On marriage and divorce; reflections with my mom and stepdad

This past weekend, my mom married the man she’s been with for over a decade. We lined the dock at our camp on the St. Lawrence River under a windy, silver sky and listened to tear-jerking, short-and-sweet vows and watched them exchange rings. And speaking of rings, my mom’s is derived from a piece of meteorite, which she said felt particularly fitting, given this otherworldly, heaven sent match she found later in life.

There was something magical about this no-frills wedding of two old souls, two old soul mates. I had never witnessed anything like it before, and the veteran-esque realness of it all made it my favorite marriage ceremony I’ve ever been a part of.

About a week prior, I asked my mom and Bill if they’d share some honest and raw thoughts on love, marriage, and divorce. They answered the questions individually, and I’ve included the transcripts below.

I can’t help but think we can learn and glean so much from these two and their paths, regardless of where we might find ourselves. Everyone’s way is unique, but what value there is to hear perspective from two people who’ve been on all sides of the room. 

 

Bill is up first...
 

How long have you guys been together?

13 years

What was the number one thing that drew you to the other?

Sense of humor; great personality

What has been different about being in a long-term relationship without being married? Anything?

No sense of “shoulds.” You should do this, you should do that. We are very tolerant of each other. We’re also more financially independent so we aren’t stealing from the other when we buy 75 pairs of boots or something :)

Bill, what made you ask my mom? After all these years?

I wanted to get married for years but I’m a world-class procrastinator. Also, saying “my girlfriend” when you’re pushing seventy is gross.

What has surprised you most in these years of being with someone who isn't the parent of your children?

She is more attuned to my kids’ lives than I am. I tend to live in more of a fog and she (being an over-the-top excellent mother) keeps me connected with my kids.

What have you learned from being divorced?

That divorce sucks. There is so much guilt. Guilt about feeling like you’re screwing up your kids’ lives, guilt about forcing your ex out into the world, guilt about living with another’s kids and not your own. It can damage your self-esteem and make you withdraw from society when you feel like a life “loser.”

What have you learned from being in another relationship post divorce?

That love does exist. That to be yourself and be able to speak freely with someone of high intelligence and compassion is a wonderful thing.  

Has going through divorce and another relationship made your view of divorce cynical, or realistic, or what?

Realistic. It’s something you should not do lightly. But if your life—your authentic life—is at risk, sometimes it is necessary.

Has this entire experience made you want to offer any advice to people getting married? People getting divorced? People remarrying?

Number one: you need to respect your mate-to-be. If you’re married and you’re thinking of divorce, I’d say that if you have any feelings for your spouse you should at least try to get help. Kids do get hurt; there is no way around it. Financially it can be crippling. Remarrying? Don’t know yet :)

 

And now, my mom...
 

How long have you guys been together?

13 years

What was the number one thing that drew you to the other?

This is hard to say, because I knew him long before we became a couple. The first time I ever saw him it was a few weeks after his son Dan passed away, and he brought his daughter to play soccer. Our daughters were on the same team, but mine had joined just recently so I never knew him. A friend of mine pointed him out to me and told me what had happened. I couldn't take my eyes off him because I couldn't even wrap my head around how he was even functioning. Over time, as our girls continued on the same team, we became friends. I thought he was funny and self-deprecating. His looks were also attractive to me, but I guess personality would have to be the answer.

What has been different about being in a long-term relationship without being married? Anything?

Having to awkwardly always refer to him as my boyfriend. Partner is even worse.

What has surprised you most in these years of being with someone who isn't the parent of your children?  

