me how you can spend decades living one place, and a divorce will shatter everything in your life, blow it to pieces. My wife's many good friends never spoke to me again after the divorce, nor did the relatively few friends I had in my unhappy suburban life. I often fantasized about what they would say to me, what I would say to them.
I was excited to be seeing them again last summer at my daughter's wedding.
But those conversations never came, and I know now that they never will. I ran into some of them for the first time.
We had nothing to say to one another. They had nothing to ask me, they were not interested in my new life, there was nothing connecting us. The fantasy died against the clinking of glasses and the hip music booming from the band.
My ex-wife and I often used the term "amicable divorce," but there is really nothing amicable about divorce.
It is a tearing apart, a violent and hurtful thing, no matter how it ends.
Life begins anew, but divorce is a wound that does not, I think, ever completely heal. It is, after all, a tearing of the self, a violent thing.
And I really wouldn't want it to be painless. However simple it might seem for people to divorce from one another, it is not simple or easy. When I meet divorced people, there is a knowing sense of connection and understanding, we have all been to a place everyone knows about, but that you have to experience to comprehend. We get it.
I am in a good place now, happy and fulfilled and very much-loved and in love. If divorce taught me what an unhappy marriage was, it also has taught me what a good marriage is. For all the pain and trauma of it, I cannot regret it, even as I so deeply regret it. That is the thing about it, there is no good place to be, it is not clean or black-and-white.
I seek to live in total affirmation. I do not look back much, I do not live a life of regrets, although I am sorry to have ever hurt anyone. Honestly, I don't think that is completely avoidable in life.
There is a Buddhist saying that I like very much:
"This world – just as it is with all its horror, all its darkness, all its brutality – is the golden lotus world of perfection."
If you don't believe that, it is not the fault of the world. You can come to the depth of yourself that is deeper than the pains and sorrows of life. That's what life is, a ritual of joy and a terrible ordeal, the bliss and the ecstasy of fulfillment, pain and sorrow.