A reader emailed me last night saying she was recently invited to her friend’s ‘divorce party.’ She wanted my opinion on the new trend.
Divorce party: a celebration of a broken vow. “Hooray! We quit on ourselves and each other! Now let’s dance!”
I’d heard of these things before, but I almost hesitated to believe the emailer’s story. I know this sort of nonsense might exist amongst the ‘consciously uncoupled’ types in Hollywood, but I refuse to accept it among normal Americans.
This is wishful thinking, of course. I’m well aware that many normal Americans are just as sad and pretentious as Hollywood elites, only missing the money and fame that’s supposed to come in the package.
So I sat down, wrote a few paragraphs, and resolved to finish it today.
Then, this morning at the grocery store I ran into a guy who reads my blog. We got to talking. After an exchange of pleasantries, the conversation veered into less pleasant territory:
Guy: So, what topic are you working on next?
Me: Well, I got this email about divorce parties, so I think I’m going to write about that.
Guy: OK, what about them?
Me: Well, just that it demonstrates this cavalier, celebratory attitude towards divorce. I think it’s really harmful, and it only perpetuates the problem.
Guy: You’ve been married for… what… a year?
Me: Going on three.
Guy: Going on three. Alright, take it from a guy who’s been married to his current wife for eleven, and went through two divorces before that: you never know what will happen. Nobody plans on getting divorced, but it happens. People can change. Some day you might wake up and find that your wife isn’t the same person you married. It happens. I never thought I’d get divorced, but it happened twice. You never know. Nothing is permanent; people sometimes change.
Me: Yeah. I don’t know much about the future, but I know I’ll be with my wife until one of us dies. Everyone makes their own choices, but that’s ours.
Guy: [laughs] I said the same thing at your age. You think of divorce as this scary thing, but sometimes it’s the only way to be happy. You shouldn’t stay in a marriage if you’re miserable. Things change. You wake up and suddenly she’s not the same person you married. It happens. Trust me.
Me: But that’s not a reason to get divorced, in my opinion.
Guy: I know. But check back in ten years [laughs].
Me: In ten years I’ll be either dead or celebrating my thirteenth wedding anniversary. Who knows, maybe you’ll be celebrating your fourth first wedding anniversary.
That was basically the end of our friendly exchange.
I left angry.
This. This right here. This illustrates the worst thing about our culture. I’m not talking simply about his views on divorce; I’m talking about this bizarre bit of Divorce Evangelism.
This is what we do in our culture. Not just with divorce, but with so many other brands of bad decisions. We first justify them, then we advertise and sell them, then we celebrate them, then we insist that everyone else celebrate along with us. In the case of divorce, it is now a literal celebration. With balloons and invitations and cake.
But, for some reason, when I hear about divorce I don’t feel like popping the champagne bottle or sprinkling the confetti.
Is that because I’m “too young to understand”?
I don’t think so. Look, I know I’m not a marriage expert. I know I’m not in any position to dole out advice — though I’m probably better suited than a guy who has been married three times and still refers to divorce as something that “happens to you,” as if it falls out of the sky like a space rock from the Divorce Belt.
I know that we are young and relatively naïve. Still, we’ve been through a few things together. We’ve been married for almost three years. We’ve had two kids. We’ve moved twice. We’ve driven across Maryland, West Virginia, and Kentucky with two screaming babies — five times. We’ve worried about money. We’ve struggled to pay the bills. We’ve had our laughs, our joys, our fights, our failures, our triumphs. We’ve weathered our share of storms. We’ve dealt with family drama. We’ve had a flooded house. We’ve had two kids sick in the emergency room. We’ve been angry, we’ve been happy, we’ve been tired. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve come to understandings. We’ve failed to come to understandings. We’ve been on Cloud Nine and we’ve been at our wit’s end. We’ve cried. We’ve lost. We’ve won.
We’re still young and we’re still growing, and our experiences might very well pale in comparison to yours, but I have learned at least one thing from all of this: that guy was right — my wife isn’t the same person that I married. When I met her she was a 22-year-old college student. Now she’s a 27-year-old mother of two. Sure she still has the same DNA, the same biological identity, and she’s still the kind of girl who can appreciate a good beer and a fart joke. But she’s not the same. That’s because I married a human being, not a mannequin. I said my vows to a person, not a computer program.
