I Don’t Want Company

It’s finally happened, something I never, ever would wish for: A dear, close friend of mine, whom I’ve known since I was officially a kid, has decided she must leave her marriage.

I am happy to be able to be her guide, to lend my steadying arm, to have at the ready all the things you have to learn as you go through divorce, and then never need again. I hope I can save her some time, some fluster, help her find her way to her answers faster, with less confusion and panic.

I may be an advocate for finding a graceful way to let go in divorce. I may believe that I can help people choose the least damaging path when they fall apart.

But that will never, ever mean that I am blasé when I hear the news of another breakup.

Life is fragile. Handle with care. A moment of silence, please.

We Stumble Together

So my ex and I have hit a snag. Not a snag between us. Rather, a snag that envelops us.

Turns out, suddenly money is really tight. It’s tight because the economy stinks. Tight because both he and I have been out of work for long patches here and there (though thank goodness, he’s working fulltime again). And tight because our son—our beloved project who will outlast our years together as a couple in six more years—suddenly needs a lot of care and intervention and special attention. That’s $$$pecial attention, in case you were wondering.

Times like this is when living in New York is great, because there are plenty of warm and wonderful people who are helping us understand what Zack’s issues are (educational, social and otherwise). But what can I say? It’s a financially vulnerable time for us to be taking all this on.

I will admit that I really put off telling my ex that I was in trouble and struggling to pay for all these services. I didn’t want to be weak. I didn’t want to NEED him. He left me, after all. Needing someone who rejected you feels like a death-defying proposition. Even though I’ve forgiven him and all is well. I had to admit that I’d fallen a little in love with an idea of myself as the strong survivor. Because of my steady career as a magazine editor, we were able to separate without too much financial panic on either of our parts. My ex didn’t care about “my money,” he said, and he acted accordingly, allowing us to work out a nontraditional agreement that gave him what was his, while also giving me enough to buy a big apartment for our son to live in fulltime.

And now, I’m staring at my emptying out bank account, and looking over the cost of the private schools and so forth that our son needs, and panicking. And having to work with Chris to find a way to make it work.

And you know what? We are. I exposed my fears and mounting financial concern to him, expecting anger, eyerolls, refusal, since I am the more comfortable partner. He responded by reassuring me that we’d figure it out. By sending a long and thoughtful email about what he can do now, and what his plans are to help more later.

I’m so grateful. Grateful that that’s who he is. Grateful that we broke up in a way that means every time we have to renegotiate the terms of our connection (since it’s not really negotiating the terms of our separation anymore, now, is it?), we find a new path. We walk in all this unknown together, even though we are apart.

No, that doesn’t pay the bills. But I’d rather be financially stressed and at peace than the opposite any day.

Thanks for being a great partner, Chris, still, four years after we stopped being married.

What I Didn’t Have To Give Up

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My magic MIL, Barb, with my son, Zack. (Why oh why won’t they smile at that age?)

I just got back from a trip to the Midwest (Batavia, Illinois, for those of you who want to know) with my son, Zack, and my boyfriend. We headed out there on my son’s spring break to go visit Zack’s grandma—my mother-in-law.

I don’t call her my ex-mother-in-law, because she’s not my ex- anything. She’s been a constant force in my life since the day I met her when her only son and I were just 22 years old. I can’t imagine life without her, and lucky for me, she didn’t want to give me up, either. To be sure, negotiating our relationship has had its delicate moments—like when my boyfriend moved in with my son and me last year, and she asked point-blank, “Well, are you talking about getting married?” A reminder that even though we may be living a modern family life, she still prefers the traditional side of things.

When both my parents became suddenly, gravely ill last year, she was a strong, quiet force helping me through the tremendous grief and panic. And for all intents and purposes, she is now the only parent I have left. (Both my parents passed away within weeks of each other last year.) It is with that logic that I convinced my boyfriend—anxious about visiting my ex-husband’s mother, overstepping his boundaries, about the sheer “weirdness” of it all—that he had to meet and get to know this amazing woman, this anchor in my life, this magical grandmother and dear friend all wrapped up in one.

It was a lovely visit, and he enjoyed her as a person, not as my ex-husband’s mother. And of course, as those magical mother-in-laws always do, she gave me and my boyfriend time to sneak away and go on our own adventures.

