Current Husband and I were married in August of 1995. That summer, everyone was getting married. We attended either 14 or 16 weddings between April and September, and being the classy people we are, we prided ourselves on usually arriving at the wedding so late that we were the last people to see the bride before she walked down the aisle. This was Phase One: The Marriage.
When I first graduated from college and people started getting married, I was really bad at being a wedding guest. I never got my RSVP's in on time, I didn't book rooms at the hotels and crashed on people's floors, and I was clueless about gift registries. I just got them something I thought was cool, like an Annie Liebowitz coffee table book (you know who you are) or placemats or something. I had no point of reference, and my parents just didn't take me to weddings (with GOOD reason). I didn't know how to do the Chicken Dance, and thought the Dollar Dance sounded vaguely porno. I apologize to those couples whose special day was graced with my presence, and my presents. Once I was engaged and figured out what the hell was going on, I was completely addicted to gift registries, and I loved checking them to be sure people were getting what they wanted. It was a bit like gambling - "I'm going to say 3 to 1 I'll get 12 place settings in the Mikasa!" - and it all just seemed so happy and fortuitous.
Then, a few years later, people started having babies. Lots of babies. Again, not so good in the baby department myself, OBVIOUSLY. I didn't like babysitting much, and little babies sort of freaked me out with their ET-Phone-Home-ness, so again, I apologize for the ridiculous baby gifts I doled out. "Here's a breakable bead necklace, some lead paint blocks, and a Charms Blow Pop for your baby. Congratulations! Wanna stay up all night drinking? No? Why?"
This was Phase Two: The Baby Phase.
I got better at the baby thing when I had a few of my own, and suddenly buying baby gifts was easy...diapers, books, thermometer, multiple onesies, case of wine and one glass. Now I am a baby gift professional, and I even make those crazy yet functional diaper cakes. I had a retail store for four years with a baby SECTION. Don't mess with me.
So now here we are in 2010. It's been 15 years since CH and I were married, and it has been the best of times and the worst of times. However, I am finding myself a rookie again, and it's because so many of our friends are contemplating or getting a divorce. And I am really bad at it. I want to be exactly what my divorcing friends need, and I'm not always sure what that is, exactly.
It's tricky, le Divorce.
That awkward third phase.
You're friends with a couple, and then suddenly they are splitting up, and not only do you find yourself taking a "side" in the divorce, but suddenly you find yourself looking at your own spouse and thinking, "hmmmm." I think it's almost impossible to have someone close to you get divorced without sizing up your own relationship, for better or for worse.
Almost seven years ago, two different friends of mine were getting divorced. When our group would get together for coffee, they would talk about all of the bad parts about splitting up, but I had a seven-year-old, a four-year-old, and a newborn, and all I could hear was "...and he gets them two nights a week and every other weekend. Does anyone want to go to a movie?" One of the women lived across the street from me, and I swear to God, every Friday he would get the kids and she would walk outside with a bottle of champagne and a stack of magazines and sit in her deck chair for two hours, drinking and reading and listening to her iPod. EVERY. DAMN. FRIDAY. I would stand with my nose pressed against the glass, watching her and drooling, listening to my kids fight in the background amongst the mess, waiting for CH to show up all crabby and hungry and tired too.
I would fantasize about those two nights alone, able to eat Long John Silver's and drink a 64-ounce Mountain Dew and stay up reading and then sleep, blissfully sleep, until I decided to wake. One less person to cook for, clean after, do their laundry, listen to. I could hold the remote. The seat would always be down. Sweet freedom.
So at first, the whole divorce thing sounded great. And I was bad at being the support friend, because I would vacillate between "get the hell out of there!" and "are you sure about this?" Now we've been through a few, have a few divorces wrapping up and a few freshly filed, and I have a couple of friends who I know are secretly contemplating it, and I know a little more. Enough to know that until you've been through one, you have no idea what you are talking about. You don't know the reasons people are doing it, you don't know what goes on behind closed doors, you don't know the pain or the relief or the technicalities, or sometimes the joy. Sometimes you're pretty sure it's the right thing, and sometimes you're not so sure. You just want everyone to come out of it okay. Unless the husband is a dick, of course.
I hope I'm always married to CH, but there are no guarantees in life. My wagon is pretty firmly hitched at the moment, but I have learned that the minute you take the whole thing for granted is the moment it starts to slip away. We try to communicate and make time for just the two of us and not freak out about kids or money or dishwasher issues and my obsession with British men and musicians or my lack of paying work, but marriage is damn hard work. He's cute, and he laughs at my jokes, so I'm keeping him.
So teach me, oh wise readers, to be the experienced, empathetic friend of potential divorcees - Do you know people getting divorced? Have you been divorced? Do you think there is a prevalent time in relationships when things fall apart? What do you think are the major factors? What do you think was the best thing you did for a divorcing friend? As a divorcee, do you regret it or wish you had done it sooner? What is the best thing someone did for you during your divorce? I await your wisdom.
In the meantime, what is the best gift for a friend going through one? I think I might know: