When is Divorce Really Final?

Last week I took my 18-year-old son to the airport with his 5 pieces of luggage and sent him off to college.  I drove the two hours to the airport with Sam and his father, who I’ve been divorced from since 2007.  The event had the expected rollercoaster of emotions attached to it: the bittersweet loss of a child successfully heading out into the world.  Sam is my second and last child to leave home and I’m in a sort of loss-fog.

I drive the two hours back to our hometown with my former husband and we catch up on our respective families.  I drop him in front of his house and he turns to me and says simply “Well, stay in touch.”  It suddenly dawns on me that an era is over.  I’ve officially graduated from co-parenting with this man.  Our legal obligation to care for our children is completed.  We will continue to run into each other when the kids are in town.  Sharing in college expenses will mean that we’ll need to confer occasionally.  We’ll call each other to see which house a lost piece of gear ended up, but the part where we raise them together into adults is completed. 

The emotional magnitude of this moment hits me immediately.  I feel a swelling sense of relief + sadness that I can’t quite articulate or understand at the time.  Days later, I’m beginning to put words to it, beginning to understand why it felt so significant. 

I met this man in 1987 (when Ronald Reagan was president!).  We’ve shared a first marriage, the birth of two children, cross-country moves, family deaths, career changes, the slow sad decline of the marriage, a divorce, anger, possibly hatred and eventually successful co-parenting.  For the past 27 years, we’ve collaborated on decisions both small and large.  He’s the only other person on the planet who can talk endlessly about our kids with enthusiasm, who really cares what their grades are, what they did last weekend or what they made for dinner last night.

I don’t want to glamorize this relationship.  At times, he’s made me want to scream.  In fact, at times I’ve screamed.  I’ve said things that were mean, I’ve spoken badly about him behind his back, and I’ve blamed him for all sorts of things.  I’m not proud of all of my behaviors along the way.  It hasn’t always been easy or enjoyable, but he’s been a partner to me that whole time, in that I have had to learn to work with him to get through.  I’ve grown up with this man.  We have been tied together in some crazy cosmic bond of trial and error that is equal parts love and pain.  I celebrate the day our marriage ended, but I can’t imagine my life without him.

And then there we are on the curb in front of his house with no children left to raise together and nothing left to work on.  At least nothing in plain sight.  We are finally completely divorced and suddenly I feel a great love for him.  I say “It’s been great raising the kids with you,” which feels like a ridiculous understatement.  He lifts his hand and we high-five and I get back in my car and drive away.