No matter how great they are, how caring, how a part of their lives they are, they just aren't your children’s parent. I'm sure people who come into kids lives at a very young age feel differently, but for me, I am keenly aware, especially now because Steve, my ex-husband, has passed away, that I have lost the only true connection to my kids. Conversely now, Bill is the only connection to my adult kids. My parents, of course, are pretty connected. But I don't think it allows someone to be brutally honest about your kids (except me of course, because I tend to just tell it like it is). I think Bill would watch his comments or hesitate to truly parent because when the dust settles, I'm still a mother and a fierce protector of her brood. And these are my kids to parent. I also believe you don't truly feel the same joy or pride in the others children's accomplishments or lives as you do your own, no matter how good your relationship is. It just isn't the same; how could it be when they come into your lives late?

What have you learned from being divorced?

How much time do you have? :) I have learned that divorce sucks. Well, let me qualify this. Divorce with children sucks. I had an early marriage that failed in a few short years. Divorce was simple and liberating because of no children and no assets to split. Divorce with a family is heart wrenching and scarring. You never get over it. No matter how good your post-divorce is, there is a trail of collateral damage behind you that you helped cause. No matter how much you believe you did a good job tempering the transition for your kids, I believe in their hearts they hate their family being torn apart. If they could wave a magic wand, they would want their family intact. This, of course, wouldn't ring true in an abusive situation. But for those, like Steve and I, who didn't even fight, it must have been mind blowing for our kids. And, the inconvenience to kids lives......ugh!!! It's just so hard on families, friendships, jobs, everything. Then, there is the fact in some cases that one person moves on happily and the other wallows in less of a life than they had prior, and the guilt never goes away! Another interesting facet is seeing other people who you imagine to have worse marriages than you did, and those people are still together. It makes you question the whole thing all over again. You second guess yourself and wonder, had you stayed, would things have been different as kids grew up and got easier, as money got better, as old habits died off? It's just so hard to truly feel righteous and proud in divorce. But when you lay your head down on the pillow and feel safe and loved in your new life, you make peace with it as best you can and know, for your own self-preservation, that you did the right thing. Because if you can't take care of yourself and make yourself a healthy, happy person, then what's the point?

What have you learned from being in another relationship post divorce?

How to be happy on a daily basis with nothing much more than I ever had before, materialistically speaking, except now I have a partner who truly shares a life with me.

Has going through divorce and another relationship made your view of divorce cynical, or realistic, or what?

I would hope it has given me a realistic view of it. The view is almost romantic when you think about wanting a divorce and how great life on the other side will be. Arriving, though, is quite different, as I said in a previous question. I think now if I ever got in a conversation with someone (who had children) who said they wanted a divorce, I would have to speak up and tell them to think long and hard on it. Seek counseling. Go to the ends of the earth to make it work. If you have any feelings toward this person that you think can sustain the relationship and carry you through what may just be normal bad times, then try your best to hang in there.

Has this entire experience made you want to offer any advice to people getting married? People getting divorced? People remarrying?

I think you can deduce my advice on divorce from my previous answers. As far as marriage goes, if you go into one thinking or hoping the person will change, they most likely won't. Also, I think love and lust are the easy things to find with a person, but respecting them and liking them are probably more important in sustaining a relationship. I really believe the person you are marrying should truly be your best friend and the person you really enjoy hanging out with, doing great things with, or doing nothing with. This is not to say you can't have great girlfriends or guy friends that you want to see or hang with. As far as remarrying—I think it can be everything your previous marriage wasn't. Practice makes perfect. I think the second time around (or third—lol) you now know, without a doubt, that marriage takes constant work, good enjoyable work; but you have to keep at it. And if you are lucky like me, you hit a home run.   


Like all of life’s adventures on which we can embark, I wish my mom and Bill the very best. But whereas most newlyweds are at the bottom of the mountain, just beginning their ascent, these two seem to have already made it to the peak, stronger than when they started, ready to take in the views. And that’s a pretty cool thing, to wish them the best on their leisurely way, knowing they’re right where they’re supposed to be. 

Thank you, you two, for sharing your thoughts with us :)
 

PS: Things I learned from my MomRose-tinted, Teddy Roosevelt and that time I was in therapy, and Is timing everything?