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

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