I come from a family of “second chances”. My parents are divorced and are both remarried to people who have been divorced. 3 out of 4 of my grandparents are divorced from other people and remarried to each other. I’ve learned throughout the years spent at Christmases full of step-cousins, step-grandparents and step-nephews that the second go-around isn’t always so bad. Our melting pot family today is seemingly healthy and functional. Well, I’d say we aren’t any more dysfunctional than the “typical” family units I’ve come across. Things are working out A-OK. Nobody fights anymore, and nobody was all that awkward at my wedding rehearsal dinner when we sat all together for one of those rare life-occasion moments.
I met and knew Eric first as a married man. I’ll never deny the truth that I knew his wife very well. In fact, we were friends. We went to the bar together, we had breakfasts at the diner on my campus once in a while, I came to their apartment and watched Friends with both of them. It’s not easy to explain the journey from Point A to Point B (that’s probably another post… or a memoir) but a few years later, I became Eric’s second wife.
I felt well-equipped to be a second wife, based on my lineage. Despite the statistics, I knew that second chances can actually work out pretty well. I think the growth and the pain and the feelings of intense failure and fear that stem from experiencing divorce can actually determine a person to make it work the next time, or else they’ll never risk it again. In my case, Eric was ready and eager to instate open-communication, honesty, and healthy habits into a new relationship right from the start. And after seeing many family members live through the pain of splits, I was too. We both felt, as we started dating, we had what it took to build a solid foundation that our marriage could stand upon.
Maybe I was well-equipped or knowledgeable, but not necessarily prepared for what was to come.
As much as I thought I knew about divorce, I don’t think I had the whole story. In my life before Eric, everyone I knew who had been divorced and/or remarried had gotten through the brunt of it without involving me. I was a child through most of it, and everyone protected me from the smack-talking and tension and awkwardness pretty effectively. I felt pretty sure that divorce just happens, and then life moves on.
But this time I was in the center of all of it. Neither one of us had kids to have to counsel through the process (thank God, really, I don’t know how people do it), but we did have family and friends that were reeling from the brokenness of Eric’s divorce and we all lived in a world of tension. My friendship with Eric’s ex-wife obviously ended when we started dating, and it seemed like others began drawing their battle lines. This was bad in ways, good in others, and confusing and painful on all accounts, for everyone involved.
Friends and family who chose “my side” of the issue were rarely helpful. Nine times out of ten the person who would come to me and smacktalk “the ex” were a. misinformed, b. unsympathetic, and c. very awkward and confused when she and I and they would all end up at the same party. Its an ugly part of me that has to admit I enjoyed when these people appeared to be “taking my side”, but I didn’t actually appreciate it. My ego tried to convince me it felt really good to have someone validate me and my relationship, but my heart couldn’t trust the opinion of someone who, somehow, so easily talked so badly about someone they were once really close to.
The most enriching and helpful experiences I had were with those around me who were the ones that went through the confusing process with us very honestly. Today I am still close friends with a woman who said, “You know what? I’m friends with her, I know her story. I’m friends with you, I know your story. I’m friends with Eric, too. And I’m not taking sides.” It made for a few uncomfortable barbeques, but ultimately, I appreciated and felt very loved by the way she chose to live in that awkwardness for all of us. I also had people say straightforwardly, “I’m really mad at you right now, and I’m really confused about all that’s happened.” The honesty behind that statement was, at the time, so hard to take, but it was the beginning of a (long) journey towards understanding and healing, and a deeper trust was born between myself and those who expressed themselves so transparently that way.
For anyone who has been broken by this issue directly or indirectly, or whose family or community has been torn apart because of divorce, I’m deeply sorry. I understand your pain. I truly believe, though, that a heart bent toward reconciliation will help in the journey out of bitterness. One day, whether it is on Earth or in Heaven I don’t know, I pray the separate bits and pieces of my family will be One. I pray the friendship I had with Eric’s ex-wife will be restored. I pray we, our siblings, our parents, and our step-cousins can hang out and all watch Friends together.
This love and reconciliation is more than our human brains can comprehend, so we choose instead to take the “easy” way out and pledge “loyalty”. We talk badly about the ex, or about the new girlfriend, or about the step-kids and think that will help us along. We believe that if we could only chose a side, this will all be a lot less messy. But when you know divorce and remarriage, you know well that black is never just black and white is never just white. Our families and our pasts and our futures all bleed into one fascinating gray where our loyalty is muddled and our hearts are utterly torn. But in that gray, and in those open spaces, if we are just willing to sit there, we can really experience something beautiful. If we can open ourselves up enough to the awkward-ness and the yucky-ness and the I-wish-this-wasn’t-happening-ness that is divorce and/or remarriage, and just say, “I’m really mad,” or “I’m really sad,” or “I’m really confused,” instead of “Well, he/she was bad for him/her, and you are good!” I think we’ll find something really great in that. When we don’t draw battle lines so clearly, but address our hurt and confusion directly instead, we give ourselves up to the process of grieving and healing. We allow ourselves to experience great tension, which resolves in great relief, eventually.
Eventually, not just in Heaven, but here on Earth, you’ll be able to sit at your rehearsal dinner with your divorced fiancee, and see your dad commend your step-dad’s role in your life, see your mom holding your brand new step-daughter, and get a glimpse of the Kingdom Come.