As we find ourselves deep in wedding season, I’m reminded of my own giant fluffy white dress, with its attendant fluffy expectations. Sixteen years ago at just this time of year, I married the white knight I believed would rescue me from myself. He was everything I ever imagined I wanted in a man, including the ponytail. We were destined, we were perfection, we were nauseating.
Who can say for sure what murders a romance in cold blood? But there is one insidious factor that contributed to the demise of that union, after fourteen and a half years together, 13.2 of them happy. Maybe it is not much discussed because so many industries (wedding, greeting card, red satin) thrive by keeping it alive…
The other day I found myself throwing a bride and groom bear keepsake in a leather box (that my ex-husband had used to propose) out of the window of my car. It was such a random act, I subsequently cried intermittently for days, not only because I had done it, but also bewildered as to why. We co-parent without malice, so what could have motivated such a vitriolic act? I always thought you can’t be sexually liberated and a bitter divorcée, so there was no way I’d become the latter.
Sentimentality requires that an event be in the past to give it added weight. The current circumstances aren’t enough without the gloss of a shiny filter, applied in retrospect, to make the present more complete. When my ex-husband and I were first dating and newlyweds, there was no Instagram or Facebook, or we might have bombarded people with a barrage of perfectly curated montages with gauzy filters. As it was, we exchanged literally hundreds of greeting cards professing our love for each other that still occupy boxes in his garage and my closet.
We serenaded each other endlessly, especially on our own sacred holiday, that of Saint Valentine which, if you think about it, had little pertinence to a couple of Ashkenazi Jews. Lest you fear that I exaggerate, consider that I made a physical scrapbook every single Valentine’s Day featuring that year’s ticket stubs, photos, letters, mementos and keepsakes, which I presented to him at dinner. I would show up at the restaurant, where he would have had flowers delivered, always in a new unique colorful glass vase. (See? Was not kidding about the nauseating part.)
Over time, we developed an attachment to objects that represented an emotion, rather than the feeling itself. At a period of my life when I was often bed-ridden with depression, there were so many framed pictures of our kids and wedding in our bedroom that a somewhat famous actor/comic once walked in and snapped, “How do you fuck in this room? With your kids looking at you…”
How indeed. Certainly if you had told me at our wedding that I would have my wedding dress out and ready to sell in my own living room (having separated a few years earlier) I would have called you “negative (man.)” But back then I also thought I would have daughters instead of sons, who don’t seem interested (so far) in growing up and sharing a bridal gown (although if they are, they’re going to have to buy their own.)
Unlike many people I encounter, who had doubts about marriage from the beginning, I had none. The love was juicy and alive for years, but once it wasn’t, we used the artifacts of romance to prop it up- the idea of the relationship became more profound than the relationship itself. And one of the reasons I do what I do now, is because we missed the opportunity to keep the connection going through sex, the way physical touch can break down problems beyond what is touted as “communicating.”
Instead, we clung to the calendar date of all anniversaries (first date, first moving in together, first promised to move out by) and competed to commemorate all of them with romantic notes that alluded to inside jokes and featured hearts, angels, and bubble writing. We had times of the day that were special to us (1:11) and the positions we slept next to each other in had names (polar-bear style.) When I got back into my wedding dress after 10 years of marriage to renew our vows, there wasn’t even a whisper in my mind that we wouldn’t last ten more.
We told the story of the bears, and all the other stories, hundreds of times. The tales became like a mantra, hypnotizing us into believing that things hadn’t changed between us. The symbols made it so much harder to communicate what was really going on, because everything still looked so good, down to the glorious Malibu home and matching-outfit pictorial New Year Cards. Likewise our constant PDA fooled many therapists into shooing us off their couches (“Go home kids, you’re fine”) when we would have benefited from some real life skills, sex advice, and other tough conversations. We looked too good, we wanted so badly to still be that impossible love story and we fooled everyone, including ourselves.
My wedding dress is almost sold, most of the jewelry I had when married gone in one way or another, and those matrimonial bears still lie tangled in some mountain ravine, because I couldn’t find them even when I searched. My tears only stopped when it struck me that the sentimental burden of the marriage was no longer mine to bear (ha.) They were just a sad reminder of something that no longer exists, and keeping them would be like walking around with cremated ashes in your purse.
I much prefer the life I have now– where the reality of things is not always pretty, but at least authentic and true. I haven’t given a greeting card in years, but what’s more important is I get to keep the memories of the memories, and also the kids we made. Hopefully I won’t throw them out the window, even though they remain romantic love’s most bittersweet souvenirs.