When my ex-husband’s girlfriend came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, her brown hair dripping, she ran into me, the ex-wife, who was running out of the room they usually share, with my ex-husband’s dirty clothes in her hands. arms.
“Hi, I was just picking up your…” I said before running back downstairs where I was doing laundry.
I can think of few moments that better capture that time of our lives:
me with my ex’s dirty laundry in my arms, trying to disappear like some volatile celebrity’s maid.
For two people who need a negation prefix to refer to each other, my ex and I have had a pretty loose border between my house and his.
He and I live on separate floors of a two-family house in Brooklyn.
Our 8-year-old can run upstairs begging his dad to let him play Minecraft and run downstairs to eat the Cheerios he likes with me.
I sneak into my ex’s apartment when I need chia seeds for a recipe and he knocks on my door when I need help resetting a clock that’s too loud for me.
we carry like this more than two years.
Technically, we’re still married, even though we’ve already filed for divorce.
It seems some of the neighbors still think we’re together.
The friendly pharmacist always asks how we are doing and sends his regards.
But we are not a couple:
we no longer share a bed, we no longer kiss, we no longer take turns making the salad, we no longer give each other back rubs, we no longer dream of trips to Italy, we no longer hug in public, we no longer fight because blinds are crooked, we no longer outsource our intimacy to Netflix, we no longer pay a couples counselor, we no longer expect to fix our relationship.
However, for a time we were still entangled in each other’s lives, so the woman with whom he is building intimacy and trust caught me in the act of doing wifely chores.
After that, we decided that the division between our spaces needed clearer limits.
Some things had to change, including the task of doing the laundry.
It can be hard to imagine feelings or agreements that you don’t have a language for.
For example, learn the word “schadenfreude” to name that dark feeling that we have inside was, for me, like the pleasure of trying a totally new cuisine.
When I learned that word, not only did I get rid of the shame of that feeling, but I was also able to laugh at myself for it.
We don’t have the right vocabulary for our relationships with our ex-spouses.
The term “ex” carries a load.
The symbol of the “X” is a cross out, as if when you got married and divorced you had made a mistake that needs to be crossed out with a big red pen.
Or maybe the X is a close up (the meeting point of two diagonal lines) and then apart.
However, like many exes, we share a son:
We will never part completely.
Unlike many exes, we share a checking account and a home.
My ex is the source of the Y chromosome that spawned our son, with whom he makes music videos (him on piano, the boy on drums) and takes him camping for days.
My ex lives upstairs, encourages me to date, texts me updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discusses the boundaries between our departments for a chance at building a loving relationship with his girlfriend (which I like) and he texts me from the grocery store to see if I need anything.
Our marriage didn’t work, but we have made the most of our separation.
When I was a child in the eighties, divorce meant war.
If the children were not the weapons, they were the victims.
There were custody battles, friends choosing sides, lawyers as strategists, and generals.
Something like in “Kramer vs Kramer”.
Waking up in a Holiday Inn to your mother’s declaration that she was going to divorce your evil father; a father denied visitation rights after the mother convinced the judge he was unfit.
Kids of my generation (Gen X, coincidentally) grew up with tales of the ex’s morning stench, his ineptitude in the kitchen, his refusal to pay alimony.
Currently, we have our mediators.
We can keep our friends.
We do not abuse our children with hate.
It is a kinder and gentler time, but we still don’t have the words.
I think we all agree that “conscious decoupling” is not exactly what is being said.
This is an example: the word “friendly”.
It means there is no rancor or disagreement.
You meet people who say their divorces are amicable.
It’s like using “tolerance” when talking about diversity:
the word implies a valiant effort to replace exasperation with patience in order to put up with the other.
“Our divorce is amicable”, you hear yourself say and feel sorry for others.
Even in your efforts to describe your friendly relationship with your ex, which is not without discomfort, you must admit that the language of hostility is built into your language.
My ex’s girlfriend moved upstairs.
Therefore, I have stopped doing her laundry and no longer find fine strands of her silver hair curled up in my stockings.
I also don’t run upstairs to get my work from the printer at home, grab almond butter from my ex’s pantry when I run out, or check to make sure our son has enough socks up there.
Now that my ex has a partner, a person who must come to terms with the idea of this novel form of co-parenting, I no longer cross the threshold of his apartment uninvited.
There are many more text messages.
Yes, he talked to me.
With a lot of grimacing and unnecessary apologies, my ex explained to me that I can no longer walk into his apartment just like that.
I can be a little clumsy, but not so clumsy that I don’t understand that protecting a partner’s privacy is essential to nurturing a relationship.
I know and I’m sorry that having the ex-wife living downstairs costs you.
Of course, there are romantic costs for both parties.
This is what a date looks like when your ex-husband shares a bi-family home with you:
a man approaches, leans in for the first kiss, and hears your son’s footsteps in the upstairs apartment.
You try to ignore it, but you can’t help but think:
“The father of your child is right above us.”
That night you look good and, although you have little control, your charm has made an appearance.
Still, nothing kills the moment like the footsteps of an exn the floor above.
“Can you hear us?” asks your companion, panting.
“Not at all,” you reply, kissing her neck.
“I can hear them,” he whispers.
“Yes, but not the words, right? Just the sounds.”
“Very well,” he says.
The next time you meet, he tells you to just be friends.
The costs also sometimes include a magnification of your loneliness.
It’s night, you’re cooking and listening to various podcasts, both for company and for stimulation.
Otherwise, there is a unusual silence in your department:
Your ex took your kid upstate for a few days and there’s no one begging you to play Minecraft.
His girlfriend stayed and you can hear her voice upstairs, but not her words.
Chances are she and your ex are talking.
They remind you that intimacy continues without you.
Also love. You are the one left over.
But you also get what you pay for.
Because you love your son, because being the primary parent makes sense to your family, because your ex is still as hilarious as ever, because his girlfriend is kind and funny and playful with your son, and because you choose love over hate and what works about needless suffering, you use your imagination, you deviate from the script, you decide to better prepare for future dates in the face of the unusual situation, you accept that you would have to deal with loneliness anyway, you respect the new boundaries, and you invent guidelines about the march, even if you don’t have the words or the script.
My son asks, “Should I sleep here tonight?”
Yeah, he sleeps downstairs with me, but he forgot his book.
The boy is the only one who has a free pass in the place.
Run to your ex’s apartment, where the couple is having dinner at the kitchen table.
Their little voice is heard and their mature voices respond.
The camera pulls back.
The building is like the stage of a play where you can see through the fourth wall.
Two people are dining at the upstairs kitchen table; one is downstairs, stage left, doing the dishes.
A boy is seen walking down the stairs, a book in his hand.
Jordana Jacobs is a writer in Brooklyn who is working on her first novel.
c.2022 The New York Times Company
We would like to thank the author of this post for this remarkable content
Modern Love: Our Nice and Gentle Divorce, the One Where No One Had to Move