Tag Archives: divorce

One Family’s “Crazy” Is Another One’s “Normal”

Thanksgiving is an interesting time for my family and me. (“Interesting” as in “different,” “unusual,” “unorthodox.”) You see, I typically make the 10-hour car trek to South Florida from Atlanta with my family; and when I say family, I mean my son, my boyfriend and my ex-husband.

And yes, we all arrive unscathed and generally in a pretty good mood.

Most people think we’re nuts. Even my dad thinks we’re a little crazy. But the rest of my family takes it in stride, understanding that when my husband and I became exes, we also committed to keeping the friendship part of our relationship.

And while that may be “weird” to many, it’s our normal.

This year marks the 7-year anniversary of my divorce—the event that turned my ex-husband into one of my truest friends.  I tell my ex all the time, “Honey, I’m glad I married you, because you are great to be divorced from.”

He knows exactly what I mean.

Our friendship is an unusual story, I know — and the truth is, it didn’t just happen. From the moment my ex-husband and I decided to separate (which was a culmination of years on the fence), we asked ourselves: can we create a divorce that isn’t bitter and hurtful? Can we preserve the platonic love we have for each other – for both ourselves and our son? Can we keep all the good parts and toss all the bad stuff?

We decided we could.

So with small, mostly-even steps throughout a nearly two-year separation leading up to our divorce, we created what is for some of my family and friends, a mind-boggling relationship.

We understand it takes some getting used to.

The person most confused by our friendship is my father.  My dad – as any father who thinks his little girl has somehow been wronged – wanted to be furious at my ex. I told him that I wasn’t angry, so he didn’t need to be mad on my behalf. I think that leaves him a little unsure of how to feel about this ex-son-in-law-good-friend thing.

I’ve told him, “Dad, maybe if you had raised Jon (that’s my ex) he would have turned out differently. But he didn’t have the benefit of having you for a father … maybe you could sort of be one now?”

Still, my old-school dad doesn’t understand how we can all hang out together — yes, at any given time you can find my ex, my boyfriend, my son and me, bowling or going to dinner or even having a New Year’s Eve party.  We all get along that well. (As an example, my boyfriend was the first one to buy my ex a gift last year for the holidays. My ex is a huge fan of my boyfriend’s technological wizardry. My son adores his dad and really likes my boyfriend. My boyfriend likes my son, which, as an often-surly, frequently moody teenager, is the biggest surprise of all to me.)

When we arrived at my parents’ home the night before Thanksgiving, there were hugs for everyone (including my ex). My ex sincerely loves my father; his own dad died when he was 13, so my dad is the only father he’s had in his adult life. Later, as we were leaving for the nearby hotel, my dad announced he was picking up the tab for all of our rooms. We all protested, but both of my parents insisted.

Then my dad whispered to me, “When you got divorced, I didn’t think I’d be paying for MORE rooms than when you were married.”

I think he was only half-kidding.

On Thanksgiving morning, we arrived at my parents early to help.  My boyfriend lifted the 22-pound turkey into the oven; my ex set the table; my son took out the never-ending trash.  As soon as the rest of my 20-member family showed up, the conversation and laughter level rose to concert-level decibels. Occasionally, someone came up to me and told me how wonderful it is to see Jon here; how great that we can have this kind of relationship. A couple of my nieces, now of dating and marrying age, told me they think it’s great for my son, and asked me if it’s ever weird.

“Not really,” I said honestly. “It’s just the way we’ve done it from the beginning.”  I think it would be weird to do it any other way.

At the dinner table, it was my turn to say what I am most grateful for. I look at “my boys,” – my boyfriend, my ex, my son … I look at my dad … trying so hard to be new-age with us … I look at my mom, who has never stopped loving Jon and who gives that same love to my boyfriend of five years… I see my siblings and nieces and nephews, and I realize what I am most grateful for this year is their open arms, open hearts, and most of all, their open minds. I thank them for truly supporting this and deciding that for us, this is what normal is.

Will our son be better adjusted because of his divorced parents’ friendship? I honestly don’t know. He seems pretty well adjusted already. I know he loves being able to be with his dad along with the rest of his family. I know it’s gotta be good for him that there’s no fighting, no feuding, no taking sides between his mother and father. I hope that he learns – as we have – that divorce is not always a tragedy. But just in case this has somehow damaged him for life, along with our son’s College Fund, we might just create his Therapy Fund. Because one day he might be lying on a therapist’s couch somewhere, whining: “Why couldn’t my parents have had a normal divorce?”

Now, maybe I’ve miscalculated; maybe there are dozens of us – thousands, even – out there shaking up the traditional holiday scene and putting new meaning into “goodwill toward man” – starting with our ex-men.

Good, bad, sad, mixed — I’d love to hear about your non-traditional holiday life, too.

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I’m Glad I Married My Husband; He’s Great To Be In A Divorce With

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” – Louis L ’Amour

Eighteen years ago the world I’d always trusted came crashing down on me. I had been engaged for about five days when I discovered that the man I loved had a substance abuse problem. The next year included therapy, extreme weight loss, multiple occasions of drug use discovery, and severe panic attacks until we both realized that his addiction was slowly killing our relationship – which by now had become a marriage.

