Who We Are Now

To accept your circumstances radically simply means that you do it from the depths of your soul and in every bone in your body. It does not mean that things will never change or that you are not affected by the realities of your life. Radical acceptance just means that you acknowledge reality for what it is.

From Marsha Linehan’s work on Dialectical Behavior Theory

These friends of ours, they say they are envious of our relationship. We seem to get along so well. We both flex to each other’s needs as we raise our son separately but together. I am as baffled by our success as they are. Does some quirk of chemistry allow my ex-husband and I to pull this off? Is it a blip already fading? Maybe all we’ve built will whoosh down the toilet as soon as something really life-altering jiggles the handle.

Or do we help smooth the way together by making some concrete choices about how we engage each other? If this final possibility contributes to our so-far success as co-parents (which it surely must), what are we actually doing? How can we bottle it to bolster our compatriots as they enter into their much trickier dealings with exes?

We — the royal, human “we” — are living longer than ever. I can’t be the only one with designs on making it to a vigorous 120. These new stretches of life are occurring in familial configurations that are changing faster than our language for them. We need new models. Just think of the number of kids in blended families and those being raised by extended family members in multiple homes. Bomerang kids come back home after college. Aging parents — themselves possibly single and social — move in with their grown children. These relationships aren’t just quasi-marriages. The adults aren’t just parental understudies. These kinds of homes and families are far richer and more varied than the archaic words we use to describe them.

Tee and I are not married anymore. We are co-parents but not solely that. Raising our son isn’t a business we can transact through a weekly exchange of basketball shoes and an annual financial reconciliation. We share an intimacy that’s hard to explain. It is more than just a shared history of love, a crisis of hurt and a coda of healing. The closeness between us is something new that has emerged since our marriage and even separate from it.

As parents to the same boy, Tee and I have the opportunity to talk about very personal, value-laden areas of our lives. I would argue that it’s more than opportunity. It’s imperative. Tee and I have to figure out how to do speak with care, patience, openness. Lightness, even. Humor. Certainly respect.

As we speak, we have to do so with willingness to relax our grip a little on those beliefs we thought defined us.

Radical acceptance indeed.

Too often, we fill our self-talk with should-haves and shouldn’t-haves, but what is done is done. If you accept the reality of the situation, you can stop dwelling on situations you have no control over (and even those you do) and move on with your life.

Pain is an inevitable component of being alive. The unexpected, the unjust, the difficult, and the loss all play dynamic roles in the scripts we write and those written for us. The circumstances in which we find ourselves have all happened because of events which preceded this moment, and things turned out the only way they could. It does not mean we approve, or that the pain is lessened, or that we like it, or that we don’t want to change it. It simply means we are able to recognize that this is as it had to be.

When we stop fighting against what is right here in front of us, we can be more effective. When we stop raging and resisting and listing the injustices, we may turn ourselves towards the crack of light at the edge of an opening that lets us through.

For the better part of a year, I had to ask: Am I willing to forgive myself? Can I forgive Tee? For the list of failings that I don’t need to name here, would I be able to recognize that we made the choices we did with the tools and information we had, and that they led us to here, and this is really just exactly where we had to land?

It turns out I could.

I was finally able to grasp (and some days, I manage to keep my grip on this belief) that it couldn’t have been any other way. When I look in a more detached manner at the years of our courtship, marriage, child-rearing, and even the many shapes of our characters before we met, I begin to identify places where different choices could have been made given a slightly different toolbox. From a cool remove and without judgment, I can see that given information I didn’t have that I do now or given awareness of particular support and strengths I didn’t know were available, I might have chosen a different course.

With this new insight, I can stock provisions for future situations. I can accept what took place before and know I have resources on hand to be more effective in the future.

I’m not sure what to tell our friends about why this works. For today, it’s this: I think of Tee as my brother. This might be too simplistic, but in the absence of another title, this will have to do. Like a sibling, his life is separate from mine. Physically and in all the other ways, we are discrete beings. What Tee does with his occupation, his diet, his friends, and his spare time are not my concern. He doesn’t break any laws or put our son in danger, so I quiet those snippy little whispers that try to get me to judge him. He is a grown man with values and interests that have nothing to do with me.

Yet we are family and share a precious bond. We need each other to be communicative and present because we are on a very long journey together. I am not so good at being a sibling, theoretically or practically as I’ve discovered, but I’ve got Tee’s back and I’ll do what I can to shore him up in giving Bug his best shot at a rich life.

None of us is doomed to repeat what came before. We are allowed to choose where our thoughts wander. The arc of the story we are now writing inches its way to the page from the pen we hold. We determine the textures of our relationships.

So I hold Tee in my mind as a person who will be in my life for a good 80 more years, given Bug’s continued presence on this planet. I hold him there and say, We are something different than what we were before. Let’s figure out how to support each other in raising our boy into a man. Let’s draw on our strengths. Let’s appreciate one another, believe in one another, and share this journey from our new distance. This relationship can be a strong one. I commit myself to it.

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3 thoughts on “Who We Are Now”

  1. I think that’s a version of how all exes should be. It’s a shame to just throw something away that seemed compelling and right once. It doesn’t have to be what it is, but neither does it have to be nothing. I’m impressed by what you’ve done, more so that it came with open eyes, aware of what went wrong.

    1. Thank you for this. I’m not sure it’s all that impressive. Luck, most likely. I’m not sure what compels some folks to be so punishing during and after their divorces, but it is a great relief that my son’s dad and I don’t have to endure that from each other (at least not so far). I’m certain we are both better parents for it.

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