the unlikely hug

There are so many moments, post-divorce, that are nothing short of surreal.  Sometimes precious, sometimes horrible, but never anything you could have possibly imagined as you stood across from each other and spoke the vows that should have bound you together forever.  I have stopped wondering if such moments will ever stop and have come to accept them as part of the “new normal.”

Christmas Day delivered another such moment.

My official parenting plan with Bryce dictates that we take annual turns having the girls for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, then turn them over to the other parent at noon on Christmas Day.  We’ve never stuck to this mandate, however, opting instead to share Christmas morning together with our children and parents at whomever’s house the girls are at for Christmas morning, and then depositing them at the other home after lunchtime.  Last year, Bryce’s then-girlfriend joined us, which might have been awkward, but honestly wasn’t.  This year, however, neither of us had partners there.

Our Christmas morning routine has raised more than a few eyebrows among our mutual and individual friends, but we have agreed that as long as Bryn believes in Santa Claus, we will continue this tradition so that we both get to see the girls experience Christmas morning.  Those years are certainly numbered now; in fact, I suspect we just celebrated our last Christmas morning together, as I think Bryn has begun to piece together the truth about Santa.   But if this was to be the last Christmas for our original nuclear family, plus grandmothers, to celebrate together, then I shall be at peace with it, as I think we’ve achieved our mutual goal of creating mostly conflict-free holidays for our young children.

This year, Christmas morning was over at Bryce’s house.  My mom and I attended the traditional, adrenaline-filled present frenzy and returned home to the peace and quiet of a cup of tea, the sofa, and a Christmas movie on tv.  Bryce dropped the girls and their foyer-bursting haul off at the usual time.  We had a laugh about our daughters and all their gifts, wished each other a Merry Christmas, and then, as he was leaving, it happened.

We hugged.

It wasn’t a romantic hug or a long hug or a tender hug, but it was the first time we’ve touched each other that way since I announced that I was leaving almost 4 years ago.

A simple gesture, that was profound in its simplicity.

After he left, I stood in my foyer and briefly contemplated the long road that had brought us to that hug.  Yes, the hug was spontaneous, but we are long past the slips that used to happen right after our separation — the moments when one of us off-handedly used a nickname or started to utter a habitual “Love you” before hanging up the phone.  No, this was a moment of ease mixed with intent.  It was the culmination of so many small, difficult sacrifices, compromises, and acquiesces over the past few years as we sought to forge some kind of relationship that we can both live with in the future.  One that will allow us to co-parent our children — and, hopefully, grandchildren — while still accommodating our changed circumstances.

There are a lot of books about how to have a great relationship with your former spouse.  I have read none of them.  I have tried my best to stick to one goal for my relationship with Bryce — that I might, one day, truly call him a friend.  I have not been in a hurry to reach this destination.  Nor have I taken any time to define what that friendship might look like.  No, I have simply known, since the time I realized that I had to end my marriage, that Bryce and I would have been very successful friends if we had only stopped at that crossroad all those years ago.  I would not go back and alter our past, but I felt that if we had to pick a future that did not include a lovestory for us, well then, I picked friendship.

True, it isn’t a  friendship of any ordinary definition.  There will always be things about him that make me glad he is not my husband any more, just as I am sure there are moments he is deeply grateful to be rid of me as a wife.  He is a guarded, private man, and I am no longer a confidant, which I fully accept and respect, but there are also parts of his life that I understand better than anyone, and I have noticed that he still appreciates that perspective on occasion.   There are mutual hurts between us that will probably never be healed, and disappointments that can’t be overcome, and those will likely create boundaries that friendships not borne of the ashes of a marriage do not have.  But that’s okay.

There is so much on the internet and on blogs and in books about how awful divorce is and how much anger and hatred and dysfunction it visits on everyone touched by it, that I feel consistently compelled to share with you the small ways that Bryce and I are charting a different course.  I absolutely do not mean to glamorize divorce — the pain of severing a family is one I sincerely wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy — but I also do not think that it needs to become the action that forever ruins everyone involved.  There are other choices, other paths, and other ways of being divorced.  And I personally wish that each couple had the freedom and motivation to make a pattern all their own, that works best for them and their family, to move forward through the pain and regret and disappointment.

I am enormously grateful to Bryce for staying committed to this course with me and creating a present for our daughters of which they can be proud.   As more of their friends’ parents divorce, our girls are slowly realizing that our relationship is more of an exception than a rule, and I talk with them plainly about how hard it has been at times for their dad and I to keep communicating and working on this new kind of relationship.  I want them to understand that none of us can take this for granted.

Divorce is such a strange, strange journey.  I have learned so many things that I never knew I didn’t know.  I have come to want things I never imagined wanting.  And my life resembles nothing I had ever planned or hoped for.  And yet, that is all okay, too.

Maybe it’s crazy to want to be friends with my ex-husband.  Maybe it’s ridiculous to even hope for it.  But one thing that divorce has taught me is that all the things I felt so certain about for the first half of my life didn’t hold up as I expected them to.  So now I’m exploring the stuff that’s “impossible.” And if someday, somehow, we defy the odds and I am able to call Bryce a friend first and my ex-husband second, I will simply be grateful and accepting of what we were able to create.

