Today is my ex-husband’s birthday. It is a day that has hit me unexpectedly hard, and for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me. Perhaps it’s all those years of trying to make his birthday special, and never really having any clear idea of whether I succeeded (showing appreciation was not a strength of his). Or maybe it’s the last of his birthdays that we spent together — the one where I surprised him with a weekend in Las Vegas with our two closest couple friends in a vain attempt to re-connect with him. Or it could be, quite simply, that I miss having someone to celebrate.
My grandmother used to say that someone’s birthday is your opportunity to truly appreciate them — to imagine the hole in your life had they not been born and to celebrate all they bring to you. I love that philosophy and have lived it and shared it my entire life. Even as our marriage was falling apart, I booked the tickets to Vegas and focused on all that we had and all that we shared.
Tonight, he took our daughters and his girlfriend out to dinner at his favorite Mexican restaurant and then they all went back to his house (formerly our house) for cake and presents. A simple celebration, to be sure, but when my girls came bouncing in the door of my house more than an hour late, they were glowing and happy and brimming with love. And it occurred to me, as it has quite often of late, that I was on the outside, looking in on the family I’d created. And it made my heart ache.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want him back. Too many of his birthdays felt like fruitless efforts to appease someone for whom I was never going to be sufficient. I have still-vivid memories of (especially during the last few years of our marriage) putting on my best game face and struggling to come up with a present and a card that wouldn’t belie my increasingly shallow and resentful feelings. No, indeed, I don’t want to go back.
But I envy him for going forward. I am not jealous, because I do not want him, but I am envious. I am envious that he believes himself to be in love with a woman who also seems to be in love with him. I am envious that they get to have happy family times with our children, while I am perpetually a party of three. I am envious that he has created a new life with such relative ease.
Of course, by now I know that things are not always what they seem from the outside, and I also know how quickly “perfection” can crumble under its own weight. I have recently been made aware that he is, to a certain extent, posturing for my sake, gloating over his own good fortune, and delighting in my obvious singlehood. Furthermore, I know, as well as any child on the playground, that gloating only comes back to bite you in the ass eventually (and usually with a vengeance). But I also know him, so I know how much perverse satisfaction he is receiving from the inequities of our situations. I know him well enough to see, as it plays across his face, how validated and vindicated he feels to be the one with the “family” again, while I continue to struggle.
I wish I could say that I am such a big person, with such warmth and compassion for all living creatures, that this doesn’t bother me. But I’d be lying. It bothers me. A lot. I positively hate the smirk that appears when I arrive, alone once again, at a school function or a soccer game. I despise the superior tone he takes when he explains plans that he and his girlfriend have with our daughters. Honestly, it brings out the basest, most primal feelings of anger in me. Quite simply, I want to smack that smug look off his face. But so far I haven’t, and for that, I congratulate myself.
My friends have pointed out all the possible reasons why he is happily settled and playing house, and I am not. They have tirelessly reminded me that he did not really date after our divorce, but simply grabbed one of the first girls he found and called it good. As best anyone can tell, he has not spent any real time meditating on what went wrong in our marriage. And, as one friend bluntly put it, he’s not as damaged from our marriage as I was, because I spent 13 years building him up before I got tired and left, while he spent the same amount of time tearing me down. That’s hard to hear, but not far off the mark. And by that measure, he should be embarrassed, not vindicated, by my solitude: if I am too damaged to maintain a healthy relationship, he is certainly quite a bit to blame for that sad reality.
One friend in particular likes to remind me of the numbers: most people remarry within 5 years of their divorce, but 75% of second marriages end in another divorce. Based on this, I suppose I am expected to congratulate myself on being wiser somehow than those poor suckers who fall in love quickly. Funny, but as I climb into bed alone most nights, wise is definitely not what I’m feeling.
I want to be in a place where my happiness and sense of worth exists without reference to what he is doing or what he has, but I am not there yet. I am strong enough that I have resisted allowing this petty competition of his to suck me in to his game, but not strong enough to have his game not bother me. I have refused to compete: I have not grabbed some “good enough” guy and set up house, just to spite my ex. And I have resisted the desire to arrive at one of the school functions with my handsome, strapping 30-year-old male friend and watch my ex’s jaw drop, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fantasize about it. Hey, I’m only human, after all.
So, for now, I shall bear his smirky smiles and condescending insinuations as best I can. And I will continue my journey of personal growth and experience and development. And I will hope against hope that someday, somewhere, somehow, I will have the opportunity to see his smirk fade and his jaw drop and that I will have the grace and decency to pretend not to notice.