In the interest of transparency and authenticity, I have another confession:
I’ve been writing about the D word, divorce. In truth, I was never legally married. My ex and I were together for more than a decade; we owned a home together and had two beautiful children; I wore a ring. We were a post-modern couple, unsure that we needed a certificate in a world of domestic partner benefits, hyphenated names and all kinds of modern families.
By the time we’d decided it was time (I’d processed through a slew of misgivings and beliefs about marriage and its meaning, which is one of the reasons Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed resonates with me so), we determined that remodeling the kitchen was more likely to have a positive and profound impact on our daily lives than a marriage certificate. While we could have just gone to the courthouse, I wanted a ceremony; I wanted to get married on the beach with friends and family standing in support of us.
We believed the conventional knowledge that “common law” was seven years. In my mind, we should have married before the seven-year mark for it to really mean something. Yet, by then, I was beginning to see the signs of all this unraveling… (As it happens, there is not common law marriage in this state.)
Still we called each other husband and wife and described ourselves as married in most (though not legal) situations. It was more than shorthand, it was what we felt. I was fully committed. My ex thought he was fully committed, though I would not have described his participation as such. He believed that staying, being there, co-existing was commitment. I believe commitment means partnership, co-creating a life for our family, and a vow to work at regular communication and presence.
And so now I write about divorce as though I’ve actually been divorced, and some may make judgments about that, just as there were judgements about our non-marriage. In fact, I hired a lawyer, there were legal documents and processes relating to joint property and custody and child support, hearings, paperwork and heartache. True, I didn’t have to gut my retirement account, but I suspect everything else — the emotional turmoil and pain, severed or strained friendships, etc. were of the same magnitude. And so I don’t use the term lightly or intend anyone offense by its use… it’s simply the best way for me to name what I’ve been through.