This is the part of my story I don’t want to tell. This is not the time. I have silently borne the weight of a bittersweet pain for a very long time. And it is too soon to give it voice. But now, indirectly, my children were brought into this. I am well aware, it will hit very sour notes for many who choose to read this. I see and bless your pain; these are hard things. I am not seeking your allegiance or acceptance with this disclosure. And the last many years have demonstrated clearly who is willing to do the work to understand, who sees me and accepts me, and who looks away in discomfort or who have, as Virginia Woolf said “… an inability to cross the street.” I don’t begrudge anyone the need to just avoid the drama; it’s certainly not easy to understand. And humans tend to like things to be in clean, black and white categories… they are very uncomfortable with gray.
Unfortunately, here in the land of civilly divorced/canonically married, there exists some gray in actual Church teaching. I get that it would be more ‘comfortable’ for some people if I could just be the pious martyr of marriage and continue to be on my knees begging God for reconciliation with my children’s father. I do not do this anymore. I do pray for the man who has chosen to scorch the earth and destruct our family in his disposal of me, quite a bit. I pray for his own healing journey to happen… and I pray that it happens somewhere far away from me. I also wish I could say what I want and have it be my own, private truth… and not a story that includes others. But, here on earth, we commune with saints and sinners and not many can live exempt from impacting other people around. When it involves the lives of my children, I will speak up.
This is not a love story, and yet, I have “been in love” with a man for well over a year. It is a very deep, very old, and very rooted love. The growth of which I resisted for a long time. It descends from a true, meaningful friendship that has existed for longer than my marriage has. We have seen each other through joys and sorrows for 20 years. More salient: we have seen each other. I know him deeply, in his gifts and in his flaws. And he knows mine. We speak each other’s language and are fluent in each other’s silence.
It was a pure and platonic love back when we met in junior college. We connected intellectually and spiritually in a singular way then, and that accompanied us through the ups and downs of our own, respective married lives ever since then. Our families were close friends over the years. All of us shared many evenings of meals, laughter and conversation. I was there in his darkest days (to the degree that anyone could be in my vocation). And he didn’t flinch in mine. He was instrumental in my reversion to the faith and was always challenging me to study, to do my own research, to think clearly and rightly. We have long had a mutual respect for the other. I was so excited when he got married and very happy to meet his wife. She and I became fast friends and became even closer than Justin and I were for many years.
Being her “first Washington friend” there were many shared joys along with the united work of our hands in a mother’s journal we published. It was a good friendship. I trusted her. Respected her. Loved her. And I still do love her today, in her strengths and in her weaknesses. I forgive her for discontinuing our close friendship. And I also forgive her for what can only be interpreted as a willful blindness or willful indifference to what’s happened, to what is happening. I genuinely feel bad for her honestly…
Initially, when her ex-husband—Justin— was buried in his own pain and darkness, she had my ear alone. While my marriage fallout was fast and hard, theirs had been struggling for years. And I was taken in with her stories regarding her spouse, bewildered at the tales told about my old friend. I knew he’d made mistakes but… this? Still, I projected onto her something of a sister in abusive marriages once my own fallout began, thankful for the sense of camaraderie in our pain. I didn’t yet know the full story. All the things she said sounded too terrible to be true… they didn’t all add up, considering how well I knew Justin. Still, living through my own unbelievable nightmare, I was grateful to be friends with someone who knew the difficulties and isolation of being in a failing marriage in the small, orthodox Catholic world. She seemed to get it.
When Justin came back to life and began opening up to me more of what his experience had been, the fuller picture came into focus. I could see both of their mistakes and shortcomings clearly. I loved them both and felt an allegiance to both as a unit. But where Justin was contrite about his errors and wanted reconciliation, she couldn’t seem to see her own part. Her hurt was too much and my attempts to wake her up were rejected. I pleaded with her to commit to her marriage… being a little bit further along on the divorce road, I was seeing the trauma take place live among my own children and wanted to spare theirs—one of whom is my godson— this same fate. I sent her prayers. I sent her the book Primal Loss. Begged her to do the hard work of humble reconciliation. I did not want to see her family destroyed. It was ultimately ineffective. I was cut off from her inner circle as I was not one of the people willing to co-sign on her decision to break the family apart. She had her own reasons. She felt very alone and unhappy and couldn’t see her way out of it. I understand. I have no shame or judgement for her and I wish her health and healing in her own right. But I couldn’t agree with the divorce and felt pushed away because of this.
Justin and I supported each other in fighting for our marriages even as they were simultaneously collapsing, for very different causes that ultimately coalesced into the same reason: because our spouses were each intent on ending the marriage. We ached in our own respective isolation, as friends. I encouraged him to keep fighting to save his marriage and he encouraged me to keep extending offers of reconciliation. Our friendship is good and rightly ordered.
His ex-wife and I barely talk anymore, though we are polite, and I pray for her.
When my son called and detailed his surprise and pain over being told by his dad that he was dating this woman a few days ago, my heart stopped. Flat-lined for several minutes, it seemed. I asked him to repeat the words he had said. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know what it means to live in a world where someone I was once so close to, who knew more of my story than most other people, could turn away, invoking the need for “Healing!” “Growth” and start “dating” the man who to this day, has never acknowledged nor taken any responsibility for what has happened to our family in the last four years. (… to say nothing of an apology.) I still don’t understand. It does not compute.
That my children’s father could be “dating” the ex-wife of the man I love. What do those words mean? What do those words MEAN?! I still don’t understand. If you are confused, you are not alone. There are many conflicting narratives swirling around out there. It’s messy. Think. Pray. Question. And walk away if you can’t or don’t want to make sense of us four, strange people. I get it. This is all cognitive dissonance to the nth degree and it’s important to protect your peace. For me, it’s also important to protect my truth.
I would have borne that shock silently if they had. What my ex-husband does in his personal life and she in hers is none of my business. I don’t know what happened with the first, other woman. I don’t care. But where I kept silent during the years that the last woman existed under a fake, male name on his phone, THIS relationship was intentionally announced to the children and—with that deliberate disclosure— made public in my mind. Jesus, have mercy.
Now, it’s personal.
My son was confused. Asked about annulments.* I told him that his dad and I were still married in the eyes of the Church and neither of us were free to be “dating”, in the way our culture understands it. There is no certain trajectory. There is a more heightened need for prudence, temperance and utter sobriety in the knowledge that any relationship at all, may go nowhere. And introducing this to children who should never have to suffer through a serial string of Dad’s new girlfriends or Mom’s new boyfriends, especially on this side marital validity was not okay.
I also told my son about Justin. And the reason why I did this matters because it wasn’t a conversation I was planning on having with my children (or the world) until it was appropriate. Until I was free to. But the damage has already been done, and the delicacy and gradualism I had hoped to introduce this other person with—whom my kids have known their whole lives— is gone. There are no good options and my kids are left groping for meaning with what is now overt in front of them with their dad and what had been hidden in my heart for so long. Now, the objective has changed. Inferences have been made. Questions asked. Confusion.
So, I feel impelled to use the sorrow of this Love that I feel as a lesson to my kids and to my Catholic community (which may very well reject this) on how to hurt in deference to our Faith. I am not free to be “dating” nor do I have any interest in it. I don’t have a “boyfriend” in the traditional sense. I have something far more serious with one of my best friends and I would love it if we could have a future together. But I am not free to be anything more than a “friend” to Justin in practice. And even while in counseling together (his idea!) to try and collectively sort the difficulties we have in front of us, and the traumas we bring from our pasts, we are both soberly aware that we may always have to remain “just friends.” This is a reality we accept and we have tried to infuse as much dignity as possible into our very precarious situation.
Here’s the thing: I never WANTED to date, even if I was granted an annulment. I am not a “Swipe Right” kind of woman. I had no intentions at all of remarriage after my husband divorced me. God has blessed me with a temperament well suited to soak up the silver linings of the life I currently have as a divorced mother of seven children: I have a strong sense of introversion and fierce desire for autonomy. I have a promising career. Great coffee. And more books to last me a lifetime. I enjoy solitude, sleeping by myself and using my free time to write in journals, wander along salty shorelines or scroll through the memes found in the newest, stupidest Subreddit of the day. Like Oscar Wilde, it seems to be a self-evident truth that “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” I can hire a handyman for any practical needs I have around the house and my large family is now close by for emotional support. A “man” was simply never something I wanted to bring back into my life. Not after the hell I’d been through. *shudder* It would have to be quite the man to ever make me interested in sacrificing my current freedom to enter into a relationship again. And, hi. Here I am. In the same relationship I’ve been in with just such a man for 20 years… only unfathomably deeper.