It’s so important to remember we don’t have to throw everything away when we divorce. Not the memories, not the photos, not the people we met and loved and cared for along the way. This mother’s day I’ll be missing my mom, and celebrating Barb, grateful that one of the hardest things I experienced in my life has also showed me life’s very best, as well.

So much to say, so much to learn

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I think the surprise that has amazed me the most about my divorce is that it has been a pathway to so many really good lessons. And even now, when the divorce feels like old news (it was final in 2007), I’m still learning and discovering things about myself and about life that I wouldn’t have otherwise. As I wrote in my book, I don’t totally love having to learn some of these lessons, but I do really appreciate feeling wiser! Wisdom is a great way to offset some of the less satisfying aspects of aging (like those permanent dark circles under my eyes that have nothing to do with lack of sleep).

So for Babble.com, I wrote an article about how divorce has made me a better parent. Why not hop over there and give it a read? Comment here or there about what rings true to you and share other lessons you’ve learned. It’s very hard to usher one’s children into heartbreak years before their peers will have to experience it, but I do still really believe there’s a way to do it that just makes them—and us—more forgiving. And yes, more wise.

The Power of Friends

I know that when I was going through the worst parts of my divorce, I felt not only hopeless, but helpless. And not only helpless, but, impossible to help. Which is a totally different thing. So many friends would say “Let me know what I can do for you,” and my mind would just go blank.

So I wrote a few articles for this website about that (here‘s oand here). And I was asked to write something for the great, smart website wowowow.com, and I chose to write about the power of friends there as well. You can read the article here—and don’t forget to email it to a friend who’s been keeping you in touch with the you you used to be as a way of saying thanks for her silent, but so-helpful, help.

In Search of The Answers

My least favorite part of divorcing—well, besides the divorcing part–was how suddenly I turned into a one-woman referendum on Why Marriages Fail. Everyone had a reason or two for why my husband had left me (and if you read the comments on articles I’ve written for other websites, like HuffPo and CNN.com, you can continue to delight in the fun). The top 3? Because I made more money than he did. Because we married too young. And because I worked too much.

Actually, he left me because he didn’t want to be with me anymore, and not because I made too much money or worked too much. He just felt like we wanted to live different lives, and not share the same life anymore. It took me awhile to accept that simple truth—mostly because I was looking for a reason or two that made me look good or wronged or anything other than being someone Who Was Left—but once I did, everything stopped hurting so much. Truly. (Which is why I can laugh when I get all those funny comments about why my husband left me on my articles; because I know the truth and don’t need to care what anyone else thinks anymore.)

We, as a society, are so desperate to make divorce something that happens for a REASON: and not some meaningful reason, like, we’re living in a society that only knows how to stimulate and reward individual growth and sucesss, not the growth and happiness of family units (hello! government policies to help with work-life balance, childcare and so forth!). So instead, we focus on minute, probably irrelevant details that possibly divine the end of a marriage, to make us all feel like it’s something that Happens To Other People.

So that brings me to a hilarious, fascinating, potentially useless article from the Daily Beast that explains some of the “high-risk” factors that make us more likely to divorce. Such as: having a child with ADHD (sure, knew that one; it’s very stressful), to having two daughters instead of two sons (huh?), to if you didn’t smile for photos in high school (triple huh???), to if you happen to be a choreographer or dancer, and so on. I love the comments on this article, I have to admit: someone points out that if you don’t pluck the hairs off your big toe, you’re more likely to divorce as well. Maybe *that’s* why Chris and I didn’t make it after all!

Sometimes the Bad Turns Good

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Today a fellow divorced mom stopped by my Facebook page to leave behind a link to an amazing post she wrote about her long drive back home to St. Paul, Minnesota with her three kids, leaving her ex-husband behind in Portland. Let me tell you people, it is filled with wisdom! I wanted to type that part in all caps because I feel it so strongly, but i also didn’t want to shout at you.

This is what is left behind after grief subsides: wisdom. And you know what else was left behind? Her favorite summer trip with her kids, EVER.

Let this point be a lesson to us all: That which at first glance seems like a hard time (driving alone across our big, lonely country with your kids all by yourself as your marriage has ended, watching your idea of your perfect life get smaller in the rearview mirror), can later turn out to have been a beautiful revelation. So revel in it, those revelations. That’s what they come to us for, little sparkly souvenirs that are left behind on the beach after the storms have retreated.

Thanks for sharing, Molly!!!