When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced that they were “consciously uncoupling” you probably snickered, right? I mean we’re talking a Hollywood actress and a rock star here. Of course they’re going to do things differently, somewhere up in the clouds, floating around in the ether like the namby pamby souls they are. Wouldn’t want to just say we’re splitting up, nosiree. Don’t even go near that “D” word. Conscious uncoupling, my ass. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
But you know, they didn’t actually make up that term. It comes from a psychotherapist named Katherine Woodward Thomas who realized with the dissolution of her own marriage that it would be an absolute marvel to end a union in a way that was “warm, respectful and inclusive, to go out of (your) way to create a sense of family.” In other words, the couple may no longer be a couple but the family is still a family.
Yeah, I know. How often does that ever happen? Most of the uncoupled couples I know can barely tolerate the sound of their ex’s name, much less voice or company. Animosity, hostility, hurt, court battles, bitterness … these are the things that tend to take centre stage. And the biggest victim is of course not the two parties involved but … the family.
Cause here’s the thing. When you coupled and then made babies you became a family. Forever and always. You will forever and always be the parents and those kids will forever and always be your kids whether you’re married to each other or not. Sure I know some situations when one parent has been completely written out of the family equation and I’m not going to argue the merits here of whether that’s right or wrong. All I know is that in my situation (and in my humble opinion), B, S (our son) and I will always be a family. Even uncoupled as we are. Even coupled with others as we may be. We three are a family.
Given the fact that I left my husband for another man (which is truthfully just the end point; I left my husband because I was unhappy for a long time and then another man showed up a plugged a few holes) and given the fact that my ex-husband soon thereafter embarked on a relationship with said man’s ex-wife and given the fact that my relationship with the adulterous interloper didn’t last and hubby’s is till going strong after over 11 years … well given ALL those facts, most would say we’ve done pretty well. Right from the get-go we didn’t do battle. We cried a lot, we drank a lot (yes, even together), we talked a lot and we even hugged a lot.
But as the years have rolled by all those things have diminished. Our son is grown and making his own life so our opportunities for interaction are few and far between. We have mingled at family weddings (my family, by the way. I would never be invited to his), we have celebrated a few of our son’s birthdays together and back in the old days (up until two years ago) we even got together every single Christmas Day. As a family. We would have brunch, open gifts, take pictures and for a few brief moments actually be the family that we are. It was beautiful.
Alas, it is getting more and more difficult. Not geographically because we actually now live about 5 miles from one other. Not because I am unwilling because I am, always have been and always will be. But because it would appear that celebrating the festive season en famile is no longer high on B’s list of priorities. Now I say it would appear because I’m not really privy to his thoughts. All I know is up until last year he made some sort of effort (always at my invitation). Last year our annual Christmas Day get-together wasn’t possible because he was real busy with his other family (the one belonging to his partner but which also includes our son). Oddly enough the other family now also frequently includes my ex-lover (have I lost you yet?) who is the ex-husband of B’s current partner because that family apparently still wants to hang out together. But I … we … are never included.
Guess I’m being punished (still) for being evil. Like I said, I invite B and his love to many of my family functions. They’ve even actually come to a few. When my sister’s kids got married I said “Sure, invite them … why not?” And they came. And even last Christmas when I tried to facilitate a pre-Christmas get-together since Christmas Day was obviously not happening, they came. Even when S realized he could not. We hung out, B and I and our current partners and ate canapes and drank wine and it was nice. Weird yes, but I will say, nice.
And I say nice because family is family is fucking family. Forever. New people may be introduced, they might come and go and we shall daily be reminded of the fluidity of life and its participants but this one thing I know is not fluid – B, S and I are family.
So this past year I asked B if we could be friends. I told him I was still terribly sorry for my evils and I mentioned that if I had a do-over I might probably take it but I also reminded him that he looked pretty damn happy and let’s just accept this for exactly what it is and move on being the BEST possible human beings we can be. Not just co-parents but humans. Because in my books family is family and love is love. No strings, no definitions, no boundaries … if you truly love then love is in itself the reward. The giving of love.
But nope … we are all far too caught up in the getting of love.
However, I digress (2nd glass of wine). B told me he couldn’t be my friend. He once labeled us the “poster couple for amicable divorce” and that may well be true. We can be amicable. Civilized. Cordial. Even a teensy bit social (when it suits him). But we cannot be friends.
He asked me if I could be friends with my ex-lover, you know, the ex-husband of his current partner, yeah that guy, and I replied “Probably. I’ve never been offered the opportunity. But yeah. Probably.”
I’m not kidding. I probably could. Because I could now pick out the bits and pieces that I loved about that boy and let go of the shitty rest. And that friendship would make me happy.
It’s not up for grabs and neither it would seem is Christmas with my family. Because this year for the first time, I have not offered up ideas. Invitations. Anything. I have been waiting to see if B would feel inclined to be with his family. That little trio family (with all newcomers gratefully welcomed) that he and I created. B, V and S.
It is now the evening of December 22 and I have heard not a peep. And so I say …
Merry Christmas dear Ex (I actually sign my emails to him with an x, symbolizing both our current status and a small kiss). May your days be merry and bright. May your new family fill your heart will all the joy it can stand, this Christmas and always. May your definition of love, the one that so profoundly differs from mine, may it be enough to carry you into your twilight years and beyond.
And don’t worry if you ever change your mind. Your family will still be here. Waiting. Because we are family for life, conscious uncoupling or not. And our family, for all our mistakes and errors in judgment and perceived evils … well we’re not going anywhere.
Family is family is family. With these words I honour ours. And you.