How To Have A Tolerable Divorce, Part Two: Write Your Name On Your Stuff
There’s a lot of stuff to deal with in a divorce. And by “stuff” I mean, literally: stuff. As in objects. As in crap you have to haggle over with the person who’s just broken your heart.
There are big things and small things and none of it is fun. Whether you are just shacking up, newly wed, or getting out, I’ve got some thoughts on sharing -- and un-sharing -- with another person. I am also about to go off about a couple of things that I am still really freaking annoyed about. (Sidebar divorce tip: It’s OK to stay mad about some stuff.)
You’ve probably heard about newer studies showing that since many Americans are getting married older, divorce rates are declining. The assumption is that people wait until they are fully formed adults to take that step, so it’s more likely to stick. With that in mind, we might not make contingency plans. That would seem cynical and pessimistic, and a new marriage is no place for such things, right?
Wrong! Practicality =/= cynicism. Knowing what shit is whose is realistic and makes things way easier in case of implosion. You can put tons of trust and love into a marriage, but at the end of the day, you need to watch out for yourself.
As I told you last week, my husband of two years and I separated a year ago. At the time of our wedding, I was 28 and he was 30: prime examples of sensible, good-decision-making ages. While I loved him and totally thought we’d stay together, I had worked hard to get a good credit score and financial stability, and I knew I had to keep that shit locked down.
My ex-husband and I bought a house the year before we got married, and were extremely fortunate to be debt-free financial equals when we got our mortgage. We split the down payment, and all mortgage payments, exactly 50/50. When we split up, we decided easily that we’d sell the house rather than one of us trying to buy the other one out, which would have required one of us to pony up a lot of cash. Plus, we both wanted a fresh start. Can you imagine starting a new life in the house you’d lovingly remodeled and decorated with an ex? Ew. No thank you.
Since he was the one who was ready to call it quits first, he moved out. It was extremely sad to suddenly be living alone in a house so filled with memories, but ultimately, it was kind of a sweet deal for me. Everything had to look nice to be listed, so that meant that most of the cool vintage furniture we’d invested in had to stay with me in the house, and then became mine by circumstance. Sucks for him, but, hey, I didn’t make him move into a tiny studio apartment that wouldn’t fit any of the good stuff.
We had to work out a system for him to contribute to the mortgage until the house sold to remain a fair part-owner. I insisted on that. We made a commitment to this loan together –- why should I be saddled with all of the expense until it sells?
It took about three months to get the house ready to list. We had no choice but to spend a lot of time together. We managed to remain shockingly levelheaded, considering the communication disaster of our marriage, but it was still awful. If he was late coming over, I’d wonder why, but not be able to ask. If I’d had a rough night, I still had to shower and put on a brave face and hope he couldn’t tell I’d been crying.
The house was, by far, the biggest headache. I am happy that younger me had the sense to not get too dreamy about finances and keep things as clean as possible.
Once we had a plan for the property, we still had to deal with all the shit inside the house. Lots of stuff was clearly mine or clearly his. Broken vintage record players? HIS. Adorable throw pillows? MINE. The piles and piles of other crap? A bunch of un-fun conversations!
We had to lift up and discuss each shared item and wedding present. A funny thing happens while you’re wearing pajamas and listening to the National and sobbing while watching your husband pack his boxes: You stop caring. And yeah, stuff is stuff, and most of it doesn’t actually matter, but be careful not to green light anything while you’re drinking wine at 10am on a Saturday. You might not be being your biggest advocate.
My ex-husband initially tried to have that convo too early. As he was pointing at art and DVDs and blankets, and fucking, like, plates, or whatever, I could not have given any less of a shit. But you know what? Two weeks passed, and I wanted those effing plates. He never even liked them! They are my plates. Don’t fucking touch those plates, buddy. And no, you can’t just have half of them. Do you not understand how a set works?
My heart was hurting for him, and my wifely instinct was to keep him comfortable, but also: I brought a lot of nice stuff into our marriage! Of COURSE I should get it back. It was hard but I knew I had to watch out for myself so I wouldn’t have to rebuild every aspect of my life.
A salty anecdote: We had a lot of nice camping gear. We decided I’d get the nice lantern, he’d get the camping table, and we’d each get a cooler. As organized as we tried to be, shit still got messed up, and I was outraged to discover this summer that not only did he take both coolers, but the mother-effer took the battery out of the camping lantern. JUST THE BATTERY. So we each had one piece of lantern and both were useless individually. I have been mad about this lantern for a while. I am too mad to shop for an inexpensive replacement battery. I just -- why would he do that?
We then had a mega-battle over our dog. That could be a whole separate blog post. The short version is that I got him. He loves me the best. I am glad we didn’t have kids together. I can’t even imagine adding another layer of complication to what is already a really rough process.
Of course, I understand that many people will not have the option of making things financially equitable from the get-go, and we were really privileged in that regard. If you’re not in a position to remain financially independent, that’s okay, but at least consider how you could get out if necessary. I was knee-deep in un-fun detangling for several months, and that is with me having been a careful over-planner on most things.
Protect yourself. Keep your stuff. Don’t get screwed. Write your name on your shit. There’s a decent chance you’ll be glad you did.