Many don’t know him or only know him a little bit, do not like him. Why? Because he doesn’t fit in a recognizable socio-political box, speaks his mind without fear of consequence, and he tends to only reveal small parts of himself to the general public. But those who know him very well— and they are few— tend to love him.
I never asked for a love like this. I never planned on it and I didn’t seek it. We are extremely similar in many respects and others have commented on our connection for years, including our spouses. And it was always a pure, respectful, and appropriate connection.
Then, he taught me about selfless Love. And I was an unruly student. Ignoring his messages many times that were simply him reaching out asking if I was okay. I pushed him away, acted aloof and guarded my heart because it had been obliterated in years of abuse and exploitation. Vulnerability was too scary. Not for me. I had no use for it. No thank you.
He taught me about Respect. He supported my boundaries. No man has ever honored and encouraged my own autonomy the way he has. One of the major themes we kept grappling with over and over in our friendship, was the concept of Freedom and what it means to have the capacity to engage in a healthy relationship. There were many tears spilt as things were disclosed, traumas were shared and security was developed.
He roots for me and challenges me and he accepts my own cheerleading and chiding back. And I have admired the principles he had in fighting for a marriage long after he’d stopped wanting it. I could relate as I’d done the same. He and I began sharing more of our pains and sorrows. More cups of coffee and walks in Olympia where we’d meet every couple months. I was transparent with and encouraged in this friendship by his ex-wife. We grew close. And we grew deep. Here, in the shelter of the other… we still recognize and genuflect at the sacramental space between us.
And we know that might be the end of the story.
Because there is something greater than our feelings that matters here. There is propriety. There is honor. There is obedience to our vocations and teaching of a faith system unto which we have voluntarily submitted ourselves.
We will always be friends. But I can not currently imagine the insanity for my kids to have to consume this sort of bizarre, wife-swap soap opera. I’m a damn writer, with a strong (though fallible) intuition about people. And in my role as a therapist, I’m pretty comfortable inviting others’ skeletons out of the closet and demons to tea… but this?! Well, this particular plot-twist has rather knocked the wind out of me— along with any premature swagger I may have been tempted to feel thinking “I’ve heard it all before.” And sadly, without seeing it in person but knowing them both well, I have a pretty confident idea of how it’s playing out: having lived the “phase before the discard” myself, and having researched an enormous amount of material on particular types disorders and their lesser-known phenotypes. I’m not judging. I’m not diagnosing. I don’t need to. But, I can see a situation that fills me with both pity and alarm at the same time. Please pray for them both… but most especially for our children.
Maybe their “relationship” will grow legs. Maybe it won’t. But, either way, I can’t stand by silently while my children are learning that Black is White and 2+2=5, and enter on stage months later where they might interpret this as some sort of cheap mimicry to whatever form of reality those two are living right now. No.
So, I’m speaking out prematurely so my kids know the true story. That they know it’s okay to love. To have feelings and hopes and dreams. I know what this is like.
And more importantly, that those must be tempered in light of what our Faith has revealed to us.
And I’m also speaking out because what I have with Justin has been so careful and so intentional, for so long— that it feels wrong to let such an old, deep, discerned, and rightly ordered love be an afterthought to someone’s else’s new, convenient “dating” object today.
I wish my ex-husband health and healing. I wish his new ‘girlfriend’ health and healing. But, I am not going to be a silent supporting actor in the relationship being introduced to my children. I am tired of my life choices being limited by others. So, I am exercising the last of my human freedoms to respond to the situation in front of my family in a very proactive and public way, even through my fear of backlash. I apologize for what discomfort this brings to anyone and can only hope that it sparks some thoughtfulness, dialogue and healthy boundaries for all the couples I know. I will repeat something here that I’ve said many times now over the past couple years having experienced all that I have and witnessing what effect it’s had on my children: I am even more ANTI-divorce now than I ever was before.
Come what may, Justin and I will still drink our coffee and read our books and think our thoughts and laugh our laughter. We are friends.
(Here is his side of things, for those who want to understand better…)