I am jarred every time. I can’t get used to it and I don’t think I want to. As I flip through the dating app, swiping left and right as if perusing clothes on a rack, a friend’s ex-husband appears.
Forgive my lack of eloquence. What to say? I still can’t get used to a society in which we “shop” for people to date like we do for dresses. So how am I to get used to a world in which the men I used to sit across a dinner table from—men who functioned as a friend’s other half for many years—now appear as an option for me?
They’re not an option, really. I am truly freaked every time it happens. It feels incestuous. To see them trying to present their best selves to potential mates, after having heard too much about their snoring or flares of temper. After having thanked them and their wives for helping my spouse and I clear dinner plates. After laughing over wine, and our kids’ antics and the funny bits of married life.
There are more of us than I’d imagined mucking about out here. Post a marriage we thought would last forever. And if we were honest rather than diplomatic, we’d share that we’re amazed our marriage ended while yours is still going. When you’ve been through hell and back, you get pretty good at recognizing the signposts. And trust me, plenty of marriages are full of signposts. I’ve seen women hold onto a marriage out of faith, fear and just plain foolery. These are usually the same women who are relieved to have a husband to escort them to the black-tie function—never mind that they screamed at each other on the way there and back. Or sat in stony silence.
Maybe that’s the nature of marriage. Heaven sometimes, hell others. Maybe we all need to lower our expectations—or raise them. Maybe the Europeans who believe in a partner for marriage and a partner for romance have the kernel of an idea. I’m far too Midwestern to buy into it, though.
I don’t mean to sound cynical. I do love a love that lasts. I’ve been trying to tell couples I know who are celebrating a long love how happy I am for them. I see couples who make it work. And in a parallel universe, I did. I’m sure of it.
I dance in and out of this dating thing. Mostly out, if I’m honest. I’m better at just being my quirky self and having a no-pressure conversation with you than pretending I’m Miss America in a beauty and talent contest. Trust me on this one. If you move too fast, I will run like a skittish horse through an open barn door.
But I do love a love that lasts. That doesn’t mean getting to it doesn’t scare me. But as I said in a previous post:
“If you have been divorced, go ahead. Quake with me. We’ve done this before, haven’t we? Stood there before all of God’s creation, our crazy aunt, the annoying in-law and our best loved friends, and vowed. To love. To have an open heart. Not to retreat, even when it got hard.
I can’t tell you about my version of hard. Too many people would get hurt. You’ll have to trust me on this one. I learned that there are a few things on this earth stronger than love, for some people. And those things ruin lives, families, marriages.
My open heart had to close. Call it self-preservation.
It worked. I’m still standing. I went into survivor mode and damn it, we’re all still here. So now, to tell me to open my heart again. Well, forgive me if I hesitate. Sputter. Walk away.”
I think of these words as I see my friends’ ex-partners, ex-spouses, appearing before me. I swipe left every time. (And for those of you lucky enough not to be on a dating app, that means “no” in app language.) I hope these men open their hearts again. They’re not bad guys.
I’m not sure if my future holds a love that lasts or not. I am also just enough of a creative odd duck to know that sometimes I’m happiest on my own. In my “perfect” parallel universe, though, I imagined this, the life my alter-ego lives:
“My husband can rock a Harvard sweatshirt like nobody’s business and I love that he wears it with old-school navy sweatpants. You know the kind—with elastic around the bottom, circa 1984. He sports these while fixing the arbor that just won’t stop tilting under the weight of the clematis we planted years ago, when we first moved into this house.
At night, as we sit on the porch with a smoky Cab, I feel the satisfying heft of the glass in my hand. We listen to the crickets. The haunting sound of the loons interrupts our reverie. And we listen to our boys arguing back and forth from their beds upstairs, the ways boys do—trying to one-up each other on every topic known to man.
As we open the porch screen door to head up to bed, it squeaks reassuringly—a squeak we keep so we know when the boys are up to something. I fall asleep in this man’s arms—a man I know so well–comforted by the sound of his breathing and the sure knowledge that while what we have created is not permanent (nothing is), it is at least solid. Oh so solid.”
Solid, passionate, real, forgiving, accepting, curious. I still believe in it.
I just don’t know if I’ll find it. Nor do I know how to explain to the people who will read this and think “poor thing” that I am happy where it matters most. Content in many ways. Excited by my creative pursuits. I don’t require provincial reassurances about a future none of us knows.
I’d much rather have a conversation with those who can hold happiness and possibility, sadness and world weariness, in one holistic life. Those of us mucking about don’t need pity or pats on the head.
We need friends who grasp the complexity of a life that contains curves rather than a straightaway. And if they can help us enjoy the view, all the better.