So, it’s Valentine’s Day, a made up day to commercialize love. It’s probably no one’s favorite day, although I do know a few people who very wisely chose February 14th as their wedding date, meaning they can truly celebrate their relationship on a day that seems to guilt us all: Either you’re supposed to show some kind of extreme affection for your partner or you are feeling like shit because you don’t have one.
I’ve never been a fan. I remember distinctly many moons ago when a boyfriend told me he had all these great plans for VDay… and then failed to make a reservation. We spent the night driving around trying to get into a place. We broke up a little while after that. Not because he was a shitty date, but his Valentine’s effort definitely didn’t help him.
People close to me are aware that I didn’t truly know my husband when we got married. We had a ton of chemistry (read: lust) but I had just met him when he came to the U.S. and we decided the only practical choice was to get married. I still believe that there are no good arguments against an arranged marriage, so long as it is one that the actual partners agree to (I’m not talking creepy third world marrying off girls to sultans kind of thing). Our marriage lasted 22 years and we had two amazing kids from that union. But just because I’m now divorced, doesn’t mean he’s not still my husband.
I recently came across Paul Kalanthi’s amazing memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, about end of life. Then I found last month’s even more remarkable essay by his widow, Lucy, in the New York Times: “My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow.” In it, she writes about taking comfort from some of C.S. Lewis’ writings:
I came across the observation that “bereavement is not the truncation of married love but one of its regular phases.” He writes that “what we want is to live our marriage well and faithfully through that phase, too.” Yes, I breathed. Bereavement is more than learning to separate from a spouse. Though I can no longer comfort Paul, the other vows I made on our wedding day — to love Paul, to honor and keep him — stretch well beyond death. The commitment and loyalty, my desire to do right by him, especially as I raise our daughter, will never end.
When I read this, I can easily substitute the word death with “divorce” and “our daughter” with “our children.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to compare my loss to Ms. Kalanthi’s. Losing a spouse through death is undoubtedly worse in many many ways that I cannot comprehend having never suffered the same. But losing a spouse through divorce isn’t easy either.
Lots of people—including my own mother—cannot understand why my husband and I split up: Whenever they see us together we get along, laugh and are affectionate with each other. I consider my husband a friend. I still call him “husband” and wish him happy anniversary every year (we just celebrated our second post-marriage anniversary). I still love him.
So why did we split? Because we wouldn’t have this version of our marriage if we hadn’t. It was obvious that there were too many differences in our needs for us to remain living together. As difficult as this transition has been, we have worked hard “to live our marriage well and faithfully through this phase, too.” I don’t know if my “husband” will ever stop being my husband; I cannot fathom a world in which I would ever re-marry. Maybe if he got a new wife, then I would view him differently.
For about the last 18 months, I have identified as polyamorous. I didn’t really understand what polyamory was until then. I thought about it as “sex” (think: swingers). In fact, “many loves” is simply that: I can love more than one person, including my now ex-husband. It’s not about sex. It’s about what Lennon and McCarthy might have dubbed, “the love you make.” My husband is one of the few people on earth with whom I’ve been truly intimate, which also has nothing to do with sex. I am much more likely to call him on the phone in tears, looking for some kind of long-distance comfort, than I would any of my current boyfriends (some of whom, yes, I have sex with but some of whom I don’t). It’s a continuum, this love thing.
My husband needs monogamy. I don’t know if it makes him happy (I suspect not), but his world doesn’t expand to include the notion that a man could love more than one woman at a time. But mine does. And on this Valentine’s Day, he’s celebrating with our son (and probably later on with his girlfriend). I’m celebrating with a boyfriend, who is venturing out in the cold so I don’t have to (no schlepping around for hours trying to find a place to eat without a reservation… we’re calling GrubHub).
So for all those who have loved and lost or for those who have never loved at all, I invite you to forgive: your past loves, your current ones, and/or yourself. Be your own Valentine this year. Love who you will. It’s equal to the love you take. At least I hope so.