Feb 11 2013

“You love until you don’t / You try until you can’t”

A few weeks ago I filled in at two Ultimate games for a friend of mine who couldn’t make it.  Several other people picked up like me, subbing for a handful of absent team members.

One of the other pick-ups, Erik*, went through a divorce around roughly the same time that I did.  I’ve known him for a long time through the Frisbee circle, but we’ve never been close enough for me to know any of the particulars about his relationship first-hand.  Any details that I knew about the end of his marriage were gleaned, admittedly, through Facebook and rumor.

I didn’t remember until halftime that one of the guys playing with us was now dating Erik’s ex-wife.  And that they purportedly started seeing each other in the midst of the divorce.  I also knew Jeremy* before any of this drama unfolded, and, similarly, considered him a friendly acquaintance.

The Ultimate community is a small one, and people talk.  There’s been speculation that Jeremy started seeing Erik’s wife while they were still married, and that their relationship may have contributed to the divorce.  There’s been plenty of discussion regarding the other finer points of the marriage, divorce, and subsequent relationship.  I wish that I were above having talked about it myself.  I’m not.  It isn’t a major topic of conversation for me, but I’ve wondered and chatted and – yes, gasped – here and there.

But now that I’ve put all of that out there, I want to say acknowledge a few other things I’ve learned – or confirmed – over the last couple years:


No one ever really knows what goes on inside someone else’s relationship.

When I was separating from my ex-husband, I sought advice from a trusted friend.  She told me that she loves me and was going to support me regardless, and she gave me her honest opinion as I’d requested.  But she also prefaced it by saying, “No one ever really knows what goes on inside someone else’s relationship.”

And I couldn’t agree more with that statement.  Sometimes even the people in the relationship don’t know.  I certainly didn’t have a handle on my marriage for a long time.  It took me years of questioning and searching and crying and struggling to figure it out.  Sometimes things break, and we don’t know how to fix them.  Sometimes we don’t want to fix them.  And sometimes we just get a lemon:  A clunker that should work, and appears to function for a time, but in the end just…falls apart.  And we can’t always understand it or explain it.  I know that I couldn’t.  It’s still sometimes hard to make sense of what was wrong in my marriage, to be honest.

So while we all might be prone to getting wrapped up in assumption and gossip and voyeuristic guess-work, the reality is that what happens between two people is far too complex – and far too untidy, at times – for other people to figure it out.  We’d like for there to be foolproof advice, firm boundaries, and definitive rules for how to give and receive love.  And sure, there are helpful techniques and strategies.

But there are no absolutes.  Ever.


Divorce sucks.  For everyone.

I sympathize with Erik, knowing at least that he was desperately sad to see his marriage end.  But I’m unwilling to vilify his ex.  I don’t know her.  I’ve certainly never heard her perspective.  I’m willing to bet that she had a difficult road, too.  And I’d like to believe that she came to the decision to divorce with reason, over time, and with a significant amount of sadness.

I’m sure that there are people who assume my divorce was easier for me than for my ex-husband.  There are probably people who wonder about my reasons, speculate about my commitment, and criticize my decision-making process.  If there are sides to choose, I understand that people might not choose mine.  And even if that sometimes hurts, it’s to be expected.  It’s reasonable.  I was the one who initiated the separation; the one who eventually filed; the one who expressed discontent.

But I was also the one who found the counselor, filled journal after journal with fear and worry, cried in the shower every morning, and lost an unhealthy amount of weight.  I was also the one who deeply, desperately wanted BOTH of us to be happy and fulfilled in life, for the rest of our lives.  And I wanted to fight for that.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who “chooses” the divorce.  It’s agonizing.  It’s painful.  It’s challenging and confusing and life-altering.  It does crazy things to people.  I look back on that time with a certain amount of regret, because it was so so hard, and I’m not proud of how I handled it all the time.  But that was part of my story; my road to where I am now.  I did the best I could at the time.

So when I think about the circumstances between Erik and Jeremy, I remember that I believe in love, and I believe in people choosing to be happy.  Sure, I also believe in respect, and compassion, and fairness.  And my heart aches when someone is hurt, or when love dies.  But if I assume the worst about any of the people involved, I over-simplify their lives and their feelings in unfair ways.


Change is revelatory.

In the darker corners of love and loss, I learned worlds about myself.  I grew and changed through my marriage, separation, and divorce.  It’s even possible that that growth actually contributed to the eventual end of the relationship.  But I know that I love myself more now than I did then.  I know more about what I need to be happy, both inside myself, in my community, and in a partner.

That experience, and the observation of my friends’ break-ups, divorces, and heartbreaks, has shown me how transition and struggle inevitably forces a personal expansion and revolution.  It isn’t always pretty, but it’s powerful.  We learn what’s really important – to us and in the world – and what it takes to survive and thrive.  We become more layered, more beautiful, more resilient.  We become fully-realized individuals.  Through pain comes discovery.


The games that day were fun, and I don’t think that anyone who didn’t know this back-story would have suspected anything salacious   Certainly neither of the guys brought it up, and they seemed civil and comfortable.  (Had I been watching more closely, I supposed I might have noticed something.  I wasn’t.)  From what I understand, there was some fallout after the forced togetherness, but it happened off the field.

At the end of the day, relationships are complicated.  Love is messy and terrifying and glorious and surprising.  Sometimes it devastates and sometimes it inspires.  It can lift you up and tear you apart.  Sometimes it lasts forever, sometimes it sparks and burns out, and sometimes it slowly whittles away.  No matter how hard we try, we hurt each other and we get hurt ourselves.  As Regina Spektor says, “You love until you don’t / You try until you can’t.”

Love isn’t always predictable, but it’s never productive to judge it.  Love simply is.

Or it isn’t.