Why did I marry my fiancé just as I was learning he had a substance abuse problem? We honestly believed we loved each other as much as a marriage would ever need. Plus, I had never met an addict before — he wasn’t like any addicts you see on TV. He went to work. He helped around the house. He was brilliant and funny. He was also tortured. And I was absolutely certain that I could love him enough to save him.

We went to doctors, chiropractors and a psychiatrist renowned for treating anxiety-induced addiction. We took yoga and behavior-modification; we held hands and cried and went to couples therapy. Pretty soon I realized I had a problem — I wasn’t able to separate myself from my husband. Whatever he was feeling, I was feeling, too. Within months I had dropped 10 pounds, too, and I was having panic attacks – like the one in the hardware store, where I sat huddled on an aisle floor while they paged my husband over the PA. This was not like me – responsible, confident, Type-A. I began going to therapy myself.

It was the worst first year of marriage I could imagine. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

For 12 years we did the co-dependent dance. My husband would stop doing drugs. He would make promises and we would make progress. Then I would notice that something was off. I would ask if he was doing drugs and he would tell me no. Then I would feel bad for thinking he was doing drugs. Eventually, I would discover the drug use, and I’d feel like Charlie Brown when Lucy promises not to take the football away. But we never stopped trying to rebuild our relationship.

Over the next several years I learned what “enabling” meant. I realized I had a need to save people and the capacity to forgive my husband and myself over and over again when trust was betrayed. Until one day, I thought maybe I didn’t want to do this anymore. But we had a son by now – a miracle – and I could not imagine breaking up his family.

Things got worse before they got bitter. I fanned a flame of resentment that acted like a wall around my heart. I didn’t want to keep loving my husband because I didn’t want to get hurt again. I thought I’d stay in that state of limbo forever.

Then one day, I discovered once again that my husband was using, and suddenly I saw the possibility of divorce from a totally different perspective. This time I didn’t think, “how can I do this to my son?” but rather, “how can I NOT do this FOR my son?”

For the first time I felt empowered enough to make a healthy change. My husband and I separated in November. It was the end of everything. And that’s when it all really began.

Within two months, on his own accord, my husband checked himself into rehab. He worked hard and went to meetings and moved to a halfway house. My son and I visited, attended meetings, supported his dad, and learned to live without him. It was the saddest time of our lives; yet I felt better than I had in years.

After a year of trying to hold onto our marriage, my husband and I decided to divorce. We took a deep breath, smiled shakily at each other, and committed to creating a divorce based on a strong, supportive friendship.

And we have. It hasn’t always been easy, but when things got tense, one of us would inevitably remember that just about nothing was worth not being friends.

I told my ex that I was sorry; that all I had wanted to do was save him. He turned to me and said, “Maybe you did.”

My son’s dad is healthy now. He’s a thoughtful co-parent, a father who is more than just “present” — he’s involved. He has stood by my side through the tough adolescent times and I have to tell you, we are closer friends than we were when we were married.

Our family looks different now. There’s my ex, one of my best friends. There’s our son, remarkably well-adjusted and mostly unaware of how non-traditional this divorce is. And there’s my boyfriend, the proof of how far I’ve come in choosing partners. He is fully capable, does not need saving, and lets me rest the world on his shoulders once in a while. On any given night you might see all of us hanging out, having dinner or celebrating something one of us accomplished. My friends and family are amazed; my dad thinks we’re crazy, and some of my acquaintances are probably appalled. But I think it’s a testament to the fact that just when you think everything is finished … that is just the beginning.

Thinking about divorce? Ginger speaks openly about her marriage:

Ginger Emas is an Atlanta-based writer who believes divorce saved her family. By day she is a freelance business writer; in her “free” time she is the former host of Book Talk with Ginger on America’s Web Radio; a relationship and parenting blogger; author of the book, Back on Top: Fearless Dating after Divorce (Globe Pequot Press c 2009) and motivational speaker for women taking their first high-heeled step back out into the dating world.

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Single Mom Reflections

The thing about being a single mom living with an only child is that my son and I are day-to-day feedback monitors to each other.  I reflect back to him who he is at any given moment – good, great, not so good and everything in between – and he reflects back to me.  I call him on his stuff, he calls me on mine. But the key to making this work – to making any relationship work, really – is that the feedback, the conversation, the critiques and the compliments need to come from the heart. And that takes constant vigilance!

 If I want to teach my son something, I try to take a moment to make sure I am saying it from my heart. My goal is to be real, and to say what I have to say with as much kindness and softness as I can. (Believe me, I don’t always succeed, but this is my goal.) Even when I have to reprimand him or remind him, I try to do it from love.

 Because raising a child (and maybe especially a teenager) seems to all comes down to love. If we didn’t love our children so much, we wouldn’t say no – we’d let them grow up with no rules and no boundaries and they would ultimately turn into adults that they themselves couldn’t stand. If they didn’t mean the world to us, we’d let them get away with everything. And if they didn’t carry little pieces of our hearts and souls within them, they surely could not push our buttons with such precision.

That’s exactly what I told my son today: I love you enough to say no. To sometimes get mad at you. To give you boundaries even if it might be easier to give in and give up. And you will just have to live with that, I said – the knowledge that your mother loves you enough to take a stand and sometimes lose it in front of you. Because even with all that love and my lofty goals, I make mistakes. And one of the things I have learned to embrace and even enjoy (sometimes) is apologizing to my son. It’s like role-modeling a great lesson – owning our mistakes and saying you’re sorry. Learning that two people who love each other are still going to get mad at each other and need to ask for forgiveness. Unfortunately, I’m much harder at forgiving myself than anyone else … more work ahead for me, I guess.

 So forget that Ali McGraw line about “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” That’s bull. Love is saying you’re sorry, sometimes more than once a day, then forgiving each other and moving on.

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One Can Only Dance Alone For So Long

An excerpt from my book, Back On Top: Fearless Dating After Divorce

The day I got married I was delighted with the possibilities – a lifetime partner to honor, cherish and have babies, minivans and power tools with. I think that every bride who walks down the aisle is not only dreaming of her future but also privately saying to the world: “See? Someone finds me wonderful enough to have spent two months’ salary on a ring, put on a rented tux and those black patent-leather shoes, and live with me forever — even when I’m PMSing.

But the main thing that I, personally, was secretly thrilled with was that I would never, ever have to go on a date again. Especially not a first date, the singularly most anxiety-producing part of dating.

Well, I was wrong.

 Two years ago, after 13 years of marriage, I became the first person in my family’s history — dating all the way back to my great-great-great-grandparents in Siberia,Russia — to get a divorce.

The divorce itself wasn’t so bad. Mutual. Amicable. Friendly, even. In fact my ex is one of my dearest friends.  

It’s the post-divorce-dating that I just wasn’t up for. Yet.

So, for a while, I just didn’t. Date, that is. Instead I took kickboxing and Pilates and digital photography and salsa dancing (all listed in the catalogs as “Classes for the Newly Divorced”) and channeled all my energy into these healthy activities.

 But one can only dance alone for so long.

 So I started to tiptoe into the dating world again. Only this time there was a whole new world out there – Online Dating. Speed dating. Lock and key parties. I discovered that people don’t necessarily date – they hang out or hook up. People spend hours getting to know each other before they ever meet or even talk on the phone; instead they makes posts to walls, text each other and IM. 

There were rules I’d never heard of: A guy who is interested in a girl never calls before three days, but doesn’t wait longer than five. Women who date younger guys are called “cougars,” and I don’t think there is meant to be anything remotely complimentary about it. If you call the person you’ve been dating for the past week and your call goes straight to voicemail it means something other than the person you’re calling is not available. The list of new rules and the ones I broke on a nightly basis is actually quite lengthy. 

Being a quick learner, however, I went from crawling to walking to running very quickly. In the two years since I have been divorced I have been on approximately 87 dates. This alone makes my friends’ jaws drop and has anointed me a dating expert. Combine that with the fact that I have been dating since I was 15 (minus the decade-plus that I was married) and during those years I had likely been on 500 dates – and probably 100 of them blind dates – well, that should make me some sort of reality-show survivor. I have also been in four long-term relationships in addition to my one marriage and one divorce.

 But it is my post-divorce dating that makes me a true expert. Because it took being married to cure me of the near-desperate desire to be married that consumed most of my 20s. And believe me, dating with that goal in mind — to get married – is the singularly most prevalent cause of disastrous dating. It causes us to date people we wouldn’t even sit next to on the subway. It causes us to stay in relationships that are completely wrong and possibly dangerous to our health and self-esteem. G-d forbid we give up on a relationship we’ve invested two or five or 10 years into because he is the wrong guy. “What, and start all over?” Let me tell you, starting over is one of the most beautiful phrases in the English language, if you can just embrace it and buy enough mint chocolate chip ice cream to get you through three weeks of lonely nights.

 In this post-divorce-dating world, I have learned what I like and dislike in a guy and what my must-haves and non-negotiables are. I think everyone should have a dating checklist to refer to that includes all of her notes from past dates, boyfriends and husbands, so she is not tempted to consider a man who embodies one or more of her non-negotiables. I recommend you start this list now, no matter what age you are, guys and girls, for that matter.

 But just before you do, to make sure you have a sense of humor when creating that list, try this: Right now, stop and call this number: 415-228-0207. It’s called Rejection Hotline and it’s pretty funny. It’s the number you give to people who ask you for your number but to whom you would never give your number and this is nicer than saying, “Not if you were the last breathing person on Earth.” And anyway, you won’t be around when he calls it – you should only give this number when you are on your way out of the bar or party or gym or whatever — and it’s funny so if he doesn’t get it then he doesn’t have a sense of humor and you were right to give him this number anyway.

 Okay, maybe it’s kind of juvenile. But it can also be its own dating Litmus test. I was telling the hostess at my favorite midtown pizza place about the Rejection Hotline– well, actually, I was shouting the number to her from across the room (attractive lady-like behavior, I know). A guy at the counter piped up and said, “Hey, I know that number! That’s my girlfriend’s number.”

 I asked him out immediately.

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