Viv and I did the hardest work of our adult lives to carefully uncouple our marriage while preserving our family and our hopes for happier times, and I had reason to expect joy. My two greatest fears about divorce - fears that kept me from facing the possibility well before we took steps to end that marriage - were crippling debt and losing close connection with my children. Neither of these outcomes was inevitable, and today I am able to maintain my household and be an engaged and full parent with my children. Under our joint parenting arrangement they move weekly between two homes just a few blocks apart, and know they have two loving parents, and always will.
I had another fear, or more accurately, a resignation, that having lost romantic love I would no longer feel or find it with another. Our relationship endured for nearly twenty years as a couple, and fifteen of them as husband and wife. I looked forward to finding out what I wanted in my personal life outside my chosen roles as father and provider, but did not expect to find intimacy and joy with a strong, intelligent and caring partner anytime soon, if at all.
This was a case of my head trying to rule my heart, and even as strong minded as I can be (not to mention headstrong), there was never a question of which was the stronger force. I am still an impulsive, hopeful romantic. The heart, even a broken one, trumps the mind with me every time. It's just that the heart does not always see with clear eyes, though it when it does there is piercing clarity.
While we were still living in the same house, waiting for the necessary parts of our lives to fall into place that would allow us to accomplish under law what had already happened in fact, my former partner and I discussed how this arrangement made it difficult for either of us to move forward in our emotional lives. I was encouraged to date if I wished, but keep any relationships outside the home and the awareness of our children until we had managed to move into separate households and finalize the divorce. I considered this a highly unlikely scenario, imagining that a conversation in some local bar in which I revealed both my attraction and the fact that I was still married and living with my estranged wife would be a non-starter for anything approaching a meaningful relationship. I was lonely, and longed for a loving partnership, but I did not know if this might still be possible for me, or where, or when.
And then the stars aligned, and by a wondrous series of coincidences, love found a way. Our story is a great one, the stuff of romantic comedy and of good things happening to good people, and the arc of the story is still unfolding. We met over a year ago when my life was still in Limbo and hers was likewise one of translocation and new direction.
You might say we met through the Internet, for she had found my blog by happenstance and had been a quiet admirer of my writing for years. You might say we met through mutual friends, for this is certainly true, although we were not, strictly speaking, set up with each other. We did not meet at College, though we have many friends there in common, as my time at Haverford did not quite overlap with hers that followed at Bryn Mawr.
We met when I drove to Philadelphia at the end of May, 2010 to attend my 20th reunion. She was staying in Philly with the family of my dear college friend, Janet, and I knew of her only as their "house guest" Talya, who had been BMC Class of '94 and was staying with them while she finished writing her PhD for an Autumn defence. Talya says that she came back the US after seven years studying at Newcastle University in northern England with the stated goals to find "a job, an apartment, a boyfriend and a cat", although not necessarily in that order. As things worked out, the cat was last, the boyfriend first.
I had actually been asked by Jan a month or so prior whether another of our classmates might be suitable for Talya, but this was before I had made my plans for divorce public, and there was no mention of such matchmaking thereafter.
I drove to Haverford that weekend hoping that among people from a place where I once thrived I might meet someone who was in a similar place in their lives and where there might be a spark. I knew I would meet Talya at Janet's house and had been told she was a fan of Walking the Berkshires and was excited to meet me, which my friend considered "adorable".
Even I, with my wounded heart, recognized the potential in that description, but I knew nothing more about Talya except that as a BMC alumna she might like to go to the step sing at Bryn Mawr that evening. So I extended that invitation via an email to Janet and drove to my reunion open to possibilities.
I can still remember how it felt when I walked into that home in the Northern Liberties, hugged Janet and her family, and turned to be introduced to Talya. It was one of those transformational moments when everything comes into clear focus and nothing afterward is going to be the same. I saw her, had a crystalline sense of immediate recognition, felt my heart leap as it had not done since my children were born, and told myself; "Don't blow this."
From that spark came joy, and close companionship that has survived the long process of my getting divorced and beyond. It has endured over long distances, relocation for her first to an unfamiliar and uncomfortable city, and now our living together in Northwest Connecticut as the next phases of our individual and shared lives take form.
I was open from the start with my former partner about this new love, and today my children love their mother and Talya for who they are in themselves, not one or the other as substitutes for the innocence they lost. Viv and Talya and I are planning a South African-style braai in the coming weeks to make introductions, rather than having them meet up unexpectedly in the supermarket in our small town. There is understandable awkwardness, but there are hopeful signs. You know you all are all doing something right when your ex-wife is happy to look after your girlfriend's cat when the two of you are away on vacation.
It is not simple, but then life seldom is, and ours is a partnership of intellectually curious and sensitive hearts and minds that is strong and sustaining. My eyes are open, and so is my heart. I can risk love and commitment. And now you know the reason why.