I hadn't seen my former brother-in-law in more than ten years when we met up last weekend for a beer.
Once upon a time we were related through marriage (he to one sister, me to the other), and he and I had always enjoyed each other's company with genuine warmth and connection. He divorced his wife not long after my own divorce, and we have each gone on with our lives without communicating much. For my part, I just didn't want to talk about that time, and I needed the space, which he has always respected.
When he and I do communicate, there is always a sense of having survived something heinous together, a feeling not unlike veterans who went through the shit (so to speak), and we both can at least look upon that time years ago when we were family with something resembling a sense of humor.
There's relief, too. Relief that we aren't still back then.
I am (surprisingly) one of only a few of my friends who has gone through the Shame and Embarrassment Fest that is the institution of DIVORCE. I divorced before there were Divorce Parties, or before I was aware of the sage advice of Dan Savage, or before there was the term 'starter marriage.' Had I been more connected, and maybe a little more self-aware, I think I would have felt much better about the process than I did, but I got there eventually. Eventually I embraced it. But it took much painful, awkward, and uncomfortable growth.
In many, many ways, though, I had it easy: my ex-wife and I didn't have kids, we didn't share property, and she was all too eager to flee the state. I happened to attend court on a day when the judge had just returned from a successful fishing trip and who was gleefully willing to waive the mandatory waiting period. In the court that day with me was a woman who needed a restraining order to protect herself and her kids. Or there's my ex-brother-in-law who had a kid and a house with his wife, which means he still has to talk to his ex-wife to this day. Or...
Yeah, I did get lucky. Very lucky.
The thing that sticks is the realization that I didn't take marriage seriously the first time around. It was a lark. The divorce, though, was real in a way that the marriage never was. It's one of those things that although it's in the past, I can't exactly go forward without talking about it. And although there is time and distance that separates me and my ex-wife, I still have a connection to a person because of some fool thing we did. As much as I would like to, I can't exactly erase that link. It's part of the documented history.
This is not to say that we shouldn't have divorced (because we most certainly should have), or that other folks in their myriad situations shouldn't either. There are many times when divorce is the right solution. I've even seen examples where people handled the process with maturity and positivity. I find that nearly miraculous, but it is possible. Imagine.
What I'd like to argue for is some acceptance. This is as much for me as it is for those of you who have gone through it or who are going through it. Collectively, we all need to move past the shame. The embarrassment. Divorce happens. As Dan Savage likes to say, every romantic relationship fails until one doesn't. And you just don't know if yours is going to thrive and survive until it does. Set aside the judgment and the expectations and take what you have for what it is right now.
After the beer, the catch up and the conversation, my former brother-in-law and I parted promising to see each other again. I think we will. We've moved past and through the old connection and onto somewhere else where we can take each other for who we are now instead of who were then.