Years ago I was at a party, the kind where booze and mouths overflowed. One of the overflowing mouths belonged to my then-husband.
“You know,” he said to my dearest friend, “I like being married, but living like I’m single.”
When my friend repeated his comment to me we both laughed. I didn’t take it seriously. After all, who wouldn’t want to have the best of both worlds: someone at home cooking and cleaning while you’re out having fun. Later, after I discovered my now-ex husband’s affair, I realized he hadn’t been joking; he really was living like that. Then I wasn’t so amused.
I’ve been divorced a few years now, and I’m revisiting his comment. He may actually have been on to something. No, I don’t think you should act like you’re single when you’re married. After all, never-married singles typically have a lot of unrealistic expectations about marriage that can be damaging. I don’t blame them, though; you can’t truly grasp what something’s like until you experience it. So I would say that 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:
1) Feel some freedom.
Ask any divorced person to name the best part of their new life and it pretty much boils down to this: freedom. 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.
No one is really saying that a chips-and-salsa dinner is more important than waking up next to someone we love. It’s just that we want some wiggle room in our relationships, so we don’t feel like we’re losing too much of ourselves -- as often happens 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?
2) Look better.
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. And 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 due to living together day in and day out -- there are few mysteries left to discover. Throw kids into the mix and sex often seems like an afterthought. Parents are tired, resentful, disappointed and stressed out.
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.
3) Share parenting.
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 former husbands 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?
4) Talk (for real).
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 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, which were all about disclosure. However, if you’re going to throw out a line like that, you should probably ask yourself when the last time you told your spouse something real and honest was, giving him or her a chance to understand you.
All of which 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.
Vicki Larson is a divorced mom of two wonderful young men as well as a journalist and columnist for the Huffington Post and Mommy Tracked. Keep up with her journey on her blog, The OMG Chronicles.