“People sometimes change,” says the wise sage.
No, people always change. They never stop changing. Life is change. Everything is moving, everything is transforming. Everything is changing, all of the time. Life is more of a river than a stagnant, mosquito-infested puddle.
(Dear Lord, look at what this guy has done. He’s got me so worked up that I’m speaking in country-pop lyrics. “Life is a river.” God help me.)
In any case, the fact is that you can leave the room for ten seconds, come back, and everything will be slightly different. That’s true of the furniture, the curtains, the carpet, and yes, the people. Especially the people.
Divorcing someone because they change? You might as well divorce them because they breathe.
I’m not making light of it. I know that sometimes people change in a painful and inconvenient manner. I know that my wife could change in ways that don’t cooperate with my projections of how she should be and feel and think.
I guess that’s what people really mean when they say they want a divorce because their spouse “changed.” It’s not change itself they oppose, but changes that challenge them and make them uncomfortable. What they should say is: “I want a divorce because she changed in a way that doesn’t fit inside my comfort zone.”
It’s hard, I know. Every day I’m relearning this one basic truth: my wife has her own brain, her own feelings, her own soul. We are linked now through the bond of matrimony, but she is still her and I am still me. She is a force, a hurricane, a wildfire. She is not a puppet dancing on a string. She is a self — her own self — powerful and mysterious.
Sometimes she laughs at things that used to make her angry, and gets angry at things that used to make her laugh. Sometimes I can read her like a book, but sometimes she wears an expression I’ve never seen. Sometimes she smiles like the world is telling a joke that only she understands.
I’m learning her, and I’ll never finish studying her book because she’s always adding new pages.
She’s not the same as she was when I married her, but that OK because I didn’t marry “the person she was.” I married her — Alissa, the woman, the being, the body and soul. I married the totality of her, which means I married her changes, not just that one, single, momentary version of her that walked down the aisle in that church in Ocean City three years ago.
Do I have a romantic idea of marriage? Sure, but marriage is a romantic idea, isn’t it? It’s not a fairy tale, but it is something supernatural and exciting. Talk to the people who’ve been in it for a long time — 30, 40, 50 years with one person — and they’ll say everything I’m saying, only with much more authority and even deeper conviction.
Life is change. People are change. I’m seeing this play out all around me. As I get older I drift further apart from some of the people I used to consider my closest confidants. But I let myself drift, and so do they, because circumstances also change, and what I’m realizing is that so many of my relationships were only ever circumstantial.
My relationship with my wife, however, transcends the circumstance. If we feel ourselves drift, we reach out our hands and grasp tightly, because I choose to remain at her side, and she at mine. And if I ever look over to find that we’ve somehow lost sight of each other — both now walking alone and lost in that cold night — I will grab a torch and search for her until I find her again. She is my mission, my life’s work, and I’d sooner give up my life than give up on her.
This is all easy to write and easy to say, but, I realize, harder to do. That’s why those of us out here in the thick of it could always use guidance and inspiration, not defeatism and wimpy cynicism. For my part, I will ignore the people like the guy at the grocery store and the ingrates who throw divorce parties, and instead focus on my parents, who’ve been married through thirty years, six kids, and eleven grandchildren. And Alissa’s grandfather, who very recently lost his wife after over 60 years of marriage.
He can’t speak hardly at all these days — mostly the result of multiple strokes — but I was there in his living room when he turned to the person next to him and tearfully said, “partner.”
“She was my partner.”
And she was. A great partner, from everything I’ve heard. Feisty and tough, loyal and loving.
That’s what I want.
One day, hopefully when we’re very old, one of us will die first — the smart money is on me (family history combined with my unhealthy affinity for bacon and red meat). Whoever is living, while stricken with grief and sadness, will be able to look back on a life of sacrifice, and compromise, and joy, and worry, and happiness, and tears, and passion, and love, and simply say, “partner.”
“We were partners.”
I choose that end.
I don’t know when it will happen, or what awaits us in the meantime, but that will be our ending.
I choose it over looking back five years from now and saying, “she was my partner — but then she changed, so never mind.”
So we wake up every morning, sort of the same, but sort of new. We look at each other, we introduce ourselves again, and we choose to love who we see.
We choose to love. And that’s the only thing that will never change.
By: Matt Walsh