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Fatal Flaw

January 16, 2010

…falling in love outside of marriage is the ultimate and every other gesture is its shadow…
–Laurie Colwin, “A Mythological Subject”

When I was twenty-one, I met the man I eventually married. This was not supposed to happen. My parents (who married obscenely young, begat me, and promptly divorced) spent my whole childhood drilling into my head the idea that youthful marriages were utter folly. “We were too young,” they’d sigh whenever I asked why they split up; the lesson I took away was clear. No one in her right mind would even consider marriage before twenty-five. (“Oh, that’s a good age,” my parents agreed, whenever I pressed them on what was old enough.)

So I dutifully waited until twenty-six to mouth the sacred vows; oddly, not even my gimlet-eyed mother seemed to notice that I had, essentially, pledged my troth at twenty-one. We were sneaky about it, living in sin in Paris, traveling all over creation for months at a time, applying to graduate school together three thousand miles across the country. Actually, we didn’t set out to get married; we just kept on not breaking up. Oh, I was happy. In Paris I made friends with the butcher, who sold me a rabbit (skinned and quartered, its head gruesomely balanced on top, so that I yelped in horror when I tore open the bloody paper package at home) and told me how to cook lapin à la moutarde. I served it at a dinner party for people who spoke only French, practically swooning at the picturesqueness of it all.

Later we hitchhiked and backpacked across Greece, and, when Paris drained us of our last centime, we moved to Prague, partly because it was cheaper, partly because it was cool. I wrote enthusiastic letters home, full of eccentric landladies, the weirdness of post-communist grocery shopping, and the joys of pennilessness. Then we took off and traveled, driving across Eastern Europe and Turkey in a friend’s car that broke down in villages we’d never heard of, where women in headscarves brought us olives and cheese in twisted sheets of newspaper while their husbands worked on our car and kids stood around gaping amiably at us, two dusty foreigners playing cards under a tree.

When my ex-husband finally proposed, I was so excited that I fell to my knees and shouted “Yes!” before he’d even finished asking me to marry him.

By then, we were back from Abroad, gainfully occupied as graduate students. We bought a house, with his mother’s assistance, and got a puppy, on whom we doted as if she were an infant. Then we had a real infant, which made everything even more fun. The baby was goofy and fuzzy headed and happy and I had never been so in love.

I keep going back and wondering just where the hairline fracture started, wondering if, indeed, there truly is such a thing as hamartia, that showy crack running down the middle of a life (definition courtesy of Donna Tartt–go read The Secret History today if you haven’t already). Was it after the birth of the second baby, when I abandoned all pretense of a professional life in favor of full time hausfraudom? Was it a discernible event, the first crisis of our marriage, that we were unable to adapt to or move on from? Was it something gigantic like that crisis, or something more insidious, like (don’t laugh) when we got wireless, and spent evenings on our laptops instead of companionably reading? The final year we were together, we got drunk in a restaurant one night and I suddenly blurted, “I feel like we’ve had no intellectual or emotional connection for years!” When pressed, I recanted–it was the wine, I insisted, and I was an idiot. Meanwhile the crack widened, subtly, to a chasm.

There was a point when we were whole, I think–though the definition of hamartia precludes that. What dooms a love affair? Time? Children? Marriage itself? These days, although I am indeed in love, I am obsessed to the point of unhealthiness with the idea that love might be an impossibility. Like a hypochondriac, I am forever taking the relationship’s temperature, fretting over imaginary symptoms. I worry that living apart is unsustainable; I worry that living together would destroy us. I worry we will accidentally get married, even though neither of us wants to get married, and that we will then divorce. I worry that we will fall out of love and not realize what has happened until it is too late. I worry that the very obstacles that we worked so hard to remove, so that we could be together, also kept us keenly intent on one another; without those obstacles, I worry our affection will wither and fade.

I know I’m being ridiculous. I hope this is some paradigmatic post-divorce stage–something everyone passes through a few months after the dust settles. The irony of what I’m doing–actively fucking up a relationship because I’m worried it might become fucked up–is not lost on me. I’m old enough to know better.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2010 8:13 pm

    As a divorced dad, I’m glad I found your site. It speaks to me like few other blogs do. It’s not easy navigating this new life. Getting divorced taught me a lot not only about myself but about relationships. Sometimes I wonder whether this new knowledge is a benefit or a curse.

  2. January 16, 2010 9:48 pm

    This is an amazing post. I put this thought on Twitter, and acknowledged you “we didn’t set out to get married; we just kept on not breaking up”

    God, that was my marriage. To a tee.

    Get the Power of Now, and get out of your head. Enjoy your new relationship. *Drama is not accepting the present exactly as it is.* Get it on audio, on paperback.

    Saved my life, I tell ya.

    Rock on, sister.

  3. Annie permalink
    January 17, 2010 5:27 pm

    i can’t believe how much i relate to each and every post you write. crazy similar. divorced june of ’09, separated in 2007, dated from age 19 to 25, and constantly looking back for the timing of the hamartia in my marriage.

  4. McAdoo permalink
    January 19, 2010 10:44 am

    Beautifully written — evocative, wise, and achingly sad.

  5. January 21, 2010 1:41 am

    “I worry that living apart is unsustainable; I worry that living together would destroy us. I worry we will accidentally get married, even though neither of us wants to get married, and that we will then divorce. I worry that we will fall out of love and not realize what has happened until it is too late. I worry that the very obstacles that we worked so hard to remove, so that we could be together, also kept us keenly intent on one another; without those obstacles, I worry our affection will wither and fade.”

    THIS.

    Right now, in my post-divorce world, it seems as if relationships are, according to social convention, structured around getting rid of every obstacle between the two of you so that you can hurry up and be instantly gratified and then get completely bored to death of one another.

    If I were going to identify one issue that keeps me up at night like none other, in love or no, it is this one.

  6. January 21, 2010 1:44 am

    (My last sentence should have ended with “it would be this one.” I realize no one will care about this but me. Thank you for indulging my fixation on properly applied subjunctive tense.)

  7. February 19, 2010 12:40 am

    I can’t tell you how helpful this post was. As someone in my first relationship after my divorce, I am paranoid beyond paranoid that it will go the way of the first. It’s so nice to know that this is possibly a phase that everyone goes through on their second time around.

    “We just kept on not breaking up” – total clarity on my past. Thank you.

    I’m finding solace in figuring out more about myself with my present relationship: when I got annoyed with my ex-husband, it was his fault. Now, with a completely different person, when the same things bug me I realize it’s something that is MY issue. And that I can control how I feel about it. This might just be the trick to making the next marriage stick.

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