Monday, July 11, 2011

Divorce... So Different Than it Used to Be

The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial about divorce that brought to mind, of all things, an Air Supply song.
Growing up, my brother and I were often left to our own devices, members of the giant flock of migrant latchkey kids in the 1970s and '80s. Our suburb was littered with sad-eyed, bruised nomads, who wandered back and forth between used-record shops to the sheds behind the train station where they got high and then trudged off, back and forth from their mothers' houses during the week to their fathers' apartments every other weekend....

"Whatever happens, we're never going to get divorced." Over the course of 16 years, I said that often to my husband, especially after our children were born.
Or, as Air Supply put it,
They lived in a world that was cold and uncaring,
They swore they would change it with loving and sharing.
They'll never live like their parents have done,
Their innocence shone like the sun....
After nine years, my husband and I had become wretched, passive-aggressive roommates. I had given up trying to do anything in the kitchen and had not washed a dish in a year. My husband had not been able to "find time" to read the book I had written. We rarely spoke, except about logistics. We hadn't slept in the same room for at least two years, a side effect of the nighttime musical bed routine that parents of so many young children play in semiconsciousness for years on end....

But then, one evening, I found myself where I vowed I'd never be: miserable, in tears, telling my husband that we were like siblings who couldn't stand each other rather than a couple, and listening as my husband said he felt as though we had never really been a couple and regretted that we hadn't split up a decade earlier.
Air Supply:
Who are these strangers who used to be lovers,
Now they've got nothing to say to each other.
Too far apart to discuss their mistakes,
They file for divorce and it breaks their American hearts....
That was four years ago. Even now, I still wonder every day if there was something that I—we—could have done differently. Like many of my cohort, the circumstances of my upbringing led me to believe that I had made exactly the right choices by doing everything differently from my parents.
Air Supply:
Now that it's over they'll each go on living,
Never forgetting but somehow forgiving.
We may not make it in marriage, but we still want to make it as parents. In the '70s, only nine states permitted joint custody. Today, every state has adopted it.... Joint custody also reduces family strife.... Many of us have ended up inflicting pain on our children, which we did everything to avoid.

But we have not had our parents' divorces either. We can only hope that in this, we have done it differently in the right way.
Air Supply:
They'll care for their children protect them with pride,
And that's how their dream will survive in American hearts....
Here's the thing: The WSJ is claiming that it's describing something new about divorce, relevant to Gen X (born 1965 - 1980). The Air Supply song was recorded in 1980, is about a couple who married in 1969 and is thus about their parents. It may feel like there's something new to the story, but the actual differences seem to be in the details. The song (still a bit maudlin) is the same.

Let me give you a tip if you find yourself sleeping in a different bed than your spouse for two years and struggling to think of anything you could do differently to salvage your relationship. If marriage counseling seems like too big a step, you could try sharing a bed. And don't blame your lack of intimacy on the kids - yes, they get in the way, but where there's a will....

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