Friday, December 20, 2013

A Post-Divorce Guide to Not Being a F@$k-Up

My first serious relationship (sorry to anyone I dated before the herein referenced person) came when I was seventeen. It was just after Christmas, and I had gone with a couple friends to Katie’s Corner for coffee, and it just so happened that a friend of a friend was sitting a few tables away. She didn’t speak, didn’t approach us, but apparently something about me struck her interest. I sat there in my tattered want-to-be BoHo sweater and long hair, and since I still wanted to be Bob Dylan, I was smoking a cigarette (sorry to those of you to whom this is a startling revelation) and talking about whatever it was we were discussing, likely that my grandmother was lying dying in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Rickey asked me if I had seen a particular girl a few tables away that night; after all these years, I don’t recall the exact conversation, but it happened that Mindy (the woman mentioned in previous posts about love and divorce as the friend with whom I’ve gone to dinner, the friend with whom I’ve had countless conversations about love and loss, the friend with whom I have to share my Pulitzer for all the conversations she and I have had that have worked their way into stories, should I win one) and I were ultimately introduced and would consequently date for nearly a year. Her leaving me resulted in my first true heartbreak.
But it was by chance that we dated. After that, I would date someone for a short while, even claiming after a few weeks that I was in love, however na├»ve an assertion that was. But it was through Caitlin that I would meet Amanda, only because Caitlin and I had broken up and she was then dating Amanda’s cousin. Again, by chance we met. We dated for two years and were married for four.

She left for the second and final time a year ago Christmas night.

***

I went to marriage counseling twice, with varying degrees of seriousness on my part and limited success. During these counseling sessions, my views of love changed. I began to see love less as a noun and more as a verb—the actions we perform toward those about whom we care, characterized by the way we treat them. That giddy feeling we often associate with love was defined more as infatuation, that fleeting manifestation present in the honeymoon period, that limited time that is too often ended too soon. That wasn’t true love; what came next, that conscious daily decision to be with someone because you love and care about them, was true love.

I was encouraged to rely on my logic more than emotion, on which I had so long relied when making decisions, regardless of my assertion that I was an academic and liked to think about problems logically. That may have been true regarding academics, pedagogy, controversial topics, but when it came to matters of the heart, I relied on my heart instead of my head. Because of all of this, at the end of my marriage, in a last ditch effort to save what we had built over the course of six years, I promised I could change, that I could do better. That I could focus more on allowing my love to be more than a feeling, to allow it to manifest itself through actions. And I was told that I didn’t need to change, that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was fine as I was as a person.

So when my separation was begun and the long march toward divorce commenced, it seemed that everyone I knew was willing to offer me advice, so much of it contradictory to the advice of others, so much of it confusing and banal. One pastor told me, “You chose to get married, you chose to get divorced, and now you should choose not to date.” The world, he told me, would think me crazy, as their advice would be to rush out and find someone. But as a Christian, I should wait until God sent someone by. And when He did, I was to ignore her the first time. And if He sent her by again, maybe cast a glance but do nothing. And if He sent her by a third time, then I could and should act, if I was ready. Others told me to rush out and find someone, to date casually, committing to nothing serious. A former boss told me one night, over mason jars of moonshine, cheap bourbon, and beer as we sat around a roaring fire two weeks after Amanda left, that I should be excited about my prospects. “Man, Pack,” he said, “get ready. There’s gonna be so much pussy coming your way.” Even my aunt told me that “the best way to get over one is to get under one.” But I knew that wasn’t me. Casual sex was of no interest to me for I wanted intimacy that extended beyond the bedroom, and I failed to see the point of going on dates unless I expected something to come of them.
So ultimately I did what I had wanted to do for a while: I talked to someone who had caught my interest years ago, even back when I was married. During the course of my marriage, I met many people whom I thought would be a better match for me, someone with whom I would get along better, someone with whom I had more in common. So after seeing Les Miserables by myself on New Year’s Eve, I messaged someone on Facebook after running into her earlier in the evening, somewhat by chance. Doing even that scared the hell out of me: Amanda had only been gone again for a week. What was I thinking talking to someone else, someone I liked and had liked for so long? Yet I relied on my emotions and decided to see what happened.

***

Shortly after Amanda left, before I dated anyone, Mindy and I reconnected. I was surprised to see that she had gone through a divorce. We went out a couple times, not on dates (though I’ve come to wonder what actually constitutes a date as of late) for pizza, sushi, beer, and Fireball Whisky. That first night, after dinner, we found ourselves walking through downtown Huntington, late at night, catching up and sharing our marriage and divorce stories. It was that night that I got the best divorce advice I’ve received: “Expect your first relationship after a divorce to be a clusterfuck. Mine was. My baby brother’s was.” I didn’t take it to heart. I thought about it, sure, but I was convinced that I had learned enough in my marriage and then-impending divorce to resurrect myself into some new Phoenix of love, who would navigate relationships more logically and cautiously, would be a better boyfriend to anyone I dated than I had been husband.
The problem, it seems, is that I did enter my next relationship more cautiously—so cautiously that I kept my feelings to myself. Whether I had feelings of love or not, I wasn’t going to admit it, for doing so was terrifying to me. What if those feelings weren’t returned, or what if my profession went unanswered? Or worse, what if they were returned in a statement of faux assurance, uttered only because they were expected to be? These were the thoughts that raced through my mind. I had been left by everyone I had said I loved, and the fear of it happening again left me speechless and inarticulate. So as time crept by, I found myself silent.
Amanda was wrong, I learned: I did need to change. There were characteristics I found in myself that were counterproductive to what I wanted, to who I wanted to be. One would think that a failed marriage would highlight these, would be my incentive to change, but it seems that some habits die hard.

***

During my marriage, I was silent a lot. Someone would make flirtatious glances toward Amanda, or pinch her butt while standing in line at King’s Island, and she would expect me to say something to them. Or do something. As a rule, I try to avoid confrontation. I would think to myself, what an immature meathead. But that would be the end of it. I’d often ask, “What do you expect me to do, kick his ass?” It would be suggested that I should at least say something, to make it known I knew and didn’t approve. But I would counter that if I said something, it would escalate, and I couldn’t fight my way out of a paper bag. Future teachers didn’t need to have been in jail for fighting, especially when they considered themselves academics and thinkers who considered fighting barbaric.

So I remained silent and inactive.

Again, it seems some habits die hard.

***

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the most damning way to be after a divorce: silent. Not every relationship after a divorce has to be a clusterfuck, but I’ve found it difficult to navigate a post-divorce world. We carry with us baggage accumulated along the way, Marley-esque chains that drag us down, burying us under the weight of past actions, inactions, and mistakes, and if we don’t shed them, continuing instead to bear them, they continue to affect us, dictating our actions and inactions, resulting in more and heavier chains.

So my best advice: go with your emotions, your feelings; if something feels right, don’t spend too much time weighing your options. Logos is great, but without a dash of pathos, you’ll miss more than you see, and you’ll find that in the end, you’re left with nothing but unbalanced scales. 

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