We wrote back and forth in a delicate vortex. He said she was just a friend and of course would have told me if something was wrong. The first rule we have agreed on is that if something happens during dating, there has to be a conversation. We agreed that this would probably be the beginning of the end of this little form of living (and that’s still our assumption).
He was cleaning up a few months later after tearing open the entire carpet in our former guest room upstairs, now my new bedroom. It was a surprise birthday gift for me to prepare the floor and finish painting. I sat on the floor, scrolling through my phone while it was charging, and realized that, according to our agreement, I should tell him I had come to Tinder that afternoon. So i did. “OK” was the entirety of his reaction.
I’ve never had a single real date, so I never told him anything about what happened while I was on a dating app. The whole experience was so strange and theoretical and stupid. But when he read my manuscript for a collection of essays on divorce, he was most angry about my dating app story. He said, “We agreed that when we were with someone we would tell each other.” And I reminded him that being cheated on by an anonymous stranger is not the same thing. We have agreed to disagree.
In the further course of our life situation, a strange shift has taken place: We ask ourselves about each other’s days and now share more than before. For the most part, we display a level of manners and appreciation associated with a longstanding friendship rather than a longstanding marriage. Sometimes the four of us go to a show or movie after dinner, but most of the time we are scattered with friends at our various shows, work, books, and FaceTimes. We are a house of four relatively independent people, and in so many parts of our lives there is now a communal, flat share-like feeling.
On the one hand, I am grateful for this independence; each of us has space to move around in our own home. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I sometimes worry about how this reflects my own teenage years in a divorced household, especially when we all retreat to dinner and retreat to our own corners. I loved having the independence to do whatever I wanted, but sometimes at that age you wonder too much freedom if anyone is even interested in what you do. However, very little has changed for our children other than seeing their parents learn to become real friends.
Our approach reminds me a little of a realization I had the day after my discharge that had become a cornerstone of my identity. I had worked so hard, I had given my life to it, I had left my young children for this job during dinner and on the weekends. But what struck me the morning after I was released was this unique thought: “Maybe now I could just do what I’m good at instead of everything that made me feel guilty.”
Our current arrangement, our prelude to a divorce, is like this. We only do what we are good at and not the things we were (mostly) bad at.