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My Last Days as Someone’s Wife

I optimistically thought we might head down to the courthouse together to sign the papers or some equally uniting yet unlikely scenario. Meet for coffee, scrawl signatures on whatever we need to sign and take the divorce documents to the bored government employee who pronounces the time of death on our ten years as husband and wife. Enduring the difficult day together in a nod to how it began a decade ago when just the two of us clutched shaky hands in the home of a judge willing to hitch us for $100. A tip of the hat to our past and a demonstration of our commitment to continue positively leading the family we created together.

I was naively aiming too high, I now realize. Because life is life and nobody is ever on the same goddamn page, no matter how badly you want or need them to be. Hell, that’s why we’re divorcing in the first place, so why would I think our divorce would play out differently than our marriage? Just as our notions of marriage vastly differed, our ideas about how divorce should and shouldn’t unfold could not be more disparate.

“That’s not how divorce works.” I’ve heard that sentence a lot over the past few months. As if he’s secretly consulting some kind of "How to Divorce" handbook and keeping me honest with the official process. And yeah, OK, I get it. Kind of. We’re divorcing. We are dissolving our togetherness so that means no more togetherness. But, not really. We have three children to parent. We’ve accepted that we don’t work together so why not make it the best damn divorce ever? Why make everything harder than it needs to be? But I’m increasingly realizing that while I view spending casual, family time together as a good thing for both the children and us, he views those same moments as uncomfortable and difficult and therefore unnecessary. I get it, I do. Why should he be forced into a relationship with someone who chose to leave? He wants to move on and his way of moving on is different than mine.

Now that my positive divorce bravado is wearing thin, I am starting to comprehend how some people never come back from broken hearts.

Still, with the renewed respect for each other that our separation seemed to bestow upon us this past year, I arrogantly thought we could transcend all that "avoiding each other, unless it involves the kids" nonsense that seems to be standard in other divorces. I mistakenly assumed that everyone who experiences a bad divorce just didn’t try hard enough to make it good. If we just tried hard enough and respectfully communicated our feelings, I thought, we could forge some new kind of modern divorce wherein we accept that we don’t work well together but that we like each other very much, so we make the best of this newly reorganized family. Except those parameters of what constitutes a successful divorce are mine and not something he was ever totally on board with—therein lies the rub. We couldn’t agree on much when married and we can’t agree on much while divorcing. "Positive divorce" was always more my mantra than his. Maybe borne of the guilt I feel for being the one to finally pull the pin on the grenade that was our marriage. It’s almost like I was holding him hostage in my idea of divorce and he had a more realistic notion of how it would go down.

The way I saw it, you could let your anger take over, arm yourself with a pit bull attorney and engage in outright battle, exhausting yourselves and your finances, or you could grab each other by the hand and tiptoe down the potholed road of separation with the hope that once you crest the mountain of divorce, you ultimately end up as friends. Except someone trips on a pothole when the other person is in a groove and the one who tripped gets upset that the other one appears to be moving seamlessly forward and an argument ensues. That’s when you realize that in addition to the monumental heartbreak that is sorting out separate lives — custody of children, new living arrangements, finances — you also have to agree on what constitutes the positive divorce you’re desperately trying to will into existence. Before you know, it you’re arguing about the right way to divorce on good terms and the arguing leads to bad terms—is your brain imploding yet?

My divorce will be final tomorrow. As I wrote on my personal blog, The Girl Who, “When I think really hard about all of it, my mind kind of caves in on itself and I start to freak. Like trying to contemplate forever or infinity or whatever. You know what I mean. Your brain just skitzes out and shuts down. The panicky dread that infuses your body immediately upon waking up from a nightmare before you realize it was just a bad dream. That.” I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking, analyzing. If my brain were powered by electricity it would’ve short-circuited long ago, cartoon smoke tendrils spiraling out of my skull and into the dark cloud hanging over my head. Am I weak or strong? Was the decision to divorce made from strength or weakness? Sometimes both, I think.

You hear people talking about their divorces all the time — some of them throwing silly divorce parties to camouflage their pain, others wearing their torment on their sleeves, hitting the bottle and falling into an abyss of grief — and you feel for them, but unless you’ve experienced it firsthand, you can’t entirely comprehend the stark horror that descends on a person’s world. It's like dealing with a death in the family.

Now that my positive divorce bravado is wearing thin, I am starting to comprehend how some people never come back from broken hearts. That, or the experience changes them so fundamentally they’re never the same. They know too much, have seen how completely life can change, how delicate the threads of the lives we weave truly are and how quickly it can all unravel into nothing but haunted hearts.

It’s all so consuming, especially when kids are involved. Your mind, your heart, your guts: the heartbreak is bigger than you can handle on most days. Not just a broken heart over rotting love but a shattered yet still pulsing heart over the tragedy of all of it: regret, missed opportunities, the life you imagined in your future shot down in a blaze of torment and anguish, trying to make it work then giving up, trying again and giving up again, finally letting hope die a slow, torturous death and always the blindingly bright light of the beautiful souls you created together observing you with innocent eyes, spotlighting your defeat.

The fact is, I pretentiously told myself that I’ve been writing some kind of manifesto about how to have a positive divorce, but the raw truth of it is that I’ve been deluding myself this whole time. I suppose it was my way of surviving the immense pain of the past year.

Perhaps this whole time I’ve been deluding myself about a "positive divorce." The term shrieks OXYMORON, doesn’t it? I had this vision of us maintaining a friendship above and beyond co-parenting but I’m starting to wonder if maybe that’s just a ridiculous lie I told myself to ease the pain of separation. Because just as it takes two people to destroy a marriage, it takes two people to maintain a friendship. If one person isn’t into it, if one person doesn’t really even want to see you anymore, what can you do about it? I naively thought that if we successfully negotiated all the usual contentious suspects — custody, finances, new relationships — we’d be able to move forward as friends. I didn’t anticipate someone I still love and respect wanting to pretend like I don’t exist unless it relates to parenting and that hurts. Heartbreak anew.

The fact is, I pretentiously told myself that I’ve been writing some kind of manifesto about how to have a positive divorce, but the raw truth of it is that I’ve been deluding myself this whole time. I suppose it was my way of surviving the immense pain of the past year. What I’ve really been writing here isn’t a novel approach to divorce at all; it is, in fact, the very typical demise of someone’s marriage. That initial notion of positive divorce is something everyone strives for, before it all goes to hell.

As the deadline on my marriage pants its fetid breath in my face and the demise of our relationship continues to unfold in voyeuristic divorce chunks, splattering monitors all over the Internet, the cold, hard truths about life after divorce are slowly revealing themselves to me: that, as much as two people try to stay friends and be cool together, it doesn’t ever really work that way, that I’ve been wrong, there is no such thing as a positive divorce.

The joke was on me the whole time, wasn’t it? Those of you who have been through it indulgently received my positive attitude with a wry smile because you already knew what I’m just now discovering. There’s no such thing as a positive divorce.

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