In January 2009, I read an article in the New York Times about two women who were living together. Not as a couple, but as good friends. They took one large loft and divided it into two, with separate living spaces that gave them privacy, but also made it convenient to spend time together.
When I read the article, I thought it was a brilliant idea. I felt so alone in my marriage that the thought of living with a woman -- a good friend -- sounded like nirvana to me.
A few months later, my marriage fell apart. t was a mutual decision. But for me, it felt like a limb had been ripped from my body. As he packed up all his belongings, I felt bereft and afraid. I hadn't lived alone in two decades and loneliness wasn't something I handled well. Living with a husband, a daughter, and two dogs -- no matter how dysfunctional we may have been -- well, I liked being part of a family. But my daughter was 21 at the time and she decided to move to San Francisco, so it was just me and my two beagles, Lucy and Lola. They were bouncy, I was frozen in grief.
The losses were tremendous: a 23 year marriage, my daughter's move, work evaporated, even my mother -- she died less than two months after our separation. Everything felt gone.
I had a good idea though. I made a list of all my friends who had gone through difficult divorces and I started calling them to ask for their advice.
During their own break-ups, I remember listening to many of them speak about the horrors of it -- the affairs, betrayals, the kids, custody issues, the loneliness, twenty pound weight gain or loss, the stunning feelings of failure, the nightmare early dating stories, even wild, sexually liberating experiences. The day the ex remarried. The thousands of dollars in legal fees. Tears in the office, the regret, the bad behavior. The anger, the sadness, the relief.
I listened, but I did not really get it at the time. I know it's a cliché but it's true: divorce feels like a death -- the death of a dream, a relationship, a family, a friendship. It can also be liberating, but in the beginning, it hurts like hell.
Some friends had multiple losses, but as far as that goes, I won the jackpot. Divorce, death and moving are among the top life stressors and I managed to hit them all.
It's a paradox that sometimes the worst times in our lives are also the most life affirming. It pares away what isn't that important and focuses you on what is. People. Connections. Love. Help.
One of the women on my list was a very close friend when our children were young. Her husband left her when their son was five years old. At first, Abigail was barely able to function. She was blindsided and unprepared for the overwhelming sadness she felt at the break-up of her family.
I knew that she would find her footing and eventually she did. She is truly one of those utterly kind, truly generous human beings. I won't call her a saint, because she would hate that. Our kids ended up at different schools and we lost touch. But she was one of the first people I contacted on my "veterans of divorce list" -- that very special club.
We met for lunch and I spoke about my losses. She nodded and listened and really that was all I needed. Then she said, "It's a huge loss, you have to grieve that, even if you know it's for the best. But you will get through it, I promise you."
While we were saying our goodbyes, I told her that I would be in touch once I knew where I would be living, though I wasn't feeling very optimistic about it, trying to find a place that I could afford with my two dogs that was still in a first world country.
Out of the blue, she said, "Why don't you move in with me? I have plenty of room, I love dogs -- you can stay until you get your bearings."
That article about the two women living in the loft flashed into my mind and I couldn't think of a happier turn of events. I said, "Are you serious? Yes! When? I'll go home and pack! Thank you!"
Suddenly I had a focus. Pack, sell, move. Get rid of what is no longer needed and move on. I was going to stay six months or so, until I could get back on my feet. Three years later, I'm still here.
Abigail and I are opposites in some ways -- I'm an early riser and she's a night owl, so we both have hours in the morning and evening to be alone. We're both writers and she is editing this piece right now. She is a brilliant writer and editor (she did not edit this line!). She is funny and so am I. We laugh. A lot. We both have many friends and we don't share our lives as much as we are there for each other -- in many ways, more than my ex and I were.
I think we place too high a premium on independence. We are social beings. I probably would have stayed alone if I hadn't had to move so quickly, so that was a blessing. Living with Abigail took the edge off of my loneliness with the boon of saving money too (we split the expenses).
I realized that I was in no rush to "find Mr. Right" but I have dated. Mostly I've found a bunch of Mr. No F-cking Ways -- but even then, it's fun to come home and share stories about them.
I think that Lucy and Ethel, Mary and Rhoda, Laverne and Shirley, Kate and Allie, the Golden Girls -- they all had the right idea. Now maybe I should write a new sitcom: Abigail, Dogs and Happier Me.