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Three: The Rest Of Things

After a month, the grooves, the ins and the outs, have changed a considerable amount. I’ve delved into having a canned response when people ask the inevitable question: “How are things going?” I know what they mean when they ask, because there’s a change in voice when it is asked. My inevitable response is, “It has its up days and down days.” This is an incredibly true thing, for as cliche as it may seem. Every day is ever so slightly different, and one month on, there are interesting variables here and there.

For one, it’s really hard to change the name you’ve given to your significant other, once they aren’t your significant other anymore. Given the current situation, the term “Ex” doesn’t quite work – if this relationship is in a hiatus, then she really isn’t my ex, is she? The syntax of things changes up in instances like this: “I’ll send off a text to my not-wife and see what she thinks” is one of the many examples of things I’ve said in the last month.

One of the worst parts of the first couple of weeks was the slight variations in routine. My schedule varies very little, and most work nights, I get off work at midnight. Around 11 o’clock, without fail, I begin to mentally prepare to go home, think about what I’ll be doing when I get there. When I was in a relationship, this was something that was easy: we would have dinner, watch some television, possibly have sex, and then usually she would go to bed, and I’d spend some time on the internet, catching up on Facebook and news and things like that. However, the dynamic has shifted, and as such, the preparations have as well. During that first chunk of time, even the best day would turn to absolute garbage between 11 o’clock and midnight, and possibly even longer, depending on if I was coming home to actually spend time with my newly-roomate, or if she happened to be in bed already. Even now that I’m used the arrangement, I can’t honestly tell you which version of things was better.

At times, it can feel like I live with a ghost, or that I inhabit the same space with someone who I cannot see. She and I work roughly opposite schedules a good chunk of the time, so I would go decent amounts of time without properly seeing her. I would wake up in the morning, and things would be ever so slightly different around me, despite the fact that nobody happened to be in the house. I would do my daily preparations, and when I would get home from work or whatever it was I was doing, the same thing would have happened: I am alone, and my surroundings are altered. This could easily be said for any couple that works opposing schedules, but there is a strange disconnect involved. I imagine it’s something like (and you must pardon the comparison) the Keanu Reeves movie The Lake House, in which two people inhabit the same space, but not the same time. At times, with no human contact, these things can become disorienting.

The change in daily routine is the biggest thing to get used to. After several years inside a relationship, it’s easy to take things for granted, but the fact of the matter is, even if your routine is exactly the same, the change in dynamic is enough to make your day-to-day life incredibly different. There is something to be said about being able to count on having someone to come home and cuddle with at the end of a shitty day, and who is just as excited for you to be home as you are to be home yourself. Of all of the things I miss, this is probably the one thing I grew to miss the most.

It isn’t all bad. I’ve gotten in a couple disagreements with people where “I need to go home” hasn’t been a good enough excuse. “Things are different now,” they remind me, and they are right. Though it’s a sign of respect that I do let my ex know where I’m going to be if I’m out late, and when I’ll be home, it isn’t necessarily her place to tell me when I need to be home, as it isn’t mine to do the same for her. There is a strangeness to the new-found freedom involved in not being bound by my typical refrain of “My wife wants me home by…”, as though the world is a brand-new playground to be explored.

After the dust has settled, it’s an interesting thing to explore the restraints and freedoms granted by a sudden shift in perspectives. It can be exciting, but also terrifying, to look at a room in a completely different way. We’ll see how that changes in the coming months.

Two: The Things You Notice

After a few days on your own, you learn a few things about yourself, and about the relationship with the person you are still legally bound to. Changing your status as an “item” means that you have to quickly learn new things about yourself, and notice things about the world around you. Little tweaks, that may come off as simple at first, can be incredibly hard to adjust to, and may be emotionally devastating.

Here are some bits of advice and things you’re going to notice, if you find yourself out of a relationship suddenly. It is obviously a list for the dumped, rather than the person ending the relationship, but if you’re the one ending it, you don’t need my advice:

  1. If you wear a ring, lose it.
    If you’re in a relationship for a long time, one where rings have come into play, you may notice that your finger has gotten somewhat atrophied around where your ring used to sit. This is completely normal, even if you may feel like you have an incredibly banal form of leprosy. As of this writing, my finger still has a fairly deep indent where it used to be.
    Taking off that ring is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is a reminder of what is missing in your life. On the other, it has likely become a very large part of you. After a day-and-a-half, my euphoria about being separated waned unexpectedly: for years, when walking past railings, I’ve run my finger along the metal, taking some strange enjoyment in the sound of the metal of my ring against the metal of the railing. The very first time I did this and connected only with bare flesh, I found myself inconsolable for at least an hour.

  2. Some music is just off limits.
    Breakup music is a tricky game, especially if you’re trying to remain happy about things. If you’re already depressed about the situation, sad bastard music just isn’t going to help you. If you listen to music regularly, you’re going to need to reevaluate what you can and cannot listen to, and whether or not it’s going to make you feel worse. The Postal Service and Arab Strap are out of the question right away. Do you really want to hear Ben Gibbard sing, “I am finally seeing why I was the one worth leaving”? I didn’t think so. For me, I get to listen to the first four albums by Los Campesinos!, but not their most recent one, Hello Sadness. I get to listen to LCD Soundsystem, but only their self-titled. I can listen to The Unicorns, Kendrick Lamar, and any Vampire Weekend record. I haven’t attempted Fade by Yo La Tengo, but I feel like songs like “Is That Enough?” and “I’ll Be Around” might be too much. In short: play to your strengths. If you want to get past the feeling of misery, Aidan Moffatt and Blood on the Tracks-era Bob Dylan are not for you. There’s no shame in this. You can always listen to it all later, when you’re more stable.
  3. Your ex is not the devil.
    Though you may feel like screaming at them, your ex is not an evil person. Unless you happened to cheat on them, chances are the relationship ended for reasons that are mostly out of your control. Sure, you may have been distant, or clingy, or loved your mother too much, or been too flirty with waitresses, but chances are your spouse felt like they had drifted away from what they want, and if you’re honest with yourself, you probably did, too. Don’t distance yourself from them, however, no matter how much you think you hate them. They may have ended it, but your ex just got out of a relationship, too. They are someone who knows you well, and will understand you when you express your sadness, because you’re now in the same boat – or at least two boats tied to each other. Your lives aren’t over because your romance is: go to the movies, have dinner, hang out with friends – do things together. Everyone should try and stay friends with their ex.
  4. Distract yourself.
    Everyone needs a hobby, and idle hands will generally lead to a fair amount of inner turmoil and depression. This is exactly what you want to avoid. This is the very best time to keep active, and try and find new hobbies if you can. Been meaning to play the new Tomb Raider game? Get on it! What about that book that J.K. Rowling wrote last year? Perfect time! What about knitting or crocheting? This is the best time to do some of the things that you keep wanting to do, but didn’t want to neglect your partner to do. These distractions are not meant to help you run from things, but rather to keep you out of your own head, running over what might have helped things go differently – if you’re like me, this is exactly what’s going to happen to you.
  5. Learn who your real friends are.
    Not all friends are created equally, and this is when you’re going to realize it the most. Some of your friends are going to come to you and demand that you tell them about how you’re feeling, and express an interest in helping you in a real, substantial way. Some are going to lend you an ear, though they may not give you advice. Some will actively try and ignore the fact that anything has changed, and simply not bring it up. This is the second worst kind of friend to have in a time like this. The worst kind? The one that is going to judge you for the ways you might have chosen to make yourself feel better. Which brings us to the next point…
  6. Don’t be afraid to abandon your pride just a little bit.
    Everyone has needs. You know it, and I know it. A personals ad for a casual encounter is nothing to ever be ashamed about. If you’re feeling tremendously alone, you might end up seeking out an encounter of this nature, and you may feel dirty about it. Don’t feel dirty about it. Sex is completely natural, and two consenting adults having fun is never a bad thing. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Just be safe.
  7. Reach out.
    The internet connects us to everything we could possibly need. There is a certain stigma against posting about your feelings on social media, but there shouldn’t be. It’s all about how you do it. If you’re feeling blue, post something about the fact that you could use some time with friends. If nobody is free, just refer to #5: find a friend who is willing to listen, and unwind yourself a little bit. It may feel like you’re using them, but if they’re worth their salt in any way, they will never feel like this, and they will never pity you. You should never feel bad about feeling bad, but you should always try and let someone know about it, because isolation never truly helps anyone.
  8. Have fun!
    Like it or not, singledom has a lot to offer everyone. Now that you’re out of a relationship (be it temporarily or permanently), you’re free to explore yourself and figure out who you want to be. On a much smaller scale than the act of moving schools/cities, being single means you can redefine yourself in ways that make you more comfortable. Small changes help things along a long way, and you should try and take advantage of that small bit of freedom.

This advice is subject to change, and will likely be expanded as my relationship hiatus continues. But for now, enjoy these pointers about your relationship – or lack thereof!

One: Putting the Dog to Sleep

It was about 11 in the morning on a Friday when my wife woke me. “We need to talk,” she said. I am a late riser, and as such, I was too exhausted to really process the sentence for what it is, which is generally a harbinger of bad things. Rarely does anyone say, “We need to talk… someone on the corner was handing out free ice cream, and here’s a pint just for you!” This never happens. “We need to talk” is never a good sentence, to the degree that I don’t know anyone who didn’t feel a small twinge in their gut when they read it right up there. “I don’t think we’re really working out. I’m not happy. I haven’t been happy for a long time. I think we need to take the time we’re apart this week to think about what we want.” I stared blearily and blinked. “I really don’t think there’s a problem here,” I said, like a liar. “I think we’re fine.” Things weren’t really fine.

We spent a couple hours together that day, but didn’t see each other, in the flesh, until that following Wednesday. She chose the opportunity involved in leaving town to see her family as the best possible moment to amputate a limb, but rather than suturing the wound, it was as if she had said, “Right, stay put, I’ll see you in a few days, just… just try not to pass out, yeah?” It’s a malicious thing to do to say, “Our marriage is in shambles, we should talk about this in a week.” Who does that? As a result, I spent a grand amount of time over those few days drinking myself blind. I am not someone who deals with conflict very well, and the bigger the conflict, the harder it is to silence the noise inside my head. Two months ago, a co-worker misunderstood something I said, and threatened to beat the shit out me. I stayed awake drinking until 7am. Just how was I supposed to properly handle this? Even worse, I don’t necessarily surround myself with people who understand these issues, so for the most part (save for one friend), I received a lot of stock advice and comfort from people. “Don’t worry about it, she’s going to come home and everything will be okay.” That’s an easy thing to tell someone, but when you’re the one staring down the barrell of this kind of thing? It really doesn’t work out so well.

When she came home, things were bitter and distant. This is to be expected. We had company over, and we fought tooth and nail to remain civil with each other, despite regular slip ups. I resumed my tack of drinking until I could sleep. The next morning, I was awoken at 9:30am, to the same fight. Only this time, it was civil. We talked about the fact that things weren’t working out, and what had been done to make things stop working. We talked about what we want, and decided that, after four-and-a-half years together, it was likely best to take some time off from things. I immediately felt a sense of euphoria, because the weight of expectation had suddenly been lifted from my shoulders, and I felt like I was free again.

We decided to change very little about the arrangement. There would be no moving out and no legal divorce. We would continue to be friends and partners, but we would remove the romantic aspects of things entirely (This is always easier said than done). We would try and distance ourselves from each other as a means of figuring ourselves out, and what we wanted. And yes, if we saw fit, we could start seeing other people. Later on down the road (six months became the decided amount of time), we would decide if the marriage we had cultivated was worth repairing and starting anew, or if it was better to simply shake hands and call the relationship dead. It’s a hard thing to wrap your mind around when you’re in the middle of it, but sometimes, it’s hard to see any other way back to the surface after being under the weight of trying to course correct a failing relationship for so, so long.

When a split is mostly amicable, and you feel yourself being overtaken by joy that you can finally start to fix the things that you’ve been running from for so long, you find yourself telling people in a way that can be perceived as confusing. I would tell people, “I got separated today!” and they would immediately begin to offer condolences and well-wishes. Over a 12-hour timespan, I became addicted to telling people about it, because the reactions were so varied. Things ranged from stunned confusion, to higher-than-thou attempts at sage advice, to thinly veiled pity. “Oh, cut the shit,” I would tell people, recalling a tremendously informative bit that comedian Louis C.K. did on the nature of divorce. “Stop trying to make me feel bad for being happy. No good marriage has ever ended in divorce.” Though it was not a divorce, the situation still stood: happy couples don’t just end, and the end of a failing relationship is always a good thing.

Two days later, I realized that the best way to end this addiction, before it got out of hand, was to write a drunken open letter at 5am. It started as something long-winded, but nevertheless well-meaning, as a means of letting everyone in on my little world. It read like so:

“Right then.
It is late, I am slightly drunk, but I have decided to make this post to explain the current situation between miss Kelly Dixon and I. I’ve gotten a lot of questions, and though I am REALLY addicted to telling people one-by-one, I would like to get this out of the way in a quick fashion, in a way that means that I don’t have to answer the same questions as many times as I would if I were continuing the current flight-plan.
Though we have had a very good run, the long-running relationship between she and I, in its current form, is no more. We are separated. Divorced, if the word pleases you, though the use of “divorced” is wildly inaccurate. Though we may get back together a little later down the road, we have decided that, for an indefinite period of time, we are not going to be an item, as it were.

What sparked this sea change? More or less, because misery makes everyone miserable. We have both been unhappy with the current situation for quite a long time, and things needed to change to salvage the relationship with each other that we have. She is my best friend, and always will be. If things had progressed longer, I do not think that sentiment would be accurate in any way. Neither of us wanted to find ourselves at the tail end of 10 years married hoping that the other would get cancer so that we didn’t have to break up with the other. That’s just not healthy. For four-and-a-half years, she has been my lover, my best friend, my consigliere, my sounding board, my partner in crime, and my wife. I still need all of those things in my life, and though I cannot truly speak for her, I am under the impression that she still sees that in me, and needs me to perform all of those services, save for the first and last of them. I will never grow tired of having her by my side, but having her by my side as my wife was not working out for us.

What does all of this mean? It does NOT mean that we are moving out. It does NOT mean that we are getting an actual legal divorce. It does NOT mean that anyone needs to pick sides or anything of that nature. We are in the beginning of a lease at an apartment, making it very unfeasible for us to go our separate ways. When that lease is up, we will likely find another apartment together, though we will then have separate rooms. This is because we have lived together for nearly five years, and finding a roommate that stable is about as common as that Boards of Canada record that came out last month. The notion of completely parting ways is an incredibly foreign and almost unforeseeable concept, because when it comes down to it, it is very nice to have someone around who is able to pay for half of things. If, in a few years time, we find other partners and decide to completely part ways, we will assess the situation and figure out how to go about things, but as one might imagine, this is something that doesn’t just up and happen after spending nearly five years devoted to just one person. It does not hurt that we have a child together, and that we are BOUND by LAW to each other, and the American legal system makes those bonds very costly to sever. Neither of us is tremendously interested in getting into another relationship anytime soon, though it is highly likely that we will be looking for sexual satisfaction with other people, and while that is going to likely be a difficult thing for the partner that is NOT getting their jollies, it would be selfish for her to stifle my sexuality, and for me to stifle hers. So, in short: YES, we are likely going to be seeing other people, though all long-standing mutual friends are completely off-limits, unless extreme circumstances arise.

Kelly is, was, and always will be my very best friend, and I would take a bullet in the knee for her. Though our misery was painful, I could not imagine being miserable with anyone else, ever. The hiatus has made both of us extremely happy, so kindly save your condolences, because neither of us really need you making us feel bad for being so pleased. As said, I do not speak for her, but I feel a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and I am overjoyed to take this next step with her by my side, though that position has changed. We are still a frequent package deal, who will still do things with everyone we know together. But now, we do so as inseparable best friends, rather than young lovers. This is all very, very uncharted territory, and though there may be no road map for the places we are headed, we really don’t NEED roads. We very much plan on making this situation our own, because nobody has the right to tell us where we SHOULD go with it. After all, the best thing about forging your own path is deciding where that path should go.

And so, if you read this and understand it, don’t offer your condolences. Offer congratulations. Raise a glass to us. Invite us to parties, and invite yourselves over to have drinks with us on days that we are off together. You can still ask her how I’m doing, and vice versa, because there is no time on the horizon in which one will not know what the other is doing, because we are still partners, though that partnership may be a tangle that you might not understand. And though I have hopefully answered a lot of questions here, you are more than welcome to message either one of us and ask further questions, which we will try our best to answer.

This is not the end of anything. It is a relabelling, and the start of our next great adventure.”

And so, I sat back and watched. At first, I was sure I would get more than a few “tl, dr” responses (though I did get one). What I wasn’t expecting was the fact that the people I knew would read what I wrote, and not only gain a bit of information on what was going on in my life, but really connect with what I had to say. “It really sets a new bar for our generation,” wrote one friend in a message to me on the subject. “I kind of wish this would go viral – it’s beautiful. More eloquently put than I could have ever imagined,” said another.” It served as a reminder that the people I surround myself with are great people who understand that every situation is completely unique, and that there is a sense of pride to be taken in the act of admitting a small amount of defeat, on the grounds that you’re just going to have to regroup and reconfigure. There is no shame to be had in that admission.

I’m sharing this with you, dear reader, because I’m under no delusion that my situation is common. I’m aware that this relationship is strange and unheard of. But I’m also aware that this thing may or may not be happening with other people, and that those people have no idea how to cope with it. I would like to think that, in the act of releasing my experiences into the ether, one person trapped in a loveless marriage might come across my ramblings, and realize that not every marriage is meant to coast along until death, and that you are more than welcome to redefine what your relationship with your spouse means. What I said in that open letter was true: there are no road maps for this territory, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot be the person who is self-absorbed enough to use my life to create those maps. And so, I’m going to try my best to document all of the things that go into taking an extended break from a marriage, whether the experiences are good or bad. If you read this and understand what I’m saying, do not hesitate to pass it on. You may help someone without even knowing it.