At some point we have to talk about it. Once of us has to take the Big Obvious Question, slap it on the counter like a butcher would a bloody carcass, and hand the other person a cleaver. We’ll see the level of merriment in each other’s eyes get turned down a notch, or several. Our voices will take on different tones. We’ll both try to pretend that this carcass doesn’t have the potential to ruin everything.
“So why did you get divorced?”
This is the question that, no matter how glossy our post-divorce personas may be, can reveal us as damaged people. Because a marriage is a living thing. Especially if you have children, you probably tortured yourself for a good, long time to keep this living marriage-thing breathing long after it had become something ugly and warped. You performed all kinds of rituals to try to bring it back from the dead so the kids wouldn’t feel sad, much like how the dad tried to resurrect the family cat in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. You probably dug up your dead union from the backyard, performed some hocus pocus on it and put on a cheery voice when your dirty, bloody, reanimated marriage ambled into the backyard. Maybe, finally, you’re the one who had to take it out behind the shed and hack it to bits when you realized that you could no longer ignore that its breath smelled like dirt and decay.
Going through something like that can change a person.
When I first started dating again, in what I like to refer to as the Dating 2.0 period, I tried to only date men who didn’t have children. After all, one set of children of was complicated enough.
But then I went out for a one lunch date with a single dad who changed everything for me. He said that he only wanted to date women who were moms. That was a shock. Most men seemed to view the fact that I had kids with the same distaste as if I’d casually mentioned that I was missing a boob. (To be clear: I’m not. There are two. At least for today.) This guy explained to me that he liked dating mothers because there was a commonality of experience there that he really appreciated.
And you know? That guy had a point. Men without kids can’t understand the big, bloody carcass on the table. They don’t know what it’s like to be miserable in every molecule of your body every fucking moment of your life for years – while trying to convince yourself that you’re not – because you can’t bear to imagine that you could be responsible for irreparably mangling your kids’ lives by getting divorced.
Dating another divorced parent is like two war vets running into each other at the Burger King. They don’t know each other and they might not have served in the same country, but they both know what it’s like to have to have to go sleep with sand in their asses and then choke down an MRE before going on a patrol that they might not survive.
And no, divorce isn’t war but it certainly is hell.
Road trip … to misery
So, at the risk of turning this into some awful fan fiction here … let’s imagine that you and I are sitting on some barstools and one of us hauls out the bloody carcass question. What would I tell you? What’s my headline for why my marriage fell apart?
All of us divorced people can tick off our lists of perceived domestic sins, emotional or sexual abandonment, and/or betrayals large and small. It’s all been done before. Sure, the details matter, but they only matter so much. Those details tell you about the end of the story.
What interests me more than that is what the fucking fuck set can set two well-intentioned people down the road to misery. Not so much the “what” of what happened, but the “why.”
For me, the most easily digestible answer I can give is the so-called “wrong person” axiom. But that implies that my ex was somehow defective and should be sent back to the factory. And “wrong” sounds very blamey and I take plenty of responsibility for getting our little marriage train off on the wrong track from the get-go.
When I boil everything down to the bones of why this happened, the truth is this that I got married because I thought it was what I was supposed to do, and I didn’t trust myself enough to question it.
But there’s always another “why” isn’t there? [In fact, Louie, you illustrated this beautifully in your bit about your daughter asking a neverending series of why questions, where you eventually wind up having to deconstruct the mysteries of the universe.] The fact is, the reason I got divorced may go back generations, to the moment my grandfather set out on a truck delivery and decided not to return home to his wife and eight kids. Or maybe even further than that.
For the purpose of what we’re doing here, we’ll refrain from going back that far – although I do like to imagine some beastly Viking from the Norwegian side of the family crying into his pillow because he just wants his wife to touch him. Instead, we’ll rewind to a few years before I got married …
And that is a story that involves a fair amount of liquor, a south Jersey shore town, a month-long train ride, moving to the murder capital of the United States, and walking a herd of elephants through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. To be continued …
Read the previous Letter to Louie here: Welcome Back, Celibacy! (or) The Meg Ryan Effect.
Read the prior blog post here: The Beautiful Ruins of a Wedding Anniversary.