I have wonderful friends, friends who (I think) worry about me, living on my own as I am with almost exclusive caretaking responsibility for two kids, and with two extremely unstable jobs, and out there still throwing myself into the ass-kicking ring of jobhunting at 42 with the world's weirdest resume.
Because I have these wonderful friends, they often remind me how difficult marriage is, how unsatisfying it can be sometimes, how underappreciated one can end up feeling.* I know they are telling me the truth. But I also think that they are telling me this because I am a person built for marriage, and I am no longer married. Or I am as good as no longer married, anyway.
In exchange for this kindness from them, I issue my own sort of public service announcement, a Marital Service Announcement. "Don't get divorced," I tell them. "Just, don't. Dating in middle age with kids sucks. You cannot even imagine."
Of course this is not always true. There is the thrill of a first date, and the excitement of getting to know someone new. But there is also the anxiety of a first date, and the difficulty of getting to know someone new. I've met at least one intelligent and engaging man through an internet dating site who has used his newly single status to complete rethink his approach to relationships, throwing monogamy right out the window, and he is as excited as a puppy at a dogpark about his new exciting (exciting! exciting!) dating life, while also maintaining an enviably balanced and committed relationship with an equally intelligent and engaging woman.
But the fact of the matter is that I was built to be married. Maybe like a lot of women. Maybe it's an evolutionary thing. Maybe it's the way we're socialized. Maybe it's the stories we're told, and the stories we tell ourselves. But there's no denying that I would have taken my husband back, if he had ever shown the slightest interest in being taken back. I think I'm like most women that way, no matter how tough we talk.
Of course now I realize that taking him back would have been a huge mistake, for him and for me. So I guess I owe him one for that bit of stubborn unkindness.
Still, dating. Now. Shit. A friend of mine wrote a lovely piece about how her older body tells a story about her life, and I know she is right. And I love that I understand my body now much better than I did as a twenty-year-old. There's nothing like looking into a giant mirror aimed right at your vagina while you sweatily push out The World's Largest Baby (they all are) to make you get right with your body.
But on the other hand, you can never quite get away from the certain knowledge that you are getting naked with someone who would have been so much more impressed twenty years ago.
On top of all that inevitable Naked Time anxiety, then someone (her name was Esmeralda, voice of reason and also the voice of every tiny freakout I have had contemplating the possibility of Naked Time) left a comment on my last post about STDs, and reminded me that they can be passed even with standard safe sex practices, and all the Wonder of the New disappears like so much morning fog. Only a lot faster, and without any actual poeticism involved whatsoever.
Oh, yeah, that. Dating. Now. Shit.
And finally, perhaps worse but at least more poetic, there is the ouchiness of my heart. Or it would be more poetic, if I didn't refer to it as "ouchiness." And it's probably not poetic to the poor guy who has to date the idiot who constantly moans, "Yes. You like me now. I see that. But soon you will find me boring and unattractive, right? That's the way this is going to play out." And as soon as I say that, I know that "soon" just got a lot sooner. You end up steering your car straight into the wall to avoid all sorts of imagined obstacles. You buy into that stupid, nonsensical reasoning that tells you that, because one person got completely sick of you, you probably induce that sort of nausea in most men. And then it turns out that you actually have done that, with all your worrying and moaning. I guess at least it is good to be right.
Marital Service Announcement. I'm all about the MSA.
The divorce has gone in stages. I'm going to resist the urge to name them all, because they are legion and boringly predictable. I'm sure the moment at which our divorce became final, in my head if not legally, was when we moved into our new house. I could let go of most of the financial worry, and instead focus on reimagining my life without J, which turned out to be not so difficult. I just hadn't bothered using my imagination before, which is a shame because I have a great imagination.
But because I am a music junkie, I kept looking for the music that would symbolize the divorce for me. I was looking for some album that I could listen to and think, "Now. Now this music sounds different because I am no longer married to him. This is the way music will sound now."
I listened to The Wailin' Jennys pretty much nonstop for the first couple of months, which was probably not helpful. Although I think they could have been helpful, were I to have had the right attitude.
But the problem with The Wailin' Jennys (and also their advantage in those first few months) was that J never really enjoyed them. So they didn't really work for me to understand how I would be able to reconcile my past, which was so defined by my partnership with him, and my future.
I really thought that Nanci Griffith's Other Voices, Other Rooms would be my divorce album. It was one of the very first albums we listened to together. The fact that he, a boy from Berlin, knew and loved that album might have been a big reason he got lucky with me that first time. ("Got lucky" is a terrible, terrible phrase. But also funny enough to keep using.) Although he was very cute and very smart, so he probably would have anyway.
But I listened to it, over and over, and nothing. It sounded exactly the same, and I felt exactly the same person, listening to it.
But then I realized that the Lucinda Williams Sweet Old World album was missing from my collection, even though our agreement to split the CDs was that I take the women, and he take the men. This realization was followed by an overwhelming urge to hear that album again right damn now. It was also followed by the realization that there were probably a large number of our CDs in his office, which had not been split up, which he had simply kept.
There was this weird way I felt betrayed all over again, because he knew how much I loved that CD, and he had kept it, despite our agreement. But then I remembered that he was the one who actually gave me that CD in the first place.
It was a party at the house we shared back in graduate school, before we were married. The party was nominally celebrating my birthday, but with the explicit instructions not to bring presents. But J presented me with that CD, and I loved it, and thought it was the best present anyone had ever given me (ever) because it showed how well he knew me, above anyone else in the world.
I headed straight for the CD player and interrupted the party music so that everyone could hear this song I loved, about suicide. Party on, good people.
This meant that when we got married, we then had 2 copies of this album. I ended up taking the second one in and selling it at the CD store, because no way would we ever need 2 copies of that album.
So I wrote him an email, not demanding that he give that damn CD because Lucinda Williams is very damn well a woman dammit, but asking if I could borrow it, to make a copy on my computer. I guess maybe I should have just bought another copy. Number 3.
But I picked it up late from my office mailbox, where he left it for me. I played it loud in my car on the way home, and I cried for the optimism that had led me to sell that other copy. And then I guess I got divorced in the court of Lucinda Williams.
* In case any of my friends' husbands ever read this entry (not likely), the answer is "No, of course I am not talking about your wife."