Ever since my marriage fell apart, I’ve been looking for a happy ending. Not even necessarily for me, but just in my vicinity. I am fortunate to be acquainted with several couples who got it really right the first time around, and from them I take multiple and valuable lessons with me. But at this point in my life, and for obvious reasons, I am most interested in those people who made it through a divorce to a truly happy place on the other side.
The difficulty in this research is that the definition of happy is always subjective, and one person’s happiness might not be another’s. But because I know married people who have lives that I genuinely admire and envy, I feel certain that there must be divorced people about whom I would feel similarly, people who have constructed lives that I look at and go, “Yeah, that would do just fine, thank you!”
One of the difficulties for me in this pursuit has been acknowledging that my personal version of a happy ending does indeed involve a romantic relationship with a man. I understand and appreciate and applaud those women for whom post-divorce happiness does not include a partner, but I am not one of them. I can be quite content on my own, with my friends and my children, but joyfulness, for me, necessarily includes an intimate connection with a man. My apologies to feminists everywhere, but there you have it.
And so I have watched vigilantly as women I know have moved through separations and divorces and begun and ended new relationships. I have heard, through other friends, of many people who seem to be in healthy, good relationships, but as I don’t know those people or their relationships personally, I have no means of knowing whether they would qualify as happy by my own standards. I have noticed that a lot of people, post-divorce, seem to settle very quickly, and I frequently get an energy from those couples that suggests that their relationship is solid, but not happy. I’ve had solid, but not happy. I’ll pass, thanks.
I’ve written here before about how logical, rational, practical people try to convince me that “healthy” love is logical, rational, and practical. That my ideas of what love is are unreasonable and unrealistic. But when I remind them of our mutual friends who actually have those kinds of truly deep connections, they are at a loss. The presence of these statistical outliers befuddles my pragmatic teachers. Typically, the conversation ends with me being told, “Well, that’s really rare,” as if that settles it and I should stop being foolish and get on the sensible bandwagon and find another perfectly nice man and settle down again.
Thanks, but no thanks.
I’m okay with rare. I’m good with uncommon. I’ve made my peace with unlikely.
I know those relationships are rare, because, in the 2 1/2 years I’ve been searching for a post-divorce happy ending, I have seen very, very few. I have seen divorced friends find love — and even get engaged — only to have it fall apart and them left to the task of nursing yet another broken heart. I have seen other friends slowly close themselves off from the very possibility of love, thereby avoiding that heartbreak.
But…. there have been a few exceptions. I have a couple of acquaintances whom I have seen create totally new and surprising and truly sweet relationships out of the rubble of their divorced lives. I watch them with bated breath, praying that their relationships really do have that magical mix to make it through the rough stuff without succumbing to “solid, but not happy.” I feel like an avid fan during the playoffs, hoping that my team can pull out the ultimate victory.
More than those couples, though, and much closer to me in emotional proximity, is the story of my dad and his wife. Their story, more than any other, gives me hope when I begin to feel certain that post-divorce romantic love is an oxymoron. They are my best example of a post-divorce happy ending.
My dad is married to his 5th wife. He’s not proud of that fact, and I’m not proud of it for him, but he is of a different generation and not the kind of man to sleep with a woman for an extended period of time without marrying her. So he did, again and again. But, as he says with a wry smile, they were all just practice for Mary, his current wife and his only soulmate. He married Mary when he was 65 (he is now 82), and they are as silly in love as they ever were. They cuddle and flirt and spar like the equals they are and make up with a laugh and a kiss. She had been married twice before, and they are achingly open about how this love of theirs surpasses anything they’d known before. They know they are blessed; they appreciate each other and gives thanks for their good fortune in finding each other. They are my touchstone for what can be, even after divorce.
I recently saw a beautiful plaque that reminded me of them. It says, “Sometimes, in the midst of an ordinary life, a fairy tale happens.” When I told my dad about it, his eyes filled with tears, and he took my hand and said “It’s true. Don’t you ever believe that it’s not true.”
My dad is always right. So I’ll keep looking. Watching and waiting and hoping. I honestly don’t need the happy ending to be my own. I just need to know that they still exist.