I try not to tell anyone.
Not because I’m embarrassed, but the conversation is just so awkward I try to avoid it. Occasionally, though, we’re invited to dinner by a couple we haven’t seen in a while, and there is no way to avoid it.
I hurry through the words, my stomach dropping even before I finish them. “I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to make it. We recently separated.”
The response is the same every time.
Silence. Followed by, “Oh. I’m so sorry.”
I let the silence hang for a few uncomfortable seconds. I can remember saying the exact same words to friends and acquaintances in the past. I know what it’s like to live within the cocoon of a comfortable, reliable marriage. I too had years of feeling wholly at home in a relationship. From that vantage point, separation sounded like the worst possible scenario. Back then, every time I watched a marriage end, I assumed one partner was simply being selfish. “If they were willing, they could work it out,” I silently judged. And of course, in my estimation, “working it out” was always the best-case scenario for everyone.
Back then, I had the luxury of being naïve – of not knowing a thing about the death of a relationship.
I don’t take offense.
Most people honestly care about both me and my husband, and most of our friends speak from that cocoon of love and comfort. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m glad they live in a world where separation still feels like the worst thing that could happen, and I’m thankful they have no idea what to say, because they can’t imagine wanting to be apart.
I usually brush past it, moving the conversation forward to avoid sharing details. My husband and I have spent 17 years looking out for one another, and we agree we’re not interested in trashing each other now. I accept their concern quickly, but what I really want to say is, “Don’t be.”
Don’t be sorry we’re separated.
Be sorry we were in a place where separation was our best possible option. Be sorry to realize those cocoons can die, despite every effort to protect them. For the months I tried to hold this whole big mess together with my bare hands. For the year we were both unimaginably tense and uncertain, and nobody ever knew. Be sorry some issues simply cannot be worked out, no matter how unselfish people are.
Ask how the kids are doing (better, thanks), or ask how our communication is going (more relaxed than it has been in years). Ask if we need help with child care or bills or filling the gaps the other left behind. I could really stand a tutorial on installing new software, and he still doesn’t know how to buy groceries for one. Say you wish there was another way, because we do, too.
Don’t be sorry we live in two houses now. Instead, be sorry that sometimes, separation is the very best thing.