Did you read this story this week of the Iowa couple who died hand in hand? You must. After 72 years of marriage, the couple passed away an hour apart. Even after 94-year old Gordon Yeager stopped breathing following a car accident, his 90-year old wife Norma's heart was beating through him, strong enough to be picked up on monitors. She passed away an hour later. This post on divorce is inspired by their devotion.
It struck me, particularly in the first and most wretched year of divorce, how some couples I knew moved quietly and slowly away from me.
Some of that was emotional or logistical, as married people faded away into connecting only by holiday cards or never at all. Some women I'd known, friends who'd shared many laughs and cocktails and secrets about relationships, never acknowledged that I'd just ended a decade-long bond. Others asked out of obvious obligations, quickly shifting the subject or never returning calls.
Some couples backed away as I approached to say hello, like my divorce was a cancer they could catch if they were not careful. I was acutely aware of the physical distance those friends placed between us after I watched one friend lean so far back to make space between us that she almost knocked her husband over.
The retraction, particularly by couples who I understood were nervous or taken aback or feeling protective of their own unions or who maybe were going through their own stuff, was palpable. It hurt. But even then, even in that time of much heartbreak, I got it. We need distance from other people's pain. Especially if we think it will help us avoid experiencing ourselves.
And believe me, I have never, ever wished the journey of divorce upon anyone. Not the friend who is always coming this close to filing the paperwork. Not the couple in my extended family who most of us say quietly should have never gotten married decades ago. Not the friends who have (wrongly, emotionally) accused me of wanting them to separate so I would not be along/we could go through it together/have girls' nights/commiserate. Not the people who've stared back at me saucer-eyed because Divorce Girl was giving advice on weddings or sharing money or anything not-bitter about commitment.
No one. I wouldn't wish this on my enemies, let along my loved ones.
In fact, I wish the opposite. I hope my friends have long and healthy and happy marriages. I want the couples I know to dust off a place on their mantels for metallic-edged porcelain plates offered in honor of their golden anniversaries. I want them to find love, grab hold of it, tend to it fiercely and hold its fragile loveliness in the palm of their hands. I want them to be happy -- and if that is together, then I raise my glass to them, observe them, notice and internalize what I see about how they treat each other and work the hard stuff out and stick with it year after year.
Why? Because I need that hope. I need to see that possibility. I need to believe in love that lasts -- through kids and couples counseling and being broke and mental unwellness and diagnoses and boredom and all of the life things that chip away at our spirits and our connection and our memory that this person we chose is sexy as hell and smart as a whip and hilarious and kind and so good for our souls.
Your marriages lift me up. They always have, but especially since I ended my own. My scars, I have long felt, are my own. I never wanted to share them with anyone else.
I have a special affinity for second marriages (no surprise), for love found after emerging from the deepest and darkest wilderness of break-ups. And I love stories of couples who have spent very long lives together, making families and businesses and even entering in to death together, after what had to include immeasurable compromise and radical acceptance and forgiveness and many moments no one else may have ever witnessed.
I hold these marriages close in my heart because I know how easily and quickly that kind of union can come unraveled, leaving only threads of disappointment and anger and mistrust in our trembling hands. I didn't want that for myself. I don't want it for you.
Still, I am no longer sad my marriage didn't evolve into a 50-year anniversary party with multiple generations and champagne toasts. I don't nurse a heartache for its end. (How it ended, the logistics of managing that relationship today? Another story. But the divorce and severing the relationship with that man? I am blessed for it.)
I am also not married to the idea of ever being wed again. I like love a lot. And I love the man I am with now in bigger and more profound ways than I ever thought possible. I don't need marriage to be a part of that relationship or for my life to feel full and complete and with bliss.
But if marriage is serving your spirit and soul and body and family, then I am glad for you. I will send a thought to the universe that it goes on and on so long as it is best for you both. And if it ever does end, or you fear that it may or you find yourself on a path alone, I am here for you. I mean that, too.
Just don't think that I am not a fan of marriage because I had one that failed and I do not choose it again. Don't disregard that I value the ritual and sacredness and hard work and commitment long-term relationships demand. Don't assume that I am not moved to tears, lifted up with inspiration and in awe when I see you walk down the aisle, notice each other across a noisy room, choose each other over and over and over again.
I am. I do. I promise.
Even if it is not for me.