Who knows?  Four years ago, I’ve have bet all my chips against a hug on Christmas Day….




Filed under divorce, healing, relationships

11 responses to “the unlikely hug

  1. What a beautiful example for your children! I love how you two put the children first and in doing so, learned about letting go and forgiveness by experience peace. Happy New Year 🙂

    • Thanks, E.T. I know how lucky I am, and I know that no matter how much one of us wanted it to be this way, it took the commitment from both to get here. I also know it will not likely always be such smooth sailing, so I am relishing these moments when they happen! 🙂

      Happy New Year to you, too!

  2. I am so impressed. I have a very acrimonious divorce yet 10 years on, I still wish I could be friends with my ex. In fact, I tell all my friends contemplating a split from their husbands that if they can do it and still have respect for each other as people and co-parent then there’s nothing to wait for. If we were all capable of being friends with the people we fell in love with, we’d have families just as strong as those that stay together.

    • Thank you, but don’t be impressed. I think in our case it has been mostly be what we should have been all along. The divorce didn’t undermine our relationship; the marriage did. 🙂

      But I totally agree with your characterization of healthy co-parenting. My girls are much, much, MUCH better off now in terms of their own mental health and stability than they ever were before, and not because we were a high-conflict couple (because we weren’t), but because it’s hard to open and authentic as individuals and a family when you are burying so many truths and emotions every single day. We may be much less intimate with each other now, but both my ex and I are far closer and more authentic with our girls.

  3. After over 30 years I decided to get divorced. My children were older and I was so unhappy being in a relationship devoid of affection and understanding. My ex was shocked and very angry. He hired a lawyer. I did, too. I am only beginning the process of divorce, but I’m sad. I had hoped it could be different, but I understand that he feels betrayed. I will try to keep in mind some of what you wrote as I navigate this difficult time. Thank you.

    • Judy, I think it’s worth stressing that we have not always been this harmonious! Honestly. We had two of the worst arguments ever during our divorce — bitter, nasty, horrible arguments. In one I even told him, with complete sincerity at the time, that I hated him and wished I’d never met him — and I NEVER said anything like that to him before or since.

      The biggest thing that I learned through the divorce process is that nothing is static. The relationship is always in flux and you never know which way it will tilt next. You are no longer working in close concert, as a marital team, but more as business partners, which is altogether different.

      Every single person I know started their divorce hoping — perhaps even assuming — that they would still have an amicable friendship with their ex. They hired mediators and thought they could work it out between them. But every single couple I know that had children ended up locked in a battle with attorneys. So don’t be too disheartened by your current state of affairs. As best I can tell, it’s normal.

      I can obviously understand and appreciate you wanting a good friendship with your ex, but — and I’ve been wanting to write a post on this little topic — please don’t give away too much of your future just in order to create some kind of friendship with your ex. It’s a two-way street and no amount of concessions on your part is going to create a friendship unless he also desires and works toward one. I’ve watched friends bend over backward trying to lay the foundation for good future friendships and to no avail. In that Divorceland space, your concessions will not be received with good faith, and if he truly desires your friendship later on, he will forgive the reasonable steps you take now to secure yourself. Bryce and I have forgiven each other a whole lot in order to get here, but I had to make my peace very early on that it might not ever happen. I couldn’t plan my future still tied to what my ex-husband thought of me, and you can’t either. Just be true to the best version of yourself and put one foot in front of the other — eventually you’ll come out on the other side with your self-respect intact and the beginnings of a fresh start. 🙂

      Good luck to you and thanks for reading!

      • Your reply helps me so much! I have thought about searching for a support group. I’ve been through other challenges in my life (disabled children, loss of a child) and it makes a difference to hear from someone who understands because you have gone through this! I had so much guilt and knew my husband wasn’t expecting this. He even told me that getting a lawyer was about “damage control” and we are no longer “on the same team.” I think he did me a favor getting a lawyer because I will have a better outcome. But I am in the tunnel right now and your words sound very true. I never fought with my husband while married. He was cold and unhappy; the most negative person in the universe. I expect something explosive will happen, but for now I put myself in a place of appreciation for following my heart and having the courage to do this. Thank you for your support!

        • I think that you sound very level and prepared for what you are undertaking. And good for you for seeking out some “been there, done that” advice. 🙂 It really does help, doesn’t it?

          During my divorce I used to tell my friends that I just wanted — needed! — to see another woman who was on the other side of the experience and truly happy. Her life didn’t have to perfect, but it needed to be worth the pain and stress of the divorce. And when I would occasionally meet such women, I would cling to their stories as if my life depended on it! I guess in some ways, it did. 🙂 Lol.

          Hang in there!

          • I will hang in there. I already is worth the pain and stress to be free. I couldn’t live with someone that I couldn’t stand to be around and it wasn’t fair to him either. You are the woman on the other side. Thank you for inspiring me!

  4. Mmm, it’s interesting as ever to see you ahead on the post divorce path… I hope that I am following in your footsteps.
    It feels so incredibly weird to think that two years ago as my world collapsed and the worst year in my life dawned I started blogging and felt devastation, abysses of anger and sadness. Now T and I are probably, hopefully on the same path to a cautious friendship. As you rightly said, nothing is static, and our power of healing is just incredible.

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