This week found me once again helping to plan a wedding I will be officiating later this month. It will be held at the historic Union Street Brick Church in downtown Bangor, which is a fabulous place to hold a wedding should you ever find yourself looking for one. This will be the second wedding I’ve performed at this location. The last one was for the son of one of my dear friends. It was a bilingual wedding. The bride’s family was from Columbia and spoke only limited English. Everything I said had to be translated, which essentially meant we did the entire thing twice. It was at this wedding I learned to never, ever wear brand new, very high heels when officiating a wedding. At one point I was trying to nonchalantly wiggle both legs because they were so cramped I wanted to fall over and scream, which is not a way to get invited to do more weddings, but I digress.
Believe me the irony of multiple-divorced me once again performing and actually enjoying weddings has not gone unnoticed! I read recently on MSNBC that we divorced folks give the best marriage advice! In fact, divorced people give even better marital advice than people who have been successfully married for many years, (so there). I think the logic behind that is that there are a million wonderful reasons why a couple will stay together but the reasons to break up are pretty universal. You can count among them: infidelity, money problems, sexual issues, and disagreements about family and/or children. So if your divorced friends can’t tell you how to fix all that, they can at least tell you what NOT to do! Been there, done that!
What I was thinking about this week, as we walked around the church and talked about where the chairs would go and who would sit with whom, was how a wedding starts out sort of awkward. The bride’s family and friends don’t always know the groom’s family and friends. Sometimes there are cultural differences or even a language barrier. Yet, suddenly, these two groups of people find themselves connected in a way that lasts far longer than the reception. They are now in-laws or friend-in-laws. They all have to find ways to negotiate these new found relationships. Who gets the new couple at Christmas? Doesn’t his family know her family always does Easter? Don’t her friends know that he and his friends always get together on that weekend every year and they can’t plan anything else? Everyone must adjust. In an ideal world the couple has each doubled their friends and family and everyone lives happily ever after.
But wait, everyone doesn’t always live happily ever after do they? When this happens we go through the above process in reverse. Family is suddenly redefined again. Your mother-in-law is no longer your mother-in-law but she’s still your kid’s grandmother so what is she to you now? The same thing happens with your friends. Clearly, he keeps the high school buddies he came in with, but you’ve become really close with his best friend’s wife. Guess what, you’ve got to back off and let him have that couple. It’s only fair.
If you are extra careful, and extra lucky, you may find a few friends who can continue to love both of you. This may happen with friends you’ve made together, or long-time friends who are close to both of you. While a fifty-fifty split would be great just like with custody of the kids or the dog, it almost never works out that way. With my divorce a few years ago, my X ended up with physical custody of our best couple and I get one weekend a month and some holidays. Not my choice of outcome, but then again neither was divorce!
Don’t be surprised, however, if some of your couple friends just bail on you. Happy couples don’t want to hang out with divorced people in the same way most of us don’t go searching for friends who are terminally ill. It just reminds everyone how vulnerable we all are. It’s just too scary.
Some friends, however, there will just be no question about it! During my divorce I looked one of my very best friends John in the eye and said “you are MINE” and he said “understood!” That was that! I don’t know that I would have ever survived the whole experience without him. I, in turn, have been there for him through many life changing events while other friends were shockingly absent. It hurts at the time but you realize who your true friends are and it gives you courage to keep going! You will also, through any major life event, usually end up with a few, unexpected and really wonderful NEW friends! I know I did.
I guess what I’ve learned over the last few years is that redefining friends and family after a divorce is very much like planning your wedding reception. Somebody is going to have to sit with someone they don’t like, some folks may be uncomfortable and some of them will out and out hate each other. Others will make the best of it, or even make new friends. If they love you, they will support the both of you and the decisions you’ve made as a couple, even the one that meant you’d no longer be a couple.
And if they don’t, you can drop them off at Goodwill along with old futon that won’t fit into your new apartment, or your new life!
PS – to the couple I will be marrying in a few weeks, none of this will happen to you! Please disregard this blog and proceed with happiness!