My ex-husband and I have been getting along really well over the past six months. Before then, we had our moments, but there were years rife with bitterness. Every request for schedule flexibility was prone to contention, hand-offs were tense. Now, with few exceptions, we’ve hit a groove, communicating like adults when a calendar conflicts arise, commiserating about behavior challenges with the kids, and sharing funny things they do and say. I even found myself offering to loan him my car when his was in the shop, and he jumped my said car when the battery died. We’ve gone to dinner with the kids a few times, and it wasn’t weird or stressful. It was fun.
This is such a huge and wonderful development for all four of us. But it is also tough. It’s tough because when we hang out, and he tells me about an a fascinating story he heard on NPR, or we exchange barely a glance at the school event and know the other is equally peeved at the disorganization, it’s wonderful to spend time with someone I feel so close to. I may have been divorced from this man for five years, but I have known him for 13. That is a long time, and in that long time we have gone through so many things — separately, together, in parallel. He still cracks me up sometimes, and the box of natural soaps he helped the kids pick out for my Christmas present reminds me that he knows me so well.
It’s like a marriage.
Except it’s a divorce.
Spending this little bit of time together, and not going through the Rodney King riots every second, reminds me of the good times we had — backpacking around Brazil or Laos. Binge watching The Sopranos on the weekend, turning in stunned unison to one another when Janice shoots Ritchie. How well-suited we were for one another –adventurously packing a Pensky truck with money we didn’t have, and heading from Phoenix to New York to start a life we could hardly envision, and creating one that was so full of so many good things.
To juxtaposes those good memories to the life we lead now — shuffling kids back and forth, both of us facing loneliness and financial struggle and loss. It is a loss. No matter what happened, no matter why it happened, divorce involves loss. A loss of the dream you’d hope to have. A loss of a love or a romance or a spark that is gone. As I wrote in Why post-divorce rebound relationships hurt so damn bad (and why divorces are totally different and way worse than breakups) in understanding why post-divorce breakups hurt so goddamned bad, I realized that the end of a marriage requires so much logistical trauma, so much energy and pain around the desolation of an entire life, it leaves little room to mourn the relationship itself. That love goes ungrieved.
But maybe it goes ungrieved because grief is too painful. What if anger is easier than grief?
Do you stay angry at your ex because it is easier than being sad?
Do you stay angry at him because then you can blame him for all that hurt — all the difficult changes and lesser living arrangements and the hassle and discomfort of swapping the kids back and forth all the time? Do you stay angry because that is a way to blame him for this terrible thing that happened to all of you? When you’re angry — when I was so angry — you can throw all those bad feelings across the room and your text messages right at the other person. It’s at someone. Over there. Him.
Anger, that is powerful stuff. Normal, healthy, crazy-making stuff. But anger is good at hiding the real juice. When you’re blaming him, is it easier than accepting that this terrible thing is maybe not all his fault? Maybe it is some — 50 percent even? — your fault, too. Maybe you’re angry at him because it is easier than accepting that life and your God and the universe just sucks so damn bad sometimes, sometimes it is unbearable the unfairness and pain that happens to normal, nice people who just want a supportive spouse and raise their kids in a decent home in a good school district and go to Jamaica once a year. But that isn’t how it works. That isn’t how marriage works sometimes. That isn’t how life works. And that isn’t how love works.
Because sometimes love breaks your heart. And it is just sad. Simply sad. Even after you’ve gone through all those five stages of grief (In case you forgot: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), sometimes you’re just sad. Like when you accept that your grandma has passed away, sometimes you miss her and wish you could ask her advice about how to discipline your kids or for her chili sauce recipe. But you can’t and you’re sad, and you’re cool with that. You don’t throw yourself on the bed in wailing grief wishing you could bring back your grandma. She was old and she died and you accept that. But sometimes you miss her and you sit gracefully or not gracefully with your sadness and it eats at you for a while.
And that is where I am. I’m not angry about my divorce any more. But sometimes I’m sad. And being sad is hard. Sometimes, sad is harder than being mad.
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Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.