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Living with my ex – as friends – taught me that I’m better at relationships than I thought

I live with two children and my ex-husband, Michael. I don’t like to call him my ex-husband, because that implies our relationship is over, which is far from over. He has been one of my best friends for almost 20 years. He is the father of our children. And for the last two years, he’s been my roommate. In our present life, I have found something that has eluded me for most of my childhood and adult life.

My childhood was devastated by my parents’ bad divorce. Their involvement during that time made me feel so far away. When I was 12 years old, my mother moved to another country to pursue a medical career, and left my sister and me with our father. We live in a nice apartment across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan, but we’re not a family. My father didn’t care about my sister’s grief or mine, so we had no choice but to negotiate. The day my mother passed away, something big happened to me. Her abandonment, and the abandonment of my father, made me not only an orphan but also certain that I was unlovable and unworthy in many ways. I turned to boys to get the attention I desperately wanted and then, I switched to men. I’m sure that if a man loves me, I’ll finally be worthy of something. Every movie has told me this. Every song. Every comedy. The answer lies in love. About that, I’m sure.

After years of mistakes, loss and heartbreak, I found love with Michael. We got married at the age of 30, both believing – as all soon-to-be-married people believe – that we had found our lifelong partners, that we would always be happy together. We got married on a cliff at a beautiful hotel in Oregon’s Columbia Canyon. Below, windsurfing boats dot the Columbia River. We dance until two in the morning. We didn’t make love that night, because we were tired, naturally. However, we didn’t make love the next night, or the night after. Of course we eventually did, but not often. And before long, sex turned into trying to have a baby.


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By the time our first child was two years old, we understood that he was autistic. Michael and I had no idea this would send us both into grief strong enough to pull us apart. He fell into depression. I was lenient in love affairs, not inferior to my ex. By the time we emerged, we had gone too far. Our friendship existed. Our love and respect for each other remains intact. But our love story is over. We slept in separate rooms for many years at the time, and we hadn’t had sex in years. All of our expectations – for us, for the kids we’ll have – have set us up for failure. So we agreed to separate, and I moved into another house. We had other relationships. We raised our two children, in constant contact. We also get along with each other, laughing easily with each other and supporting each other through whatever difficulties or sufferings come our way.

I met someone new, remarried, and created a mixed family that failed spectacularly, ending in divorce. Michael tried to live with another woman, but it lasted all three weeks. He needed a place to live as soon as my second ex moved out, so we decided to try living together again. The truth is, it doesn’t take much to decide, and we suspect that will take a lot of effort. I’ve told close friends more than once that I wish I could live with Michael again. I miss him. I miss his friendship, his humor, his kindness.

“You want him back?” they asked.

“It’s not like that. I just want to live with him.”

“Is it a boyfriend?”

“No,” I said. “Like friends.”

They frowned in confusion. Our relationship is hard to explain.

My life with Michael is even harder to describe to potential lovers. Few of them believed me when I told them that he and I weren’t having sex.

“Even when you’re drunk?”

“Is not.”

“Even if you get sad?”

“Is not.”

“Certainly it happens sometimes by mistake.”

“Is not.”

I know. Our relationship is strange. We go out together. We make each other laugh. We care about each other, but we don’t have to be careful. We are not sexually attracted to each other, which simplifies our expectations. Michael has a girlfriend, and I have a boyfriend. Usually, we all become friends. The time we were stuck together in lockdown during the pandemic underscored that Michael can feel like a brother – someone I love, someone I’ll protect, someone I’ll show up without. questionable, but also the one who constantly annoys me. Indeed, he is my family. I picture us relaxing into old age together, drinking a bottle of wine in our rocking chairs. Surely by then we’ll be living with other people, which we planned when the kids moved out. For now, it’s safe to know that none of us are going anywhere.

My divorced friends tell me they can’t imagine having a long and civil conversation with their ex-husbands, any less fun with them. Their relationship with their exes is strained, often existing only for the kids. Even a friend who claims to be happily married once told me that Michael and I are more compatible than her and her husband. These days, the “happily married” couple seems like a myth. While I imagine some couples do that well, many of us suck when it comes to relationships, especially after growing up without consistent experiences of real intimacy. events, and especially when intimacy carries too much weight on its own, as it has for most of my life. .

Marriage, monogamy, even open relationships – they seem so difficult to maintain. Divorce, though… obviously, I’m pretty good at divorce. Divorce is often seen as a type of failure. It’s an unhelpful view, especially when so many are divorced. Perhaps we can think of them as a change in the relationship rather than a certain ending. Maybe it’s not such a dirty word.

My relationship with Michael is my only successful long-term romantic relationship to date. Maybe I’m not as terrible in relationships as I once thought. Maybe I just need to stop limiting my relationships to culturally acceptable roles. As is often the case in life, the truth, the authentic, that lies beneath the expectations of the culture, is undefined, unlabelled, and as a result very hard to find.

It’s hard to define, I tend to think of our relationship as Michael and I have. We are finally on the right track, where we love each other most easily, most sincerely. I refuse to think of our relationship as a failure simply because it includes divorce. There are many ways to define family, and Michael and I found ours. It may not be exactly what I imagined as a young girl. It may not be like what I’ve seen in the movies or heard in the songs. But there are few things in life that deliver on the expectations the narratives have promised. I simply had to look honestly at the way that love came.

https://www.salon.com/2021/09/18/living-with-my-ex-husband-as-friends–taught-me-i-am-better-at-relationships-than-i-thought/ Living with my ex – as friends – taught me that I’m better at relationships than I thought

Bobby Allyn

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