Friday, June 25, 2010

Ten Years After

As I was pondering a past personal milestone, it occurred to me that a fair number of the celebrated “events” in our lives - birthdays after the first one, wedding anniversaries, class reunions and many of the holidays - are not actual occurrences but commemorations of past happenings. I suppose there aren’t really that many truly significant occasions, so we get as much mileage out of them as we can.

The event in my life that led to that incredibly obvious observation isn’t one I care to celebrate. At the end of this month it will be ten years since my first wife left me. Hmmm….as I look at that last phrase I realize that it’s not commonly used in polite conversation. When people talk about such things they’re usually less specific; they say “since my first divorce” or “since my first wife and I split up”, perhaps because those phrases sound less accusatory and emotional, and divorcees don’t want to make others uncomfortable by sounding too bitter, especially after a certain amount of time has passed. In my case no such negativity is intended; that’s simply what happened. To paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, I could claim it’s the woman to blame, but I know it’s (partly) my own damn fault.

(I must digress momentarily to note that I can’t help but be a little impressed that Buffet has managed to create a very successful business empire as well as a laid-back, generally positive vibe from a song about a man drinking himself to death. I often scoffed at marketing while I was at KEVN, but sometimes it can do amazing things.)

Looking back at the ensuing months, I realize I definitely bit off far more than I could chew emotionally, resulting in a series of very bad decisions, some of the results of which I will probably live with for the rest of my life. On the other hand, some of those decisions put me in a position to meet my current wife, so I guess I should say all’s well that ends well. Overall, I can pretty easily divide my life into before and after Divorce 1.

Coincidentally, it was at this same time six years ago that my second wife left. What to say about that? Well, while some people can completely mess up their lives with one divorce, I needed two. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. I do know that while there were certainly other problems, a fair amount of what led to Divorce 2 was collateral damage from Divorce 1.

This has been on my mind for another reason: a co-worker is currently going through the same thing. His wife left him earlier this year, and his anger and bitterness would peg meters if such existed. Yet he has already begun pursuing a new and fairly serious relationship. Beyond the general skepticism, the fact that I did the same thing and paid a high price gives me special pause. Yes, it’s entirely possible he found the right woman, and you can’t control the timing. But I can say from experience that the situation is fragile and fraught with peril. I hope in ten years he’ll be looking back at a smaller mess than I am now.

The idea of “getting over it” and “moving on” naturally comes up at a point in time such as this. It could even be said that noting the date is itself evidence of lingering emotional soreness. If so, well, I have heard it said that for every year of marriage it takes a year to get over its end, which means I have four years to go. But I think anyone who has been through a divorce will agree that getting over it and moving on are separate and distinct yet interrelated processes, each with its own pace dictated by the individual’s emotional makeup and personal circumstances (kids’ needs don’t go away while the parent curls up on the couch and cries). The big hazard comes from trying to move on too quickly while still too far from getting over it to make good decisions. That was my failing.