When I married my boyfriend in 2004, I never imagined that five years later we would be happily divorced, better friends than ever, and raising a kid together (just in two separate houses).
Seth and I met through a popular online dating website waaaaay back in 2000, when online dating was not exactly a socially acceptable way to meet new people. I fell in love with his quick wit through e-mails exchanged back and forth for a couple of weeks before we finally met in person. It turned out we not only worked just a few miles apart, but we worked in the same industry, had the same taste in music and film, and the same sense of humor.
It was...easy. Totally comfortable. From the start, we were best friends who just happened to have sex. I remember my friend Jessica commenting, “You guys don’t even seem like you’re dating; you act like brother and sister.” I chalked it up to my own low maintenance-ness (I’m not the kind of gal who needs flowers, if you know what I mean) and our mutual hatred of public displays of affection.
We moved in together. We had been living together for about four years when we found out I was (oops) pregnant. We decided to go through with the pregancy, and we also decided to get married. Partly for the insurance benefits at Seth's new job, and partly because all my life I had wanted to get rid of my deadbeat-biological-father's last name. Marriage seemed like the easiest way to accomplish this, and hey, we were practically married anyway, right?
We had a comfortable, easy relationship. We never fought (seriously, we NEVER fought). Neither of us was planning on breaking up with the other, so why not?
Oliver was born in 2005, and it changed us. All you other parents out there know what I mean. Having a kid changes you in ways you do not expect, and it can definitely take its toll on a relationship, especially a relationship like ours, which was heavy on the amicable friendship and light on the romance, even pre-child.
We were good parents together and agreed on most parenting issues. We supported each other. I encouraged Seth with his writing, and he encouraged me with my fiber arts. We were friends and co-parents and partners. But eventually we were more like roommates than a married couple. I suspect this happens in a lot of marriages. We were not unique.
I was mostly fine with being roommates-with-occasional-benefits with my husband, until early 2008, when I had a miscarriage at 12 weeks pregnant. This pregnancy, like my first one, was unplanned. We were scared because we knew all too well the financial ramifications of having a baby, but we were still cautiously excited.
The miscarriage itself was horrible, and the single worst experience of my life, both physically and emotionally. We're talking horror-movie material, complete with hemorrhaging. Hemorrhaging at home. Hemorrhaging all over the floor of my OB/Gyn's office while happy pregnant women sat in the waiting room flipping through parenting magazines, oblivious. Hemorrhaging in the ER, twice.
And then the emotional fallout. The myriad emotions that are so complicated and fragile that it's hard to put into words even now. And of course, the silence. No one wants to hear about your miscarriage, especially friends who have no idea what you've gone through and don't really see what the big deal is when you were less than three months pregnant and you were hesitant about having a second baby anyway.
I withdrew into myself in the months following the miscarriage. I got tired of well-meaning people telling me to "get over it" or "move on." Something inside me had fractured, and it would take more than time to heal it.
The experience of the miscarriage was tragic but also one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It forced me to evaluate my life and what I wanted from it. Naturally, one of the first things I looked at was my marriage. I had to accept the reality that I was not happy, and I had not been happy for many years. I did not want to be roommates with my husband. And worse yet, I didn't want to go to therapy to correct it.
So here’s where I call bullshit on the people who say friendship is the most important part of a romantic relationship. Because when things got bad for us, the only thing that could have saved it was passion -- which never really existed between us in the first place.
I had to acknowledge the true nature of my relationship with Seth. I also had to acknowledge that I had been lying to myself all those years: I wanted the whole package, not just the friendship. I needed expressions of affection outside of the bedroom.
We were fabulously compatible best friends who had an awesome kid together. And I wanted more. I thought maybe Seth did, too. I stewed for months and it ate away at me. I withdrew. Seth knew there was something wrong.
Finally, one night while we were standing in the kitchen, Seth asked the question I'd been dreading: "Do you want to be married?" Our friend Bengt was in town from New York and was coming over for dinner. I think I was making roasted chicken. So this was absolutely THE WRONG TIME to be having this conversation, because Bengt would be there any moment.
I told Seth that we should not be having this discussion now, but he persisted, so I had to give him the answer, which of course, he already knew. Dinner was awkward (sorry, Bengt).
Once the initial shock wore off, Seth acknowledged that he was also not happy and didn’t want to be married to me anymore. We got the divorce sorted out pretty quickly, agreeing on a custody schedule, how to divide our assets and debts, and who got to keep that sweet antique desk (me).
It was hard, and of course there was a period of upheaval and uncertainty, but I can’t imagine any other divorce being so amicable and easy. The first time I saw my ex-mother-in-law after the divorce, she said, “You guys don’t treat each other any different now.” And that pretty much hit it home for me that we’d made the right decision.
Since we split (almost three years ago), we either talk or text every day. We still joke the way we used to, share bits of our day with each other, and of course make sure we are on the same page when it comes to our son. We are best friends, but now without the pressure of framing it as a romantic relationship.
Friends and relatives have expressed their admiration for the way we handled our split, with some variation of, “It’s so good you’re doing that for your son!” But the truth is, we would be friends anyway, kid or no kid.
Better yet, we are both now in relationships that are much better suited to our needs. I still don’t need flowers, but my boyfriend, Jeff, is like an 80-year-old man in a 34-year-old’s body (I’m way into that), and I totally want to sit on the same side of the booth with him at restaurants. Our relationship is the whole package –- affection, friendship, passion, physical attraction, everything. We fight occasionally, but I think that has something to do with the whole passion thing (or maybe it’s because Jeff is a hot-blooded Italian, I don’t know). More importantly though, we make up.
Seth is with Emily, who is so rad, and really talented and smart, and they are perfect together. And get this: sometimes we even all hang out together. For fun!
It’s almost as if Seth and I didn’t get divorced – we just moved to separate houses and then brought some new people into our family. We all spend holidays together. Jeff and I are going to Portland to visit Seth’s mom in a couple of months.
These things may seem weird to most people or like a direct challenge to societal norms, but for us it is totally normal.
When my son had to draw a picture of his family for a school project, he drew himself, me, Jeff, Seth and Emily all holding hands together. Smart kid.