the long shadow of divorce

Barely a month into my engagement, the relationship that had been the apex of what a relationship should be for the entirety of my life disintegrated in rapid, dramatic fashion. Suddenly, this couple that I had long held up as a paragon for marital competence and success, was no more.

Selfishly, it felt like a punch in the gut. Which made me feel a little guilty; I wasn’t the one whose decades-long marriage was falling apart. I wasn’t the one who needed support (well, I was one of the ones who needed support, but that’s another story). The pain and anger and sadness and general mess of the whole affair were like a bright, blinding spotlight for me, illuminating this thought: did I really want to get married if this was one of the places I could end up?

My whole world had been skewed, tilted on its side. My worldview shifted abruptly, leaving me nauseated and confused. I looked at Bryan, the person I loved more than I ever thought possible, and thought, Can we, should we, do this to ourselves? I watched the slow and bloody process of picking up the shattered pieces of a life that had been built together, and I shied away from the idea of ever having to do that myself. I did not think I would survive it. I did not think that I could bear it.

I was forced to think long and hard about my own relationship and its future. Divorce had always been a possibility, of course, but in an abstract kind of way. It was something that lurked in the shadows, never really showing its face, never really drawing attention itself. I had never experienced the real consequences of divorce, had never had to navigate its trials and tribulations from any side of the equation, and so I had no touchstone for what it would really be like.

Until now.

And suddenly, there was a technicolor, all too real example right in front of me. I had to watch people that I love deeply bend and bow and wave – but not break – in the wake of this familial and familiar tragedy. I had to witness the very real and very painful consequences; the division of a family, the reassignment of allegiances, the rebuilding of identities. And I had to consider the possibility that, if Bryan and I went ahead and got married, this could be our future.

For a while, thinking about it was like trying to touch a fresh wound; I couldn’t do it for longer than a few seconds. Then it became more like pressing on a bruise that was a few days old. Then, eventually, it became like flossing. Annoying, uncomfortable, but necessary and not particularly difficult.

The realization I came to was this:

Tying your life to someone else’s is always going to be an inherently risky endeavour. People are volatile. People are, to an extent, unknowable. People have free will, and the ability to make decisions that will hurt you in myriad ways in the long run. But they also have the capacity for great joy, great connection, and great love. To build a life with Bryan might mean that we one day have to disassemble that life, parse it out in chunks of ownership and custody and who gets to keep what. I hope that if that day ever comes, we will meet it gracefully and exit it as friends, to whatever extent that is possible. But I cannot imagine a life in which I would regret marrying Bryan, in which I would regret the years I have spent with him. Even if, in a decade or two or three, things end bitterly, I hope that that potential bitterness does not overshadow the joy that he and I have shared together.

And so I decided that getting married was worth the risk. So far, I’ve been right.

the long shadow of divorce

the thrill of the chase

Way back in 2010 when we were adorably awkward and not yet married.
Way back in 2010 when we were adorably awkward and not yet married.

We really like watching TV. I love mainlining a series, getting completely lost in the fictional trials and tribulations of people who do not exist (but I wish they did). Lately, it has been The Mindy Project, and it has been making me feel so many feelings.

It’s all about the chase.

That’s the exciting part, right? The newness, the thrill, the tension, the unknown – will they, won’t they, have they? A sea of firsts and acres upon acres of unexplored psychological terrain to hike through. So many caves to dive into, full of treasure like the story of how they lost their virginity, the first time they flew on a plane, their first epic heartbreak.

Things are fun. Things are intense. Things are a discovery. The uncertainty is painfully intoxicating; will we make it? Does this path lead to happily ever after?

But the thing is that, though we’ve been conditioned to want happily ever after, we’ve also been taught to crave the high of getting there. Every “will they, won’t they” relationship portrayed on television and in movies is based on the assumption that no one wants to see a happily committed couple. The story cuts off as soon as the chase is over. Like happily committed couples are boring.

And I guess we kind of are.

Bryan and I have been together for five and a half years now. There’s not a whole lot of mystery in our relationship anymore (how can there be when one partner no longer feels the need to ever close the bathroom door?). There aren’t a whole ton of firsts waiting to be checked off. We couldn’t come up with too many answers for the entreaty, “Tell me something I don’t know about you.”

Sometimes, I hate that. Sometimes, I look at our life and our relationship and I think, “Sigh. I will probably never experience the rush of falling in love again.” I will never lay alone in my bed and wonder if he’s thinking of me, I’ll never hold my breath in heart-stopping anticipation of him accidentally touching me, I’ll never bore my friends to tears because I can’t talk about anything besides him.

It makes me sad. It makes me feel a little cheated.

Which is, of course, the dumbest thing, because I have exactly what those fictional characters (and so many real people, too) are searching for so desperately: happily ever after. I have the person that I’m going to spend my life with, who loves me for every flawed, abrasive piece of me. I have the person who knows every weird habit I have and has seen me in many unfortunate and embarrassing situations and still wants to share my bed. I have an equal and supportive partner in every aspect of life.

I watch TV and I feel a twinge. I watch the tension build to a fever pitch between Mindy Lahiri and Danny Castellano, and I feel a sharp pang of loss. I look at Bryan, on the couch next to me, and think, “We are already in love, we’re never going to do that again.”

And then I remember that that is a good thing. No more awkward firsts. No more worrying about how his opinion of me will change when he finds out how seldom I shower. No more wondering if I will be alone forever.

We slid through the dizzying wonder of falling in love so that we could achieve this deep, easy, real intimacy, so that we could know each other fully and experience true acceptance. This is our reward. I wouldn’t trade it for all the heart-stopping drama and romance in the world.

Then I sit back and wonder if things are going to be boring now that (season 2 spoiler alert) Mindy and Danny are together.

the thrill of the chase