Every once in a while, the universe delivers a message so powerful, so unambiguous, so affirming that it sends me spinning. I got one of those loud-and-clear messages yesterday.
One of my first posts on this blog contemplated the question of whether my divorce was worth it. Worth all the pain, all the disappointment, all the breaking down and rebuilding of the lives of the people I cared most about in the world. Would I someday look back and know that I’d done what was truly best for all of us?
Last evening, I stopped at my ex-husband’s house on my way home from work to pick up some Girl Scout cookies I needed to deliver. After hugs and kisses from my girls, I was just about to leave, when Sabrina told me that Bryce and his girlfriend, Debbie, had broken up after more than two years together. I’m a caretaker, I can’t help it, so I headed to the kitchen, where I found Bryce opening the mail. I asked him if he was okay and told him I was so sorry to hear about he and Debbie. He offered the same condolences over my break-up with James, and the next thing I knew, we were engaged in a conversation that could only be described as surreal.
There we stood, in the kitchen I had designed and he had paid for when Sabrina was only a toddler, discussing the ends of our first loves after divorcing each other. The children played in the living room as we traded, in broad brush strokes, the details of our break-ups.
I hesitated at first. So used to his criticism, I braced myself for the possibility that he would insinuate that I was somehow to blame for James’ limitations. But he didn’t. He nodded sympathetically and agreed that I needed decent boundaries, and that I was teaching our girls the right thing by demonstrating those. I told him how surprised I was at his relationship’s end; I had really thought that he and Debbie had staying power. He paused and then looked me in the eye and said, “You might be the only person that can actually appreciate this… but it was like dating me, the me before our divorce. She was just like I used to be. I could see it. I could understand it. But I couldn’t live with it. I pulled the plug after two years. I don’t know how you lasted 12.”
I didn’t know what to say. I had liked Debbie, for sure, but I also know very well that it is impossible to know what people are like in a relationship until you are there with them, every single day. And I also found myself feeling oddly loyal and protective of Bryce. He is, after all, my daughters’ father. I had his back, unequivocally, for more than a dozen years. Funny how those old habits resurface.
More than anything, I was astounded at the ease and matter-of-fact delivery of his admission. Where was the man who had almost never admitted he was wrong about anything? Where was the man who had made me feel broken and crazy for even suggesting that he was flawed in any meaningful way? Who was this self-effacing, authentic person in front of me, being vulnerable to his ex-wife??
In that moment, I was so proud of him. I have known him long enough and well enough to know how much emotional work it must have taken him to get to such a place with me. I know that he must have applied himself to his personal growth with the same intense focus he applies to his legal practice. He is not perfect, but he is trying harder than I’ve ever seen him, and I can’t help but respect that.
I thanked him for sharing with me. I told him I was proud of him for the strides in self-awareness he’d made since we divorced. Then we laughed at our mutual inability to model even one really good, really healthy intimate relationship for our daughters. But we agreed to keep trying. I told him I was counting on him, and he laughed and warned me not to hold my breath.
Then I gathered my cookies, kissed my daughters, and departed my former home, knowing, again, that it was indeed worth it.
Absolutely worth it.