For Throwback Thursday, I dug deep into the vaults and found this piece I wrote on divorce. When I wrote this, I had been married almost 9 years and had three small children. How times have changed. Today, I am coming up on 22 years of marriage and have three teenagers,the oldest in college. I have also recently come through a very difficult time in my marriage – a time that gives me a new perspective on this TBT article. My wife and I separated and she filed for Divorce. We spent a year emotionally estranged form one another, in pain, and in tears. It was perhaps, the MOST painful period of my life (and hers), a pain that I would not wish on anyone. Happily, we have found our way back to each other, but the trauma was inflicted. There is still healing to be done. Things are different; in some ways things are better – much better! In other ways, the ease with which we once interacted has been replaced with a hesitation (ever so slight) that suggests that neither one of us is sure that we are on terra firma. I imagine that we will continue to pray and seek ways to be kind to one another. Time and God do amazing things!
Reading over this piece from so many years ago, I am a bit taken by my smugness. I was trying to keep it light-hearted, but nevertheless, there seems to be a real, well, superiority, which often comes from talking about things of which one knows little about. I knew little then; I know much more now. I still believe in marriage. I still detest divorce and what it does to families – to children, and quite frankly, what it does to the couples going through the break-up of a family. I still believe in the sanctity of vows and the idea that marriage is about the journey and not about “being happy.” That said…I would not have written this piece today. At least, I would not have written it this way. Experience would have given it both the weight of wisdom and the heaviness of having lived through the pain of separation.
I did a little research about divorce on the Internet and I am just a little shaken. According to what I read, the average marriage lasts 11 years. I have been married 8 1/2. The average age women divorce is 33. My wife is older than that but when we married, my wife was older than the average age at which women marry so that’s a push. The divorce rate for women whose parents were married less than 10 years is 43 percent. My wife’s mother is twice divorced. My mother was twice divorced and so was my father. I’m waiting for someone to deal me an ace! About the only thing I have working in my favor is the fact that I don’t smoke. For some reason, smokers divorce at a higher rate than non-smokers. The problem is that having kids has led me to drink, so I’m sure that has neutralized any advantage I may have had.
I do not mean to be flippant. There are few things as painful or destructive as the break-up of a marriage, particularly when children are involved. I remember well my own childhood and the pain I felt when my parents divorced. The impact of their decision continued to reverberate in my life long past when they signed the final papers. Given the emotional toll, it is still unclear why, once married, people choose to divorce. Eighty percent of marriages end because of irreconcilable differences. What is that, exactly? My wife would say that she and I have an irreconcilable difference of opinion over whether my putting dirty clothes next to the hamper instead of inside the hamper constitutes a material breach of the marital agreement.
My wife always points to her grandmother’s marriage as the model of success. Her grandmother has been married for 40 years. Of course the secret to her success is that after the ceremony, she and her husband promptly moved across town from one another. Perhaps she is trying to tell me something.
I watch my divorced friends and it seems to me that many times divorce requires just as much hard work as does marriage, if not more. My divorced friends are continually on the phone with their exes, dropping by the house to discuss dental appointments or insurance for the kids. There are school functions and disciplinary problems. They’re broke, the kids are miserable and their exes are angry. If one must work so hard after divorcing, why not just stay married?
I know some men who are seduced by notions of trading up. One of my friends has a fantasy that after his divorce he will be in single men’s hog heaven. He imagines there will be sports cars and bevies of pretty young women whose sole purpose is to deliver unto him waves of orgasmic pleasure. Chances are much greater that he will be sitting in a one-bedroom apartment, watching television on a 13-inch screen (his wife will get the big screen in the settlement), and getting drunk on cheap merlot. The game is a bit different at 40 than it was at 30. I got a dose of this reality the other night while out to dinner with my wife. I informed her that our young, pretty waitress was smiling at me. “I still got it,” I boasted. Later, the waitress informed me that she had seen me on a rerun of The Cosby Show the night before and couldn’t believe how young and slim I looked way back then.
During my research I discovered that there is now something called a “divorce ceremony.” The ceremony attempts to use ritual to bring closure and healing to the divorced couple. Family and friends attend and the divorcing couple makes a new covenant to be kind to each other, be good co-parents, and other positive things. I suspect if a couple had been capable of being kind to each other, they wouldn’t be getting divorced. I realize there are some people who just can’t live with each other and for whom divorce is a blessing. But I remain convinced that marriage is supposed to be forever, that marriage can work and that married couples can be happy.