Those of you who’ve read my work for a long time know I’m not one to mince words or smooth the rough edges. Life is messy and hard, and my role as a writer is not to pave the way with pre-cut stepping stones, but to look at the rugged path and say, “Yeah. That’s a fucker. Step carefully, wear a helmet if you’ve got one — knee pads, even — and know that someone else has been there before and made it to the other side.”
So, let’s talk about divorce. Let’s talk about the messiness of it, the broken glasses, the shattered vases, the tiny shards that work their way under your fingernail and ache every time you lift your coffee cup.
No matter who you are, divorce is hard. It’s painful. It’s messy. It’s complicated. Choosing to end something you once thought would last a lifetime is not a decision taken lightly. And for us, it involved moves, counseling, tears, arguments, angry words, and temporary reconciliations. It caused us to drag old skeletons out of the closet, to say, “You did this,” and “You did that,” and “I was never really happy, anyway.”
History reinvented as a means of survival.
You may think you’re going to be the greatest divorced couple in the history of divorced couples. (We did.) You may think everything is going to be smooth sailing and that you’ll expand your family rather than subtract from it. (We did.)
But life has a way of taking your smug resolution and turning it upside down.
Because divorce cuts into the core of your existence. It’s about you. It’s about him. It’s about the four amazing creatures you created together. But it’s also more than that. It’s about your new partners. Your in-laws. Your cousins. Your aunts and uncles. Your siblings. Your neighbors. Your individual friends. Your mutual friends.
Your mutual friends.
That’s the part I want to talk about today.
That’s the glass under my fingernail that’s turning into an infected abscess.
That’s the part I didn’t see coming.
You see… Chris and I had this wide, deep conglomeration of mutual friends. That happens when you grown up in the same hometown, after you spend almost 30 years together, when you build homes and raise kids and cross state lines together. It happens.
And you invite those friends into your home over the years. You serve them drinks and you blow up air mattresses for their kids and jump into ponds and swim in pools and walk around neighborhoods and reminisce together. You laugh and drink Limoncello shots as all your kids try to set up a tent that’s way beyond their camping capacity. You smoke cigars and turn up the music and revel in these amazing relationships you’ve been lucky enough to nurture and enjoy.
You wash beach towels and scrape cake off the floor and run the dishwasher 10 times and try to get the stains out of the carpet when all is said and done. But you don’t care what’s left behind because your friends left it behind. They left the stains and the memories and the cake crumbs and the laundry, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
But then the divorce comes.
And even though no one asked them to choose a side, they still do.
There are invitations for him and he brings his new girlfriend, even though you begged him to wait just a little bit longer, to give everyone a little breathing room… five, six, seven invitations since you split homes nine months ago. You see them all online, drinking and laughing and going to concerts and swimming and “friending” each other on Facebook. You see them carry on as if you were so completely replaceable that she — his new love — can just swoop in and take your place, smoothly, simply, without a second thought.
But how many invitations have you and your partner received?
Do they know how amazing your partner is? Do they know what they’re missing? Do they care?
And when you express your hurt at this dismissal? When you have to block your friends on social media because you can’t bear to see it all go down as if you never existed? When you cry and plead and beg for some understanding? It’s then that you’re met with anger and vitriol and accusations.
Is it really that hard to understand that pain? Truly?
Is empathy so far removed that no one can honestly see how hurtful that is?
This convenient erasure?
Why not invite both of us and our partners? Why not let Chris and I decide whether we are able to handle being there together with our significant others? Why not give us the benefit of the doubt?
Yes, I’m gay.
My partner is gay.
But I am still the same woman you once called friend.
I’m still the same woman you sat in the hot tub and sang under the white lights with. The one who challenged you to a diving contest and lost. The one you laughed with while we danced in the living room and played “Cards Against Humanity.” The one who stood by you through your own divorce, who helped nurture and comfort your kids, who fed your dogs, who watched your kids get safely on the bus, who loved you just because you were you.
And you were a friend.
I’m not perfect — by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been a good friend, and I’ve been a shitty friend. I was a good wife, and I was a shitty wife. I’ve been a good mother, and I’ve been a shitty mother. I am black and white and all the shades in between.
So is Chris.
So are you.
Is it just so much easier to replace one heteronormative relationship with another, regardless of the people involved? Trade the former wife for a similar model? Is she just easier to accept and welcome because she’s straight and has kids and looks like a suburban mom and doesn’t challenge your Midwestern norms? Is it that easy to write me off because in your eyes, I’m now different?
You liked me when I was with him. You slept in my guest beds and drank my wine and ate my guacamole and talked with me around campfires into the wee hours of the morning. We shared coffee and bagels and laughter and stories and dreams. Has all that so drastically changed? Must it? Just because a marriage ends, do friendships have to go, too?
Let me assure you that a marriage never goes down solely because of one person. Just because I came out and owned my homosexuality doesn’t mean that this ship — the one that was keeping our marriage afloat — hadn’t been going down for a long, long time. Do you really believe it could be that one-sided? That singular in its demise? Twenty-eight years? Do you really think there aren’t layers upon layers upon layers of hurt and disappointment and betrayal… on both sides?
Do you really?
I will lay out my “sins” for all to see. I will own them, claim them, atone for them. Just because Chris doesn’t necessarily feel the need to do the same doesn’t mean he doesn’t have sins, too. I won’t reveal them. They’re his to sleep with at night. Would you feel differently about them if they were known? Are his sins just easier to forgive because you can’t see them?
Judge not lest ye be judged. Isn’t that what your god says — the one some of us believe in… the one some of us don’t?
I had friends I thought were true. And loyal. And on my side… even if they were on Chris’s, too. I didn’t want there to be sides, never asked for that. I wanted them to keep loving us both. And for those who have continued to say, “I love you, and I love him, and I’m trying hard to navigate that gracefully…,” thank you. Thank you for speaking it, for communicating, for being aware, for thinking about both of us and our current partners, for considering our kids. But there were other friendships I thought would survive the storm. I have been shocked and saddened to learn how quickly they were destroyed by winds that hadn’t even yet reached tropical storm level. The hurricane wasn’t even on the horizon.
Here’s the lesson I’ve learned… the one I hope you will learn, too… Nothing is as simple or straightforward or as you’ve created it to be in your head. There doesn’t have to be a villain and a hero. Sometimes things just aren’t meant to be. But you — mutual friends — are part of a divorce, too. You contribute to how everything plays out in the future — from graduations to weddings to grandkids. Remember that. Remember how your choices — and most painfully, your silence — affects others. Remember that what you do and say and post online hurts and harms and irrevocably damages.
Tread gently. There is enough hurt already.
If you can do anything to help support a divorcing couple, it’s this: Don’t cause more harm.
I have friends who have divorced, I have been witness to relationships that ended. In retrospect, I have not been nearly as kind and giving and compassionate and empathetic as I needed to be.
I will never, ever make that mistake again.
When we know better, we do better.
These are lives we’re talking about.
The lives of those — both of those, all of those — you used to call friend.
~ ~ ~
“She always figured that they were her friends. But maybe they can live without her.”
~ James Taylor