This is an excerpt from “Splitopia: Dispatches from Todays’ Divorce and How to Part Well“:
I was waiting for a flight at the Cincinnati airport with my son, who had apparently eaten a crate of sugary gummy bears when I wasn’t looking, and was just then running down the moving sidewalk in the wrong direction, smacking business travelers in the knees. I was trying to stop him, while also corralling a wobbly carry-on and a plastic fire truck the size of a schnauzer I’d been cajoled into buying. I needed some assistance.
I spotted a handsome businessman holding an iPad, his fingers free of any telltale rings; it’s amazing how divorce improved my long-range vision, at least for small gold details. “Hey,” I said to the handsome man, “would you mind keeping an eye on my fire truck while I run after my son?” I flashed what I hoped was still an enticing smile, like I had the last time I was single, back when I was 33 and fit, and didn’t have these laugh lines around my mouth that I don’t find funny at all.
He looked up with a kind and understanding nod. I ran-walked to the moving sidewalk, calling after my son. We returned 10 minutes later. “Would you like to see a picture of my daughter?” the business traveler asked, addressing my son, who responded by making the sound of a fire alarm and slamming his truck into a bank of seats.
I sat down and looked at the photo of the cute little girl. Her handsome father had been divorced for six years, it turned out. He’d spent a quarter million dollars on a messy divorce.
I felt sorry for him, having had that kind of divorce. Then I felt sorry for me, as he told me that he was engaged again. He gave me an apologetic look, as if he knew that with this commitment, he’d drained the pool of eligible men my age.
Another one down.
I’d expected to be thrilled by dating. I’d enjoyed it so much in the past. I somehow assumed men would fall from trees as I strolled by and land at my feet, clutching flowers and fruit they’d grabbed on their way down. The last time I was single, everyone else had been single, too. I had a social job. I met men at press events, on subways, in airplanes.
I was still meeting men on airplanes—or in airports—but it felt different, somehow. They were engaged. Or too young. Or too old. They were too few and far between. I was also less confident about my allure—whether due to age, divorce, or scarcity of good offers, I couldn’t tell. Plus, I had loved someone enough to marry him. In contrast, spending evenings with strangers who aroused the most moderate of emotions felt like a waste of time.
I’m not saying I didn’t try. I joined OkCupid. I made out with a good friend’s brother, only to realize I liked her better. I met a slender, dark-eyed, 30-year-old divorced Jewish salesman from Long Island who planned to join a Buddhist monastery for life—or at least as long as his passion for celibate poverty lasted. He postponed his ordination to spend the summer considering the opposite of chastity with me.
I even developed a deep and abiding crush on a sexy divorced journalist-turned-filmmaker I met at my synagogue in Los Angeles. My son and I began going regularly, every Saturday, staying all morning, and sometimes hanging out straight through lunch. There were several reasons for our newfound religiosity. Having divorced a non-Jewish man, I felt somehow free, in a new way, to embrace my faith. My son loved synagogue—the small Hebrew school class, the baking of challah, the fact that he could run around in the courtyard and no one complained. But also, every weekend I thought: Maybe he’ll be there this Shabbat. Even after he went ahead and married someone else, the synagogue routine was cemented.
My love life? Still unfixed.
As much as I desired a new partner in theory, I was still preoccupied with pulling myself out of my marriage. I would show up, but I wasn’t fully available. The men I was sort of listening to or halfheartedly considering would invariably get angry. I decided I needed a break.
Many divorcées I spoke to said they, too, needed a “buffer period” between marriage and dating, or marriage and the next true love. Some of us remain attached to a former spouse, even if he’s found someone new. We’ve been devoted to caring for this person for so long; letting go of that role, internally, takes time. Others want to prove to themselves that they can succeed alone.
On the other hand, some people plunge into a new romance within months of leaving the old one. If you fall madly in love with the perfect person right after your spouse moves out, I envy you and wish you luck. But… if you don’t, if you choose or default to a buffer period, there are plenty of benefits:
– Time to examine your habits and history.
– A chance to resolve divorce-related logistical complexities.
– Space for negativity from the divorce and marriage to lift.
The risk of a buffer period? You forget that you chose it, and start to feel like no one is choosing you.
On my third Memorial Day as a single woman, I drove with my son to South Pasadena for a playdate with my friend Ruth, a happily married mother of two. We were at the playground, all three of our children up in a tree.
“So wait, are you dating?” she asked.
“Yes. Yes, I am,” I said, as if saying it would make it true. “I mean, you know, I certainly can. It’s appropriate.”
“Who do I know?” she said, looking up at the tree. “I can’t believe you are still single. You are a lottery ticket waiting to be cashed.”
A lottery ticket waiting to be cashed! That’s the kind of statement an enamored suitor might let slip. I wanted to feel that way about myself, and to believe that the right guy would come along and feel that lucky to have me.
Later, back home, I wrote her words on an index card and taped the card to my wall. “You are a lottery ticket waiting to be cashed.” I’d grown comfortable with being alone by then. Still, I would have preferred not to be. I wanted a partner, someone on my team, a man I’d be excited to come home to at the end of the day or to go out with at night. I was ready for my buffer period to end.
I looked forward to the day when I’d see the lottery ticket quote as a useless scribble from a distant epoch, an unnecessary reminder. I’d peel it off the wall, and toss it away.