Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What I've Learned About Friendship Amid Divorce

Friendship is so simple when we are small, two babies playing next to each other, aware of the other but not necessarily interacting. Then we get a bit bigger and we both like Cookie Monster and that's enough. Time goes on and we have more things in common and real interaction and even an argument over who got the bigger half of the cookie. We'd still pinkie swear that we are "bestest friends FOREVER!" In adolescence and tweendom parents are hyper focused on alienation and bullying. As the mom of two girls, I spend more time helping them navigate the complexities of friendship than math, science and history combined. 

Somehow though, we are taught to believe that we outgrow a lot of this. That as adults we've survived enough catty, backstabbing, gossiping hell for a lifetime. That we will settle into adult friendships with a calm and ease we've earned. And, for many, this is true. It is also true that by the time we are adults, we have learned and grown enough to foster healthy relationships and walk away from toxic ones. That we lived enough to know the difference.

But often, just when we feel settled, just when we bought the idea that it's not the quantity but the quality, that it's not the likeness but the differences as well - our world shifts. Whether the shift is slight or dramatic, it's enough to effect visible change in our lives.

When you make the decision to get divorced, it’s interesting who you choose to confide in at first. It's not always your closest friends, per se. It’s like a clown car of people who have the right strengths, views, open arms, who lack judgment and just make sense for some reason you can’t explain at all. And then it’s out and you wait for the gossip, for the condolence calls and for something you didn’t plan on – those you don’t hear from at all.

You realize that for some it’s a need to take sides – sides that don’t exist in your case. For others, it’s too much. Your choice makes them look harder at their own relationship and question, wonder and fear. That part hurts, but you are too tired to focus on it for long. The ones you really don’t count on though are the people who judge. Those who think you could have tried harder, pushed on for longer or simply that you should sacrifice everything and anything for your children. You resign yourself not to let that hurt – good luck with that.

As time goes on even the best of them move on with their lives. Your brave face is mistaken for a strength you don't actually own and often, you are alone. But, anyone who has been down this road knows that divorce is like a death and the mourning process is slow and seemingly endless.  In Judaism there are rules for mourning – Shiva, Shloshim, Kaddish, Yizkor and different lengths of time depending on who the deceased was. There are no rules for the end of your marriage, no specified time or tradition. It's physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually devastating.

Sometimes you wish the phone would ring and the friend on the other side would just be there to check in. There are days when asking for any more attention, support or love seems selfish and impossible. You hear about yourself through the grapevine and try to ignore the gossip or the accusations when you decide to share your journey is this very public sphere. You do your best to remind yourself that until you've walked this path it cannot be understood. You are grateful for those who never waver in their support and you make it your mission to be as good a friend. You remain committed to being "all in."

Often, new friendships form and you feel blessed for that, but you can't help but wonder. You thought you knew all of the changes you'd endure when your marriage was over, you'd considered each one carefully thousands of times. But this one - this wasn't on the list. That there would be friendships irrevocably changed or lost as part of the process. The list didn't consider the fragile and complex nature of female friendships, but it should have.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When it's over, but not done

Nobody tells you that when it's over, it's not done.

The table is big and oak and could likely tell quite the tales of what it's seen. The pens are new, and the papers are crisp and official. The judge is old and he talks and talks and talks. He goes on and on. Only after do you realize that while you can't even speak or look up for fear of the tears, the judge does this every week. It's not the end of his chapter that he is signing, witnessing and notarizing; it’s yours. It's not his partner, his family, his hopes or his dreams that he is declaring legally null and void, it's yours. So you decide not to hate him and instead to focus on breathing while he passes the papers around the room. You reply with the requested "yes" or "no" at the questions you are required to answer. You breathe evenly to keep your voice from cracking. And then, while you are focused on the inhale and exhale, on how the knot in the table looks like the knot in your stomach, everyone rises and shakes hands. And that's...it.

You knew that it wouldn't be easy and that you did not want what happened in this room to define the day. So, in advance you asked if you could have lunch together. Eating and drinking were always something you were so good at doing together. So you go and you eat and you drink. You eat off of each other’s plates because old habits die hard. You taste his drink because he insists and you've never been able to say no to him. You talk and you laugh and there are a few jabs but mostly it’s ok because you pretend that it's not what it is, that it's just lunch. Then it's over and you stand on the street realizing that it's the most bizarre goodbye ever. You hug and congratulate each other for getting through it without killing each other. Then when you climb in your car, alone, you finally realize that the foreign feeling you couldn't place is numb. You've moved past angry, past heartbroken, past remorse. You feel completely and utterly numb.

So you drive and you walk in the cold, waiting for feeling to return to your fingertips, your feet and your brain. You breathe and try to connect with the relief you thought you'd feel. You cry and try to reach the bottom you thought you'd already hit. None of that comes.

So you go home and you move on. You live and laugh and work and parent and love and only when it's quiet do you allow yourself to know that there's no such thing as over. You have mounds of paperwork and finances to wade through. You have calendars to plan and holidays to coordinate and children who want their "family" to be as present as before. You have friends who expect you to show up. You have new relationships that fill you with hope but need to be introduced and explained with care and sensitivity.

So you go on and everything has changed, but a few things have not. You still can't seem to communicate well, you still seem to argue and hurt each other as much as you help and need each other. You still seem to see everything differently and feel everything differently. But most of all for you, you still love and miss and cry sometimes, too. And he still seems to hate all of that about you.

You realize it will never be done. Instead, you start to try to figure out what the next part will look like. And you hope that you two can do this part better. That you'll get there with practice, with patience that neither of you own, with faith that is tested daily, with compassion you've never given each other, with humility you will both need, and, most of all, with a reminder that there was love there once, and maybe for you, always.