I am batting a thousand during lunchtime this week. Not sure at what, though?
Monday: Met a male colleague of mine for lunch. During the talk of kids and work, there seemed to be an unspoken “…and…” before and after each of his sentences. Finally, I was out of ability to politely ignore the obvious. “What,” I asked him, “is going on?”
He sighed, and a little embarrassed, said, “I moved out.” After 25 years of marriage, after years of asking his wife to try marriage counseling with him, and after making sure his kids are safely into good schools, he gets to have his own life back. He got a nice apartment in the same town as the family, and although they are only separated, he is not sure where this will end.
I expected him to be happier than he is. I thought the idea of a temporary (or maybe permanent) space of his own, a little breathing room in his life, was exactly what he needed. It’s not, though. What he has wanted all along is still the same thing. He wants to be happier in his marriage. Not out of it.
Tuesday: After trying almost every week all summer, I finally got to catch up with a woman I have known for about 10 years. She sat down and came right out with it – her husband filed for divorce. She has done everything in her power to try and talk him out of it, and is reaching the end of her rope. Her current plan of action is to sign a separation agreement in which she agrees to give up all of her rights, or potential rights, to any support or any share of his net worth, now or in the future, and just keep living with him, as a legally separated couple. I told her it is a terrible plan. I am apparently the twelfth person who has told her it is a terrible plan. Coincidentally, I am also the twelfth person to whom she has told her plan. She concedes that it might be a terrible idea, but she believes it is her only choice.
She is in her mid-thirties and thinks she is too old to start again. She does not want to find a new home, and a look at school systems, and decide about her job and maybe even start dating again. She did all of that and didn’t love it the first time around, there is no evidence she will like it more this time.
I agree with her, in some respects, and told her so. I said, “It sucks to have to go to the back of the line when you are so close to the front of the line. But if you are in the wrong line, the sooner you get out of it the better off you will be.” Imagine spending all day in line at the DMV only to be told that they don’t renew licenses there anymore. I asked her if she wouldn’t rather be in the right line, instead?
Wednesday: Lunch with my Mom. I happen to know that my parents are not separated and are not filing for divorce. I figured this would be a lunch free of divorce chatter, and was looking forward to it. I got to the restaurant first and ran into a friend from high school who I have not seen in a few years. I said, “Wow – you look great! Have you been working out?”
“No,” he said, and smiled sadly. I really thought about stopping him right there. “Don’t say it!” I wanted to yell. But, he was already well into his answer, “. . . in the process of getting divorced. . .” Poor guy. A few more details about what he has had to do to make sure his wife and kids can stay in the house, even if it means him having to take a second job, and then my mom showed up and the conversation turned to grandkids and parties.
I am not exactly sure what I take from all of this. I know that in my own legal practice I usually work with people who are more emotionally prepared to move on with their lives. I know that even the most amicable and simple divorce is still an emotional train wreck for the people who have to live through it. Although I put most of my energy into making the process as humane as possible, it is still ultimately a death. Wherever my clients go after the divorce is over, what they are leaving behind them includes some pretty devastating broken dreams and promises.
I tell them this a lot, though: as difficult as it is right now, you will be better off when it is over than you were before it began. You deserve a better life than this and you cannot get it by staying where you were, you have to move forward. Every time I run into one of my clients after the smoke has cleared the one thing they all tell me is that I was right. They are happier now than they were while they were married. They just couldn’t see it coming.
What We Love: The ultimate end of a divorce is freedom – the freedom to live the life you choose.