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My Post-Divorce Valentine

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I have always loved the greeting card aisle. I love looking at the designs, which have gotten so much more sophisticated, indie-artsy, and embellished over the years. (I do like to send a little glitter and bling now and then!) I like reading the sentiments inside, deciding if that's how I would say it, or tossing it aside as too mushy or not clever enough or just plain boring. In fact, back when I was in college, I wanted to be a greeting card writer for Hallmark. I even wrote the company and sent some samples. (Big surprise, I never heard back.)

When I'm away from home on a trip, I bring cards with me to send back to my family. I have made my own cards for a select few, and of course the cards I treasure most are those my son has made for me over the years.

When I was married, I remember standing in greeting card aisles during many a February, reading all the Valentine's Day cards labeled "To My Husband," and suddenly tears would be streaming down my face. Well-versed in optimism all my life, I so wished that I felt what the cards expressed. I wanted so desperately to give my husband a card filled with love and thanks and hope for the future -- and to believe it, feel it, want it. Sometimes I would buy a card of love and promise, saving it for the day I knew would come; the day that the words on the card would match the emotions in my heart.

There were times, to be sure, that I did feel it. I made one card for him with a picture of us sitting in front of our fireplace. There's no date, so I'm not sure what year it was. But it starts, "Jonhoney... when I met you the air around me quivered. You made me laugh and made me fall in love..."

How could I have written that, felt that way about him, and just a year or two later, stand sobbing in the greeting card aisle, at a loss for words?

And then there are the cards he gave me; declarations of love, promises of trust, visions of our future. Beautiful words -- words we both felt at the time. I have no doubt they were heartfelt and true.

I have some of those cards -- both the ones I gave him and the ones he gave me. They are mixed together in an old paper box. Looking them over, there's a sweet sadness at the naiveté of what was ahead of us; of believing that if I loved him enough, if we worked hard enough, we could overcome our obstacles and get to the other side. That's how I thought of it back then, through more than a decade of couples' therapy -- that we would get stronger and closer and what we would have on "the other side" would be better than we could ever have imagined.

Today I took out one of those cards I had bought in hopes that it might one day be true. And you know what? It is. I'm sure that for my ex and me, it has a completely different meaning than the greeting-card-writer ever intended. But the last seven or eight years have been revelatory for us -- years in which we separated; a year of rehab for my husband; years of individual therapy for both of us where we could grow, assess, and learn to let go with grace; years in which we created a post-divorce relationship like none other, based on friendship and years of knowing -- really knowing -- each other; years in which I learned to love him differently, with care and support, instead of enabling. --and he, me -- years in which we've partnered and parented through the normal difficulties of raising an adolescent; years in which we grew and showed remarkable compassion for our shortcomings, our idiosyncrasies, our human-ness; years later when I fell in love with another man (a man to whom I can give the kinds of Valentine's Day cards I used to cry about) and my ex has embraced him as a true friend, and vice versa. All making the kind of emotion-filled, definitely different, amazingly beautiful roller-coaster life that makes this card -- purchased more than 10 years ago -- perfect to give my ex-husband this year.

I know that there are many people who believe divorce always has to be a "bad" thing, filled with resentment or disappointment or damage to the kids. If you want to believe that, feel free. But I'm meeting more and more divorced couples who believe there's more than one way to do this. I am not saying that our post-divorce relationship is always wonderful, but I will tell you it is nearly always filled with respect and trust and commitment to what we've worked hard to create. And yes, it takes work, just like any friendship does. It's not what Cupid had in mind, but it is heartfelt just the same.

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