Nowadays love is a matter of chance, matrimony a matter of money, and divorce a matter of course. ~ Helen Rowland
I fret about how The Girl will cope with going from living in a large house (with her dad and I) to spending most of her time in a small flat (with me and dad at weekends). Will she find it poky? After a year in my flat, will I suddenly wake up from my limbo and feel crushed or cloistered? I watch Meet the Landlords which feature a man buoyed up with high rents from HMO’s (Houses of Miserable Occupants? Hideously Mean Oligarch? or Houses of Multiple Occupancy?) He shows the cameras round these dismal rooms the size of postage stamps with a peculiar pride for someone who basically makes money out of people with no choice.
The Ex and I have worked hard at keeping a friendly relationship, and having been brought up in a very angry house, with tight pinched politeness on the surface, I do mean friendly as opposed to icily polite with contempt leaking through the cracks. We have both watched for any signs of stress in our daughter; clinginess, poor grades, excessively good or bad behaviour, manipulation. I remember reading that in a split, one of the first things to go is discipline as both parties are so determined to be the Nice Parent. Apart from The Girl going on holiday with her dad and returning with a slightly feral look about her plus hair in dreadlocks, she seems emotionally fine. Ex makes sure she has her own space at his house, ten minutes away. I realise this isn’t possible for everyone but it does seem to be important that the child doesn’t feel like a ‘visitor’ (read interloper) at the non-resident’s parent’s house. We also try not to have her lugging clothes from one house to another, so now The Girl has a wardrobe to rival that of Suri Cruise.
Of course this takes a great deal of goodwill on both sides. If one side is determined to Be Right or hating their ex is more important or is just a major arse, it’s incredibly difficult. I’ve seen one side waltzing in with showy presents but never being around when the child needs new shoes (They had a new pair two years ago!) and is always busy when it comes to dental appointments or emergency childcare. But I don’t agree with Rachel Cusk that divorce is always darkness. The lead up and the decision is usually horrible but far from it being easy or something that couples think of at the first hurdle, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t said that the decision to split from their long-term partner or spouse has been the hardest thing they’ve ever done and was the absolute last resort. But afterwards, the relief can be delicious. You are stronger (yes sorry to sound like a Shania Twain lyric but it’s true), you learn to live alone, you learn what you want. And you may discover that you haven’t really thought about what you want, not because you’ve been unhappy as such – just sort of sublimated in a role.
And if you can down tools and stay calm around the children it’s not the end of the world. The Daily Mail and its ilk would have us believe that a miserable marriage is Better All Round and divorce will invariably lead your children into smoking crack in stolen cars and running over nuns. Having been brought up by two parents who were angry and disappointed in each other and couldn’t communicate what they felt, I can say with some conviction that the net result was growing up knotted with anxiety, a terrible fear of anger and a resolute conviction that it was my responsibility to make people feel better.
She says defensively.
Back to living in a small flat. The Girl is nine, too young to hide her disgust at anything which doesn’t meet her high standards and that includes living space. (These potatoes are a bit fluffy/The ice cream is too minty – the fact she ORDERED MINT ICE CREAM is beside the point) says her room is ‘cosy‘ and she likes how her room ‘is close to you mummy’. But I’m thinking more about our space and waiting to feel something . . . .negative after spending a few weeks with my boyfriend who has just moved into a house he built himself. A few weeks ago, The Girl and I plus newly acquired Stan the kitten hightail it up North where we live for a couple of weeks. Our conversations are interrupted by random workmen (who all have jeans sitting just below their bum cracks) wandering in, stroking their chin(s) and muttering something about joists or pond filters. But it’s a Big Space so on coming home I fully expect it to feel like walking into a cupboard. I open the sliding doors, looked at my gasping plants and feel calm and happy.
And then about two weeks ago my Ex says we should ‘move things along’ and he means ‘get divorced’. We are in a Thai restaurant at the time sniggering over a shared memory of Singapore and the large number of bras I bought for my ‘Singapore Slingers’.
It’s not that either of us don’t want to move on. It’s just . . . .I don’t know. I really don’t. Neither of us want to go back. Maybe the juxtaposition of the intimacy of a shared memory followed directly by the mention of divorce. Then my ex goes on holiday with his new partner, her two children and our daughter. Before he goes he lends me his power drill. When I return it, his house is empty and I let myself in. Walking through to the kitchen I see a photo of The Girl and the two boys. All three are wearing sunglasses a la Reservoir Dogs – a glimpse of a different blended family. I think of the photo of myself holding The Girl, her legs wrapped round my waist just a few months previously, her face still retaining slight traces of plump babyhood. My boyfriend standing next to me saying something to the photographer. Another blended family with The Girl in common.
There is a card on the mantelpiece to my ex from his girlfriend. She writes that he has changed her life and she loves him. Very much. I replace the card waiting to feel a wave of something. Nothing. Instead I find myself smiling slightly, glad that he has found someone who loves him properly. Or improperly.
Someone said that the opposite of love isn’t hatred, it’s indifference. I think that’s true. But what I’ve been feeling isn’t indifference – but a sense of acceptance. Perhaps when our marriage becomes a series of official papers and decrees I may feel differently.