I was at a party, the kind where bosoms, booze and mouths overflowed. There wasn't much happening with my bosom, but my then-husband's mouth was going for it.
"You know," he said to my dearest friend, "I like being married but living like I'm single."
When she shared that with me the next day we both laughed. Well, who wouldn't want to have the best of both worlds -- someone at home cooking and cleaning while you're out having fun? It wasn't until later, when I discovered his affair, that I realized he was living like that. Then I wasn't so amused.
But now that I've been divorced a few years, I'm revisiting his comment. I think he may actually be on to something, except I'd tweak it ever so slightly. It isn't all that great to live like you're single when you're hitched: single people have a lot of expectations -- typically unrealistic -- about marriage, and that does more damage than good. I don't blame them, though; you can't truly grasp what something's like unless you experience it. That's why married people should live like they're divorced, with all the benefits of expectation-busting hindsight, but still be committed to each other.
It sounds weird, but here's what it would look like:
Ask any person what's the best part of being divorced and it pretty much boils down to this: Freedom. It's the Lady Gaga of words for the divorced; everyone talks about it. You can eat chips and salsa for dinner, wear sweats all day, leave the cap off the toothpaste tube, have a boozy ESPN marathon with the guys and no one is going to give you crap about it. OK, you can't quite do that in a marriage; marriage is about compromise, after all. And no one is really saying that a chips-and-salsa dinner is more important than waking up next to someone we love, someone we know has our back. It's just that we want some wiggle room in our relationships -- the coveted "space" -- so we don't feel like we're losing too much of ourselves, which is easy to do in the day-to-day marital grind. We want to do what we want without having to be called on it all the time. Wouldn't it be nice if loving partners encouraged and supported each other in some unapologetic "me" time?
Then there's the odd thing that happens when a divorced person is ready to start dating again. Some Darwinian rules come into play. Gyms are joined, weight is lost, wardrobes are updated, new activities are found. We may not know how or where or even if we'll meet someone, but we sure are glammed up just in case. Too bad we don't do that when we're cozy in a relationship. Many men complain about how their wives have packed on the pounds since their "I dos"; in fact, studies indicate both sexes gain weight after marriage but women tend to gain more. If we're willing to work hard to be the best we can be to attract a new mate, why can't we do it to keep attracting the one we have?
Sometimes that weight is a barrier to intimacy and sex, which tend to suffer anyway just by the fact that you're living together day in and day out with few mysteries left to discover. Throw kids into the mix and sex often seems like an afterthought or even a burden. Parents are tired, resentful, disappointed and stressed out. Then there are the moms who, according to a Parenting magazine study, are plain "Mad at Dad." Divorced people tend to think about sex; we're either freaked out about how long it's been since we had it or freaked out wondering if we'll ever have it again. If you start thinking about sex as something you may never experience again, you might be more interested in slipping into something more comfortable and dimming the lights. Few things reconnect a couple better than sex and touch. From a divorced person's viewpoint, it's distressing to think that all that potential intimacy is being wasted on married couples who'd rather watch Conan.
Speaking of kids, divorce -- if it's done right, with mutual respect and shared custody -- allows for a lot more equality in a relationship when it comes to parenting. Divorced dads often take on tasks they've never had to deal with before so they're forced to become more hands-on. Some may not like it but at least they get to do things their way, which wives often don't allow their husbands to do. Many divorcees notice how their exes become much better dads once they've split; why not help make it happen before some other woman wonders how anyone could divorce such a loving, devoted father?
Of course, a good divorce means good communication even if you'd rather have him disappear in Antarctica, never to be heard from again. When you're divorced and have kids, you still have to talk to each other. But communication -- or lack of it -- is what often sends people to divorce lawyers in the first place. It's a cliche to say, "My wife doesn't understand me"; I cringe to think that my former husband may have used that line or something like it on his mistress. But I don't doubt that by the time he uttered those words our conversations lacked honesty and meaning -- unlike the talks we had when we were dating and newly married, when it was all about disclosure. However, if you're going to throw out a line like that, you should probably ask yourself when was the last time you told your spouse something real and honest so that he or she could understand you.
All of which makes makes me think that we have things all wrong; we need to get divorced first and then get married -- as long as we stay honest, committed and keep the mindset of a divorcee. Like anything else, there's no guarantee that the marriage will survive but if it doesn't, it won't be such a shocking adjustment.
Photo © Angelika Bentin