It was a beautiful summer day, so when Frank and I stopped at a downtown restaurant for a quick bite, we selected a table by a large window to watch the foot traffic passing by. But my sandwich nearly lodged in my throat when I looked up from my plate to see my ex-husband walking by with our son on his shoulders, my kid excitedly waving at me, obviously delighted by our chance run in.
None of the adults were feeling quite as jovial about the encounter.
Frank and I had been dating for about 5 months, and my son Noah was fond of him. My ex and I had parted ways the summer before after five years of marriage, and we were co-parenting without turmoil. It wasn't shocking that I was dating. I was sure I had mentioned it - in passing anyway - to my ex at some point. But in that moment when we all looked at each other and knew contact was about to be made, I felt as if I was being found out. The jig was up. And there was no way out of this moment. My body was rattling as if my insides had hit the spin cycle.
What could I do but act as if everything was normal?
We made it through swift introductions. Noah asked with a wide smile if we could all sit together. Luckily, Frank and I had selected a table for two. Also fortunate, we were nearly finished with our meal. I convinced Noah to sit with his dad at the table next to us - with him sitting closest to me so we could talk to each other. Everything I did or said felt unnatural. Time seemed to be stuck. The waitress, with our bill, had vanished. I was sweating through my clothing while the air conditioning blasted. Finally, just around the time that implosion seemed inevitable, the waitress turned up, we left a big tip in lieu of waiting for change, and with a hug for Noah and an awkward wave to my ex, we fled.
Out on the sidewalk I walked swiftly, with nearly every emotion in existence flooding through me. It was just a little run in. My ex and I were divorced. So why was I so affected?
The divorce had been my idea. But it took me a long time to say the words. Not only because I'm terrible at conflict, but also because my ex was a nice person. Causing him pain made me feel rotten. We had made it through the awfulness of divorce and come out the other side as two parents who loved their kid and wished no ill will of each other. We were doing okay co-parenting together. Having my ex see me with someone else felt like tearing open his healing wound. I just didn't want to do that to him.
However, if I had been more aware and set up a proper introduction between my ex and Frank - perhaps while my ex was dropping off our son at my house - it might have given everyone a chance to prepare emotionally. It would have been quick, my ex could have gotten away easily and no one would have felt as if they had walked into a surprise attack.
Going through a divorce, and adjusting to all the newness that comes after divorce, is truly an emotional time. It's not easy to think rationally, or long term, for that matter. We don't always consider the proper steps necessary to ensure everyone's best interests. That's why learning from the mistakes of others who have divorced is so useful. I hope that by sharing this story, someone is able to learn from mine, and make that important introduction before it's made for you.