I was chatting with a co-worker, Samantha, about a friend of hers who was getting divorced. Both of us were in our mid-30s, and the story she was telling, I must admit, was pretty juicy. Apparently her friend, let’s call him Lance, was caught kissing some other woman in a parking lot. That woman’s husband came screaming out of his car and kicked his ass.
“We’ve been friends with Lance and his wife for years,” Samantha said. “We spent holidays with them, and now they are getting divorced, and it’s just so odd.”
Naturally, we talked about Lance and his wife, and how they didn’t have kids, which would make things easier. Then we slid into a conversation about divorce. Not that either of us wanted to divorce our spouses. We were both going on about 12 years of marriage with our significant others. More that it seems like so many of the people we started out with are now throwing in the towel. Samantha and I chatted in her office for a good 30 minutes, both of us talking about how much we loved the person we were with and how difficult it would be to try to start over.
Then I went back to my office and thought about how, in my 20s, it seemed like everyone was getting married. I spent so many weekends at weddings, picking out the right gift for the new couple and wishing others well. But now, in my 30s, it’s all about divorce. I got married at 22, which is young, I know. And while my wife, Mel, and I have changed a lot in 12 years, we’ve really grown together too. But obviously, that’s not true for everyone.
Mel and I have lived in three different states during our marriage, so like many people, we keep up with other couples via Facebook. It’s difficult to understand why someone’s marriage ended, and frankly that’s a personal matter between the estranged couple anyway, but it just seems like a common occurrence now to suddenly see that someone you knew for years, whose wedding you attended and whom you visited in the hospital when their first child was born, is now listed as “single,” or their profile photo changes to them snuggling with some stranger.
It becomes more complicated when you consider that the majority of couples in their 30s were probably raised by divorced parents. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early ’80s. My mother is in her third marriage. My father died just after divorcing his fourth wife. I have a slew of stepparents, step-siblings, half-siblings, step-cousins, and step-uncles who were once family, but now I don’t know what they are. I once tried to introduce my former stepsister to my wife through Facebook, but didn’t know what to call her. It felt strange to have worn a boutonniere in her wedding line, but no longer have a title for our relationship.
I went home and told my wife, Mel, about the conversation with Samantha. I told her about the fight in the parking lot that she described. We joked around about it a little. She asked if I’d do the same if she ever kissed someone else, and I told her I didn’t know. “Maybe…probably…I honestly don’t want to think about that,” I said. “I’d like to think that we are past that sort of thing. Kicking someone’s ass for kissing my girl seems so 1999 at this point. I’d rather worry about moving forward, not going backwards.”
We were in the kitchen. I was packing my lunch for the next day. Our three kids were watching TV. Mel was working on dinner. It was quiet, which is fairly unusual for us. Normally, there are children clawing at us for attention. Someone is usually throwing a fit at the dinner table because they have homework to finish, or they want a snack. But as crazy as parenting can be, when compared to a love triangle that ended in a parking lot fist fight, our lives are pretty calm.
“I fight for you,” I said. “I do every day. Although it isn’t throwing punches. It’s going to work at 6 a.m. and coming home at 6 p.m., 8 p.m., or whatever p.m.” I went on, listing a few more things I do for her and the family, how some of it I love, and some of it I don’t. “Not to get on a high-horse or anything, I just want you to know that I don’t think marriage, at this point, is about fist fights. It’s about day-in-and-day-out dedication,” I said. Then I listed some of the things she does for the family. She added a few things to my list, and to her own, and once we were done, suddenly throwing a punch sounded a lot easier.
Then I told her about what had really been mulling around in my mind most of the day. Divorce really shaped who I was as a child, and now in my 30s, it feels like I’m surrounded by it. All of this adds up to a part of me that often wonders if divorce is just some natural trajectory of life. “Til death do us part” doesn’t mean what it used to, and maybe we are all destined to be serial monogamists.
“Sometimes it feels like divorce is inevitable,” I said. “Like it’s just some stage of adulthood you have to go through. And to be honest, that scares me because I really love you, and our family, and what we have together.
I’m not going to try to dream up some grand cure for divorce. And I’m certainly not judging anyone who has been through it. Marriage is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s a complicated mix of emotions and maturity.
What I will say is that I’m going to fight for my marriage, and it doesn’t look like a parking lot fist fight. It looks like day-in-and-day-out dedication. And thinking about it that way doesn’t sound sexy or exciting at all, but it is the reality of marriage in your 30s, and putting that into perspective has really made me feel like what my wife and I are doing every day for our family is actually very significant.
Mel kissed me. “Don’t forget that it says, ‘Love you forever,’ on your ring.”
Indeed, it does say that inside my wedding band.
Mel reminds me of this from time to time. And while it felt like I needed Mel to say something really monumental, the simplicity of what she said was satisfying. It felt like she was reminding me that the promise she made all those years ago is still as important to her as it is to me. I’ll take it.
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