05/07/2014 03:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Do We Need a Ritual for Divorce?


I was talking to a man in a bar last night who is currently going through a divorce, and he said something that struck me as remarkably brilliant: "Why is it that there is all this ceremony to getting married, and no ceremony at all when you get unmarried? Shouldn't you have to look the person in the eye and apologize to them when all is said and done?"

What if we did have some sort of divorce ritual? What would it look like?

From now forward we shall live as single adults, and promise not to interfere with each other's lives.

I take responsibility for my share of blame in the relationship, and I am sorry for the pain i have caused.

I will do my best not to malign you in front of the children or mutual acquaintances.

In my case, I would add I will do my best to respect your privacy in articles I post on the internet.

Obviously, dissolution vows would not be legally enforceable any more than wedding vows are, but perhaps there is value in having to look at the other person and promise to be decent, and in having to apologize. Perhaps we could more easily obtain closure and transition to the next stage of the relationship, the not married stage.

I have been divorced twice, and the first time my ex did not appear in court. It was just me, my lawyer, and the judge in a small room on a Thursday. The judge asked me why I wanted a divorce. I didn't know the question was coming, and teared up in my two-sentence answer, but I answered honestly.

(I am not providing my answer here, because I feel my ex's privacy trumps my reader's curiosity. See vows, above.)

My lawyer told me later that I could have just said, "I don't love him anymore." But that would not have been true. Life is a lot more complicated than that. I was embarrassed by my emotional answer, but there was finality in having to state my reason concisely to a stranger.

I never saw my first ex-husband again since the day I left. I feared him for a long time, justifiably or not. Perhaps hearing him promise not to interfere with my life would have calmed what proved to be baseless fears. If he made a public statement vowing not to interfere with my life, I would have trusted it, and spend a lot less time worrying. It took me a long time to see my fault in that relationship, and I wish he knew that I finally realize that I am equally to blame for the demise of our marriage. I do wish him better luck in the future and hope his life is going well, but I have only said those words to the silent night air, and he has never heard me say them.

My second ex-husband and I appeared in court together, and it was our first happy moment since the split. I don't mean that the divorce itself was happy, but we sat next to each other and made funny comments about people in the courtroom like we did in the old days. I left the court wishing him well and meaning it.

Because we have children, my second ex and I had to attend a parenting class as a condition of divorce in our county, and we decided to go together and sit next to each other. At some points I wanted to hold his hand, but knew it was no longer my place to reach out. The truth is, just because we could not live together as husband and wife did not erase our shared history, a lot of which was good. I will always love him in the way I love my siblings and cousins, and he is still my co-parent, even if we live in separate houses. I hope he knows I blame myself for our failings as much as I ever blamed him. Perhaps it would have been nice to have had a place to say it.