my marriage ended, I saw divorced moms as untouchables, a class of
people whose lives had cast them into a dark and lonely sea, tossed
about by the waves and dragged in and out with the tides, perpetually
removed from the brightly lit shores of happiness. I remember feeling
unabashed pity for a divorcing mom I met when Natalie was in first
grade. From my secure perch, I looked on at what I perceived to be
the misery of her dreary new life and thought, That’s it for her. But lately, I’ve been noticing
that the divorced moms aren’t necessarily more miserable than
the married ones. In fact, many of them seem to be unapologetically
I spot a fellow divorced mother, Kari, at Jessie’s school. She’s
wearing cute low-rise jeans and a ball cap and laughs mischievously into
her cell phone while the other mothers straighten backpacks and chat
with each other. She doesn’t have the trademark beleaguered and
frazzled look most of us sport as we shepherd our kids through our morning
routine in our gray sweatshirts with a couple of coffee stains dribbling
down the front. Kari wears clothes from the juniors’ department
and has the smug air of the WFW, the well-fucked woman. She and I start
talking in the parking lot and quickly exchange divorce stories. She’s
a year and half further into the process.
“You seem like you’re doing okay,” I venture, hoping to find
out a little of her secret.
“Well,” she laughs, “I have a boyfriend. That helps!”
“You do?” I’m a little surprised how open she is. No tone
of guilt here.
“Oh god, yes! And he is fabulous.” She pronounces this
last syllable with the breathy emphasis of a drag queen.
I drop my gaze to the pavement and whisper, “So do I.”
“Co-ol!” She calls out, nodding and giving me the you-go-girl look.
A few weeks later at basketball practice, one of the married mothers
is idly cleaning out her purse as a cluster of us sit hunched on the
bleachers, only half-watching our kids’ attempts to dribble balls
down the court. Sighing, she passes me a Victoria’s Secret coupon
from her discard pile. “Do you want this?” she asks, with
a tone of despair. “I’m afraid you’re the only one
of us having the kind of sex that requires good underwear.”
I take the coupon from her somewhat guiltily, as though the whole world
will now know that I’ve broken the one-year rule.
The notion that you have to wait at least a year after a divorce before
introducing your child to a new significant other is so pervasive in
our culture that I can’t say when or where I heard it first any
more than I could tell you where I first learned about the mechanics
of JFK’s assassination or the Golden Rule. It’s public domain.
You just know.
While undoubtedly humane and well founded, the waiting notion is predicated
on the assumption that the newly single parent will be dating eligible
candidates living within a thirty-mile radius of her home, in a dispassionate,
even clinical manner—meeting discreetly on her evening off for
a sequestered dinner, movie, maybe even a round of Scrabble and a quickie
at his place. In my image of this type of dating, the newly
single parent is no more attached to these various candidates than she
might be to blouses on the rack at Macy’s. She’s merely trying
them on. Nothing she can’t live without.
Even my friend Nancy (also split from her husband but normally far too
sensible to become hypnotized by the competing voices of advice books)
cites the one-year rule to me as if it’s recorded in stone and
kept in the Ark of the Covenant.
“Aren’t you supposed to wait a year?” is her only response
after I tell her about Markos coming down to my house for the weekend, even
though I’m careful to add that he slept on the couch and that I introduced
him as just an old high school friend.
“Yeah, you are,” I say in an irritated voice. “But
sometimes your life just happens and then you have to work with that.” For
Nancy, the electrician, the world works as a binary system; something is either
on or off, A or B, yes or no. For me, there will always be a thousand steps
between on and off: almost on, flickering, close to off, dimming, ostensibly
“All the books say a year,” she returns.
“Okay, but couldn’t there be an exception?” I plead, unsure
who I’m more anxious to convince—Nancy or myself.
And what if the newly single parent falls dizzily in love with someone
who lives too far away to be kept partitioned off from the rest of her
life, whisked in and out between Friday at three and Saturday noon when
she turns into a pumpkin once again? What sayeth the rules then?
But like I said, it isn’t just Nancy. For a divorced mother of
two, sensible people seem to agree, falling in love should have a waiting
period, like the purchase of a handgun. And, in my heart I agree with
them. Obviously, it’s not a good idea for the kids to be exposed
to a constantly changing cast of characters, to be told this guy’s
important this month and then next month this other guy’s the one.
But I just want them to know one guy. Maybe, though, it’s one too
many. They’re still tender from all the changes that have already
happened. They want every aspect of our lives, particularly my life,
to stay the same as it was before the split. They want—and I want
this too—for me to remain in my role of stay-at-home mom, even
though I am no longer married and no longer have either the emotional
or financial support needed to maintain that role. They see my life as
something like the bedroom of a child gone off to college. Secured museum-tight,
the room holds time still, a tribute to an era forever past that no one
quite has the heart to disassemble.