What I Learned About Marriage After Dating Two Divorcees
One was a man, and one was a woman. Their marriages — both hetero — had lasted around six or seven years.
As for me, I have been a perpetually single woman ever since Saturn entered my seventh house of commitment this time two years ago. Or, in layman's terms, since I started figuring out my relationship with myself.
I've never been married, nor have I ever lived with a partner. Only one partner has ever met my mom.
I don't particularly like being single, but I am way less comfortable with being in a relationship that would require me to give myself up. Aside from a few wedded friends, marriage is uncharted territory for me.
That's not to say that I'm not curious, though. When I met two divorcees and started dating them simultaneously, I couldn't help but view their experiences as windows into the institution.
And I also couldn't help but think that their access to it made them more wise in the field of love than I was.
Exhibit A, or my first divorcee, I'll call Jonah. I met him on Tinder, and he told me that he had been divorced within the first few lines of our chat.
"No kids, no drama," he had written. "We just grew apart."
He told me that he preferred to let people know up front, so that there weren't any surprises.
As he was still in the middle of sorting through the papers -- and therefore, technically still married -- he was not looking for anything serious. Like me, he was just interested in finding a friend who might want to sleep over sometimes.
We were looking for the same thing, and that made it seem like we might be on the same page, but Jonah's past experience made me feel like we were more likely in completely different chapters. Didn't marriage mean that someone was established? I still had trouble remembering to wash my face every night.
Even though I was hesitant to go out with him, I listened to my friends, who claimed he "seemed stable," and therefore would be "good for me." So I met up with him for a first date, on which I told him that I didn't really have any interest in talking about anything so serious as his divorce.
He seemed to respect my limitations and tried not mention his ex-wife much after that. However, she did end up coming up, even if it wasn't directly.
The first time I went over to his house, he explained that the sleek furniture in his living room was hers, and she'd be coming to collect it soon. The lingering smell of dog in his office was from when they shared it. She took the dog, and he was pretty sad about it.
The spotless kitchen and shining surfaces in the bathroom also seemed to speak to the fact that this was an apartment in which people had been married. So did the sturdy, queen-sized bed in the bedroom and the sensible comforter.
To me, marriage seemed to inform his habit of taking multi-vitamins and throwing any dirty clothes immediately down the laundry chute. It also seemed to inform our routine sex.
At the same time I was seeing Jonah, I started seeing Leopoldine, a woman who asked me out after I gave her a tarot card reading over Valentine's Day.
Unlike Jonah, Leopoldine had moved out of her husband's house. Also unlike Jonah, it had been the husband who had kept the dog. The divorce had already been finalized.
Where the presence of Jonah's ex-wife was implicit, we ended up talking about Leopoldine's ex-husband quite often. We talked about my exes, too: what went wrong, what they had been thinking, how it had affected us.
Leopoldine rented a house with a few of her friends. There were no shiny couches, and there wasn't a laundry chute, and I don't think she took a multi-vitamin -- or if she did, it never happened on my watch.
Leopoldine had also launched into a period of adventurousness. She was having flings with women as well as men, and her list of callers included a swathe of different kinds of partners.
One was a testosterone-fueled weight lifter named Chad, who had a large head and wore a tiny polo shirt that pinched his enormous biceps. He stared me down the one time I saw him on the street, and if he meant to intimidate me, it definitely worked.
Even though she wasn't quite as orderly as Jonah, Leopoldine's status as somebody who had been married also seemed to set her apart from me.
She was getting ready to buy her rental house off of her landlord, as she made more than my skimpy $15 an hour wage. She liked her job and felt secure in her position there. She had not only a Netflix account, but also Hulu and HBOGo.
But there were ways in which she didn't seem so secure, like her habit of texting me whenever she was lonely. She also leaned on me whenever something went wrong with the other people she was seeing, like Chad.
After a few dates, we didn't seem to have much spark. Still, she sent me heart emojis and kissy faces, and if I forgot to write back, she feared I was angry or upset.
That was a lot of pressure for just a casual fling. I realized that Leopoldine was using me as a stand-in for an emotionally reciprocal relationship, only I didn't think that the emotionally reciprocal relationship she wanted was with me.
Jonah also seemed to be a bit unsteady. It was subtle, but every morning, he'd throw my clothes down the laundry chute by reflex. I'd crawl around on the floor in my underwear for a while, looking for my pants, before he remembered what he had done and went and retrieved them from the basement.
Then, there was also the fact that he called to tell me I had given him herpes the one time he had a zit on his chin.
Jonah, I understood, was afraid of what another person would bring into his home -- or even worse, into himself. Maybe that was why he was so obsessed with order and cleanliness, and paranoid of disease.
Leopoldine was also afraid. She was afraid that another person's disapproval would be the truest reflection of herself. It seemed to me that she wanted to give herself up more than she wanted to be with herself.
I realized that, while Leopoldine and Jonah might have seen more together on the surface, their respective divorces had made them question their place in the world. This wasn't too unlike what happens with any breakup.
They were still figuring out how to be with themselves, and that was spilling over into their casual flings with me.
It didn't matter that they owned property or knew how to clean a bathroom. Spending years with another human hadn't made them necessarily wiser. It seemed to me that marriage and its aftermath had frayed the connections to themselves that would enable them to connect with another.
And a word like marriage, I realized more than ever, didn't signify any other establishment than the mainstream approach to love it evoked. It didn't mean that somebody was any more ready for life and the blows it can deal out. It was just another union that didn't rival the one a person can have with themselves.
Realizing that, in both cases, we had gone as far as we would with one another, I ended up sending both Jonah and Leopoldine what I hoped were graceful breakup texts.
After that, I like to think we all continued on with figuring out how we could be better married to ourselves. All things said and done, we were in the same chapter, after all.
Only after a few years of being just with myself, maybe I was the one a few pages ahead.