Editor’s note: Our Seattle Dating Scene feature is taking a break and will return next week.
Twenty-five years ago, on a giddy first date, I wandered the streets of Paris long past sunset, with the man I would marry.
Our “dates” these days, 10 years post-divorce, involve weekly coffee breaks to catch up on the latest. He is one of my closest friends. Our pasts and futures intersect, with our best work between us: a child now grown, making his way in the world.
Our dates look like this today … because we forged an amicable divorce.
When we began the process of unraveling our shared life, people said it was odd that we remained friendly. They meant it was “unexpected.”
It’s also beneficial. Amicable divorce pays for itself time and again.
It wasn’t all violins and roses. A decade ago, we faced off tersely in a restaurant.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he said, referring to our marriage. I wasn’t blindsided. Our marriage had limped along the last two years, like an exhausted runner falling at the finish line in surrender at dusk.
As he spoke, I thought, “We’ve had 15 good years together. I won’t throw that away.”
While we hadn’t reached this impasse enraged, we had progressively functioned in parallel, but separately. We grew rigid. We brought our bags of childhood rocks to the party and flung them at each other with increasing frequency — and accuracy.
I don’t remember exactly when we decided to separate calmly for the sake of our then-11-year-old son, but once we agreed to get through it as intact as possible, love, like a buoy, kept us from going under.
Struggling with anger one day as we began to separate — and wanting to throw my husband’s belongings out the window — a warning brushed against my heart. I imagined trying to explain my actions to my wide-eyed kid: why Dad was suddenly a Bad Person.
By bad-mouthing his father, I would have been putting him down, too — saying there were parts of him that did not deserve love, the biggest lie of all.
I grew up in a home beset with mental illness — where what was happening and what I was told went in opposite directions. I know how hard it is to come back from that. We wouldn’t repeat that pattern.
The belongings stayed put.
Divorce provoked the specter of hardship. Initially, we angled for advantage. This conflict jeopardized our pact to remain levelheaded.
If we proceeded carefully, we might be left, as someone put it not-so-poetically, each with a pot to piss in. The idea was to move on, and all roads circled back to this question: “What will benefit our son?”
I could not come up with a figure worth more than my child’s mental health.
My ex and I joke that while we didn’t like each other much at that time, we disliked unchecked spending even more. Although sometimes I imagined using an attorney as a lightsaber, I couldn’t justify going into debt paying someone to fight for me. I was lucky that I did not have to. I had married a decent person, and that hadn’t changed.
We divorced pro se; that is, we represented ourselves. While that doesn’t work for everybody, it did for us. The whole thing cost a few thousand dollars (compared with potentially tens of thousands for brawling attorneys).
In the end, we calculated: same income, two households. One good thing about not having a lot of money is how quickly you can solve some math equations. We divided by two — an even number.
Luckily, our friends and family were willing to venture into this uncharted territory with us. Carefully, they helped us with the delicate work of coming apart.
We didn’t want to force them to choose between us. We all were raising our kids together, and we needed their love to help my child keep his footing while the ground shifted beneath his feet.
My sister and her husband took care of our son some weekends. While they hiked the Olympic Mountains and fished glacial lakes, we got to have a few humdinger rows — replete with dramatic arm gestures sweeping away paper piled on shelves (that had driven me nuts for years). Afterward, both ashamed and relieved, I looked at the newly cleared shelf and thought, “It does look better that way.”
I knew from the start that irrational behavior would doom us. With help, I found ways to express anger and grief privately. It’s not that I behaved perfectly, or that I avoided reactivity altogether, but I wanted to prove — to my son and to myself — that when the going got tough, I could act with decency.
Above all, I wanted to halt a family legacy of violence — both physical and emotional — and protect my little family: imperfect, but mine.
We knew our kid would benefit from two peaceful households rather than one warring one, so I moved to a place close by.
While saddened, our son stayed steady in school and with his peers; beloved by friends’ parents, coaches and teachers; growing into a kindhearted young man.
As for my “wasband” — I look forward to our “dates,” where we enjoy a goofy camaraderie — and negotiations revolve mostly around patisseries.
I had gambled that if I divorced while keeping my eye on the long game, I could keep my family and my friend. We all won.
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