Recently I’ve been struggling to save up roughly $1000. This money won’t be used on a vacation, or a used car, or an RSP investment, or almost anything else someone in his late twenties could be doing with a grand saved up in the bank. Instead, I’m saving up to buy a few pieces of paper that I will use to officially inform the government that Lindsay McKay and I are no longer a couple, and that we respectfully wish to stay that way.
It does seem expensive. But if you consider the other pieces of paper required to inform the government that you are a couple, and the inevitable pomp and circumstance that is your wedding, it’s a more digestible move financially. That could be why divorce and marriage are so neck-and-neck in popularity these days.
“It was what, three years? We were fortunate. The separation was easy. We only had each other, the record collection, and the fine china–which was obviously going to be mine.” *
In late August 2014, Lindsay and I split after three affable years of marriage, though we considered it more of a re-configuration than a break-up. Of course, we’d go through the necessary motions: see other people, live in separate houses, quit having sex with each other. Everything else was business as usual. We would go for dinner at least once a week, visit friends together, share dog-walking responsibilities, and confuse the hell out of everyone we knew in the process.
“It may not be healthy” was a common concern, and it was entirely understandable. Neither Lindsay nor I had known ex-lovers to exhibit our seemingly apathetic behaviour towards a break-up, nor had we known any to remain close after the fallout. Because of this, we considered ourselves visionaries – the unlikely winners in the Great War of Relationships. Love did conquer in the end, just not the way most people want or expect.
“Should we have been together? That’s not even a question. Because we were lovers makes us better friends. Instead of trying to fix what’s broken, we can start to find something better for ourselves. Nobody will ever fully understand how we are with each other.”
Over food and drinks, Lindsay and I would sometimes mull over the question we get asked most: “What went wrong?” This could take hours depending on how early in the night it was, and how much red wine was available. Our talks would then evolve into our favourite topic: relationships and how to live them. Incredibly, the intimacy we once shared as lovers morphed into a deeper intimacy–we could finally speak with full disclosure as opposed to acting a part to appease the other. More importantly, this sort of ass-backwards couple’s therapy allowed us to re-examine what we thought relationships were, and how we could improve upon them. After all, some ex-lovers understand you better than you understand yourself.
“I know you didn’t want to get back together. You were feeling sad because I moved on quicker. I wanted you to not think that us getting back together was a thing.”
Functional break-up aside, it is not my intention to suggest that dissolving a marriage is easy. For me, having it fall apart before the age of 28 was a “cold bowl of chili,” as Neil Young would say. During the immediate aftermath, my mental state was at an all-time low. Rather than attempt to pinpoint everything Lindsay did to push me away, I instead spent countless inebriated nights listening to schmaltzy love songs, and mentally cataloguing everything I did to screw my life up. I admit it wasn’t very proactive. But as anyone who has gone through a serious breakup knows: It’s much easier to feel sorry for yourself because you likely won’t get many chances to act the part of pathetic sack of shit.
Though Lindsay and I remained close, I felt my whole life had flipped without my knowing or choosing. Mutual friends slowly began to disappear. Being reduced to only one family again made Christmas less eventful. Sleeping alone for the first time in years was unbearable–most couples relish the opportunity to sleep alone, but I suddenly saw the other side of the bed as wasted space.
Of course, the dust did eventually settle, and I stopped eating jalapeno and cheese Doritos for dinner, began drinking (relatively) less, and entertained the possibility of dating again. I also started meeting several late-20s/early-30s divorcees who explained to me the “starter marriage” phenomenon. That is, get one marriage under your belt to ensure your next one will be perfect. Put in business terms: your added skills and experience will increase productivity and financial happiness. Makes sense.
Whether this method is common or not (Stats Canada reports that less than 25 percent of divorcees think they will re-marry), it was strangely comforting to know I wasn’t a cultural anomaly. It’s always better when you’re part of a group.
The only issue now was dating as a married man. No matter how lax I was about my separation, how was a new partner going to feel about it? As it turns out, not very good.
“I never really liked her.”
I met Marie when she began waitressing at a gourmet pizza restaurant that I was managing. Though Lindsay and I were still a couple at the time, Marie quickly became my “work crush:” A paramour that I would innocently daydream over, but never act on (beware the “work crush,” people). When I eventually became single, my lust for Marie became almost paralyzing. She was—in my stupid lovelorn head—the very opposite of Lindsay, and therefore exactly what I thought I needed. After a year-and-a-half of incessant flirting, things came to head.
Our restaurant was permanently shutting down, meaning our close-knit industry family was splitting up. A weekend long celebration was to take place, culminating in one last night of sentimental debauchery at my former cook’s apartment. At three in the morning, Marie and I left together, happy to enjoy one last wasted waltz back to our respective homes.
It obviously didn’t end that way. She stayed at my new apartment, cheated on her boyfriend, and after years of pining, I finally got what I had been longing for.
“I thought, that’s great. We’re gonna be friends. We’re gonna talk about it, and we’re gonna laugh about it. I seriously did try hard.”
Once we were officially a couple (why don’t you need papers for that?), questions about our marriage immediately arose, and I was suddenly in the hot seat. How are we still friends? Why do I laugh about marriage? Why aren’t I divorced yet? Don’t I want to get married again someday? Do I still have feelings for her? How do we spend so much time together, but we couldn’t make our own precious marriage work? What is wrong with me?
These questions dogged me throughout the following year we were together. It’s not that I wasn’t answering her questions, or that I wasn’t willing to talk about it. I just didn’t have the right answers. I still don’t.
Often, in a bout of snarky self-righteousness, I would ask her why she cared so much. I was more than willing to make both respective relationships work, so why couldn’t she? Though an ultimatum was never put forth verbally, I knew the day would come when I would have to make a choice between my girlfriend and my ex-wife. On paper, I didn’t make the obvious choice, nor the smartest. But unorthodox problems call for unorthodox solutions.
“The whole negative stigma of being divorced, it’s not a thing to me. I kind of laugh about it. And then I think about Marie, and I feel bad because it’s a thing for you.”
In two months, I’ll be 30 years old. With my first marriage soon put to rest, I wonder how I will survive my 30s with the big “D” emblematically tattooed on my forehead. And if Marie couldn’t understand Lindsay and I, how will other women? There’s no way of knowing, but I remain hopeful. Due to my baggage, every relationship will be an uphill battle, and it will take a certain person to help carry that weight, or at least understand how heavy the load is.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I’m sure I’m gonna be with this person for the rest of my life.’ But also not sure… You’re 24! You’re infatuated with the idea of being happy and married to your best friend. ‘I married my best friend.’ So fucking cliché.”
When Lindsay and I met, I was 22, listless, and broke. She gave my life a sense of stability, and offered unconditional love. Now, 29, slightly less listless, and still broke, she continues to do the same. Separation-be-damned, I have continued to love her as much—albeit in a different way—as when I inauspiciously uttered the words “I do.” We possess no “unlove” option to employ whenever the need to stop caring arises. To us, divorcing and marrying toe the same line; rejecting love is just as crazy as being in love.
*All bold quotations from Ms. Lindsay McKay.
Joe Fitzgerald is a Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, a waiter, an annoying music know-it-all, and a friend. He currently resides in Ottawa's restaurant-heavy Centretown district, where he plunders half his paycheques and wonders almost every morning where the heck he left his sunglasses the night before. His favourite Backstreet Boy is Brian.