My husband and I recently began seeing other people.
This wasn’t something we had really planned on sharing with anyone but I mean, you write a blog, you post happy pictures on Facebook, and people get this idea that you’re some kind of “perfect” couple. I’m not a fan of that veil- I want people to know the good and the bad.
So here it is.
When you spend 2 decades with the same person, you’re going to have some ups and downs. We have, in fact, had so many ups and downs that I fear we have both developed vertigo.
But you stick it out because you love each other, and because the ups make the downs worth digging yourself out of- most of the time.
Alas, our latest bout of marital strife was not a “most of the time” kind of thing.
It began….it started….how do I describe this? You know that line in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” when the narrator describes the Who villagers singing on Christmas morning? It starts as a barely audible blip and then suddenly he could hear it from the mountaintop?
“It started in low…then it started to grow.”
It started with a tiny disagreement here, a slight roll of the eyes there.
My job has been demanding…his job has been all-consuming.
The kids have been adding an extra sprinkle of tantrums to the stress sundae that is our daily life.
Suddenly we found ourselves disagreeing about everything from what to do on weekends to “How many towels IS one too many towels in the dryer??”
Then came the full-blown, hear-them-from-the-mountaintop arguments.
“What do you mean you accepted more weekend work?! I’m drowning here!”
“That’s right, walk away while I’m talking- no one cares what I have to say anyway!”
“I gave up my career so you could excel in yours and I have LITERALLY become invisible!”
“Well I might as well just get an apartment because I’m JUST A PAYCHECK to all of you!”
Oh you guys. It was ugly.
And then it got even uglier. The silence descended.
No “good morning;” no “goodnight;” no “How was your day?”
So one might understand why we began to question whether it was time to pack up our 2 decades of memories and, well, pack it in.
I believe I vehemently spat out the phrases “ship has sailed” and “run its course” so many times during my last therapy session that my therapist was unsure of whether I was talking about filing for divorce or finding Captain Jack Sparrow and hunting for a chest of gold doubloons.
We had had it. We were tired, angry, and defeated. We started saying things like, “Maybe this is beyond saving,” and the fact that we were texting those words to each other because we couldn’t be in the same room without our conversation turning into a cage match seemed like a big red “just end it already” flag.
And then….we took a break.
It was a Saturday morning. We were doing our usual “talk to the kids, avoid each other at all costs” routine when I thought I spied the slightest of judgey head shakes from him in response to something I had said to our son.
Drawing a matchstick against a striker wouldn’t have produced a faster spark.
Suddenly we were in a cage match, hissing at each other like two snakes fighting over a mouse. Then Pat pulled the move that would change everything.
“F*ck it, I’m not going tonight. You can go by yourself.”
Two of our best friends were christening their child that day, and we had turned into such bickering childish fools that he was actually going to miss it.
I composed myself, took a deep breath, and said quietly, “Timeout.”
“We need a timeout. This is ridiculous. First, we need to just say it. We don’t LIKE each other anymore. It’s probably best if we split up. And we can work out all the details of that, and go our separate ways, but not today. Today we need to put this aside and be there for our friends.”
That’s right. We called a truce on our marriage.
Hey, no one said love was easy. Or pretty. Or fair. But a commitment is a commitment and when you RSVP “yes” you go, damnit.
So we got all dressed up, my mom took our picture, and we headed to our friends’ joyous occasion clouded by the most uncomfortable silence that’s enveloped us in a very long time.
And then I blurted out, “I miss you bringing me flowers.”
I had no idea where it came from or why I chose that moment to share, but I was sure it was the most ridiculous thing I could have possibly-
“I like this band’s new album….have you heard it?”
And just like that we were on the most awkward first date ever.
I’m happy to report that it became a lot less awkward. We fumbled through our desperate attempt to get along in the car, parked, and headed into the cocktail hour. He asked if I wanted a drink…I told him he looked really handsome in his new suit (he did…if I wasn’t planning to divorce him I’d be swooning)…he made a joke about cheese….and slowly, slowly, ever-so-slowly, it wasn’t such an awkward first date anymore.
We laughed with our friends, shared our meals, and, much to my surprise, he held out his hand when the DJ began playing a sappy slow song. Every time I look at the photo that our friend snapped of us on the dance floor, I remember the genuine, all-encompassing joy we both felt to finally be in each other’s arms again.
In the end, it was decidedly less awkward than our first date 20 years ago…mostly because we were 16 and when we tried to kiss at the end of the night we banged our teeth into each other, and after 2 decades of practice we’ve become very adept at not doing that anymore.
Since that night, we’ve been dating pretty regularly. We get a sitter anytime we have the chance- we went out for lunch and football on a Sunday, and enjoyed sushi and cocktails last Friday. This second time around is great- we’re old enough to drink and we’ve replaced, “Wendy’s or Burger King?” with fun things like, “Sushi or Thai?”
We make sure there is plenty of “Good morning,” “Good night,” “How was your day?” and “You know what? I’ll throw the towels in the dryer.” We’re clear to the kids that they need to get to sleep at a decent time so we can have what we’ve dubbed “Mommy & Daddy time.” This consists of sharing snacks while binge-watching food shows, and yeah, it’s as hot as it sounds.
Last week, he bought me flowers.
So there it is. We’re seeing other people- the people we used to be. The people we want to be. The people we haven’t been in a while.
Love is ugly sometimes. But we’ve decided to stay in timeout and see if we can clean up the mess we made a little bit at a time, instead of setting the whole thing on fire and walking away.
And you know, sometimes the most awkward first dates produce the greatest love stories (once you get past the front teeth clanking).