One of the families in our inner circle has divorced — and the shockwaves are definitely ripping across our home.
And I really can’t say what will be left standing after the temblor stops.
I’m not surprised that another couple has done the Big “D.” My daughters certainly have many friends with multiple homes. There were even the kids who started preschool with separated parents — imagine that: couples who break up while the kid is still an infant. Sure, they have a baby and suddenly there’s less sleep, less sex, less time to connect, general increase in stress, tension, exhaustion and things just fall apart. But an infant? That’s early.
With teenagers of my own, I’m conscious of entering another marital danger zone. I’m told as a home fills with adolescents, those kids become marriage stressors once again. Teens breed tension, thriving on conflict and drama, which mine eat for breakfast. My daughters’ moodiness certainly leaves me unbalanced, not knowing whether I’m saying good morning to an affectionate being or a fanged creature. This spills over with my wife, making me more likely to pick a fight with her after arguing with my 16-year-old.
And as my girls spend less and less time at home, departing the familial dinner table in a flash or shunning it altogether for movies or ice cream with friends, hanging out on the Promenade or neighborhood stoops until curfew, I feel the void their absence creates. I sometimes struggle to fill the time with my wife, facing the now unfamiliar evening alone at home together. Thank goodness we have a dog who can always take another long walk.
Parenthood continuously brings changes like these to our lives. We’ve managed to find ways to adjust to school, sleep-away camps, parties, all the transitions that alter the way my kids spend time at home and exist as part of our family.
What’s really shaken me up about my friends’ divorce, though, is that it’s cracked my foundation, rocked my social network. There have been articles and discussion in the press and on the web about the impact our close friends have on our behaviors — fat friends make us fat, or hanging out with smokers makes you more likely to light up. My good buddies, who I’ve always seen as walking the same life path as me, have avoided splits. My inner circle of college friends and baby groupies have held it together, until now, as we all hover around our 20th anniversaries.
Suddenly I see a couple I easily compare my marriage with. Do we go on more dates than they did? Do we fight more than they did? Do we like each other more than they did? I now feel there’s a measuring tape for me to use on my life and I’m frightened by what I might learn from the comparison.
Perhaps, though, there is a nugget of wisdom to gain from my friends’ misfortune. Their life together didn’t seem so bad from the outside. Of course, I know every marriage is different. Gay, straight, Jewish or Protestant, you can’t really understand other people’s relationships or the choices they make. Even the couples who I think have perfect relationships probably don’t. So maybe perfect isn’t the standard to be striving for. How about just good, as in, “I have a good marriage.”
Maybe divorce is like a pool party; no one wants to be the first to get in, which was a good thing. But now someone’s jumped in, and I’m wondering if everyone will follow.
I worry the rearrangement of my friends’ household forebodes a flood of lawyers appointments and court dates among my pals, or is a harbinger of dark days for my own marriage. Having all my close friends keeping their matrimony intact was a strength from which I didn’t even realize I was drawing.
But in the face of whatever any of my peers do, if I can look at my own relationship and say, “It’s no better than theirs,” then I’m doomed. But if I can say, “It’s just as good, and that’s OK,” then there’s hope.