We’ve known each other for 20 years. I’ve known you since you were a gangly teenager with a goofy smile and a wonderfully warped sense of humor. (If I’m telling all the tales, and I don’t even know if you remember this, through a series of miscommunications and misunderstandings, you were the first boy to see me completely nekkid. To your credit, you did not gawk. Nicely done). Through the mixed miracle that is the Internet, we’ve seen pictures of each others lives on the book of faces, you’ve kicked my ass at words with friends, I’ve appreciated your comments on my blog. And then, this morning, the Internet brought me your message. A message sent out to a select group of people, tastefully announcing that you and your wife are getting separated.
After I got over my mild jealousy that you’d figured out such a great way to get the word out (when it happened to me, I had no idea how to let people know. The papers won’t publish un-wedding announcements…), I found it just a little bit tough to breathe.
I lose my breath every time I hear it. I have been hearing it a lot, these days. There’s something about this age we’ve all achieved, all us 30-40-ish folks. It seems like some of us are all “Oh HELL no, I refuse to let the time I have left be miserable/unfulfilling/painful/unproductive/etc., etc.”
It’s happening quite a bit. And I’m shocked that it still shocks me.
But it does.
And once the shock subsides, I go into some Momma Bear/Divorce Fairy mode. I want to bring the person into my living room and make them tea and give them a nice quilt to curl up with and close the curtains so they can feel comfortable crying the Ugly Cry. And I want to tell them all the stuff I learned. So here, all I can think of at this moment, is thecompletely unsolicited advice I can muster.
1. Cry. Cry a lot. And don’t freak out when the crying starts at uncomfortable and awkward times/places. People understand. And you need to do it. Don’t deny the ugly hurt. It’s happening, and pretending it’s not will only make things worse. You’re a dude, so I don’t know that this will translate for you, but the whole separation thing felt like childbirth to me. I kept feeling like I could go around the contractions. At a point, I realized I had to stop skirting them, face them, go through them. Same thing with the emotional pain. Go ahead and mourn. You might feel like there’s been a death. There has.
2. Go to mediation. The government provides a free/cheap service. It was invaluable for us. It made us talk. Having a stranger in the room made us act like the best possible people we could be. And it let us map out how our lives would work during this crazy-ass, upside down time. Kind of like triage.
3. I know you want to handle this maturely. But when things can’t stay civil (and believe me, it is really, really hard to talk about things like money and kids without thinking “I used to love you, and do stuff with you, and we had so many awesome inside jokes, and you want to haggle over the fucking lawn-mower???”), don’t sweat it too hard. It’s not a straight line. There can/probably will be setbacks.
Having said that….
4. Keep your eyes on the prize. Picture how you want your family to work a year, 5 years, 10 years from now. And act accordingly. What helped for me was looking at a divorced couple I knew, who came to their son’s school plays together, and still talked and laughed, and even though in the beginning I never thought I’d get there, having role models helped.
5. The co-parenting was harder than I thought it would be. At first, I didn’t know why. I honestly believed that even though my ex and I didn’t love each other, we could parent with no problems. And when that didn’t happen, I was a bit mystified. We parent together wonderfully now, and I went back to when I first felt that way, to figure out what had been wrong. The turning point, for me, happened during a discussion about money. There was a moment when things got incredibly heated. I was as stressed as I’d ever been(which was saying a lot). And then my ex looked at me, and used a phrase I hadn’t heard him say since back when we’d been young, and this person who’d become a complete stranger to me since the day we separated? Well, all of a sudden, I could see him again.
I had been trying to parent with a stranger. And who can trust a stranger?
Which leads to
6. It gets better.
Time, in and of itself, does most of the work for you. It puts distance between you and the ugliness. It dulls the pointy memories. It makes you realize you’re still breathing, and this thing hasn’t ended you.
In my case, it made my life so much better. I was pouring ridiculous amounts of time and energy into something that turned around and sucked all that energy right back out of me, and then some. When it ended, I put that energy into other things. Figuring out who the hell adult-me is. Being a waaay better parent. And being excited about life. Probably for the first time, ever.
All of this might apply to you. None of it might apply to you. I don’t know. But it’s what I have to give you. Plus my number, which you have, never hesitate to use it.
Virtual hugs and mega-good thoughts,