I just completed documents for meetings I have next week with a loan officer and financial advisor. I’m not hopeful that I’ll be able to afford a house during this ridiculous market—I don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, nor do I want to skip an inspection and inherit mold, rats, or a dead body buried in the basement—but I need to see what my options are. Now that we are out of the tightest grips of the pandemic, I’m starting the process of looking for my own home—again. Technically I’m a renter, but my landlord is my ex-partner and I’ve been living in the spare room for over two years in the house that we bought together with our three kids. Yep, I’m still living with my ex, and we have thankfully been able to make it work.
It’s been nearly three years since my marriage started to unravel. I was the one to pull at strings that were starting to bother me and I was the one to initiate what started the divorce process, but I don’t consider anyone at fault for what ended up being very different plans from what my ex and I both anticipated for the rest of our lives. I don’t consider my marriage a failure, either, because there was a lot of love, great memories, and three beautiful kids that came from nearly 20 years together.
Ending my marriage didn’t turn any of those truths into lies, but asking for a divorce meant my ex-partner and I had to create a new reality. We had to get to know each other again with different expectations of the relationship, and through very raw emotions. My ex and I each had to figure out how to process the untangling of finances, co-parenting, and new relationships with other people while living under the same roof.
At first this was a strictly financial decision. I had always been the default, stay-at-home parent and my earning potential was just starting to increase when my kids went to school full-time. I couldn’t afford to move out, and she couldn’t afford the house on her own. We accepted that and became intentional in creating a shared space that was as free of tension as possible so that our kids still had a safe and happy home. Our kids understood the situation as much as then six- and eight-year-old kids can, and knew that I would be the one to move out of our home when the right house came on the market. We kept moving on while pulling our lives apart and established a new normal for our family.
The kids now point out houses they want me to buy and are excited to decorate a second room. They are seeing the respectful separation of their parents’ marriage while realizing that some things will never change, specifically our love for them and the way we will always show up for them together at sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, doctors’ appointments, and holidays. There are new routines, but there is never a lack of presence. My kids are also excited to go on vacation with my long-distance partner and her kids and they know my ex and their other parent is just as excited for these new connections.
My ex has met my new partner and welcomes her into my and our kids’ lives. I’m supportive of her dating life too. We want each other to be successful and happy. It took a little time to balance the newness of new relationships when we started dating other people; we had to figure out how to give each other emotional and physical space to create new identities from one another. This felt impossible at times, but we were committed to being good co-parents, and we led with good intentions and support of one another even when it wasn’t easy. The mediator we used to negotiate divorce details was key too. My ex had been given her name and she turned out to also be a life coach and pseudo therapist in addition to helping us figure out custody schedules. And just when we thought we were finding a way to closure, COVID put a halt to everything.
Being forced to stay in a house with your ex during a pandemic while juggling three kids, their school work, and two full-time jobs is what nightmares can be made of. But we chose to make it work. We had respect and friendship as our foundation and an us vs. them mentality when it came to parenting the kids. It was really ugly at times, but it was never toxic or abusive. It turned out to be a blessing—or I think it did; she may have other thoughts, but I think it repaired some of the damage our friendship suffered during the early parts of our separation and removed underlying resentments. By living with an ex who I have known since I was 18 it was like we were forced to grow up together again, but in a new way. We have gained independence and learned new roles without being completely alone while figuring it all out.
We have benefited from living together for so long after our separation, but we’re both ready for me to have my own place. We don’t dislike each other and living apart will make certain situations harder, but we’re ready to move on. I don’t know when I’ll finally be able to move out, but my ex will be at the meeting next week with the loan officer. I’ll be the one driving the conversation, but I asked if she would be there as a friend and as someone I trust to ask questions I might not think of. When it’s time, she and our kids will look at houses with me too.
I know how fortunate we are to have been able to make divorce and co-parenting work in healthy ways for us and the kids. Our situation is rare, but it has been ideal given many of the alternatives — and I’m grateful to have married and then divorced a person who is still a friend.