On April 2, we recognize National Reconciliation Day. Ironic that it is the day after April Fool’s Day. More interesting to me, is that three days later is my ex-husband’s birthday. This year, he will turn 55. We met at age 25, have 3 grown children and dealt with a fair share of crises, so we have a lot of history behind us.

When we met, we couldn’t stand to be apart. About 15 years later, we couldn’t stand to be together.

In the last several years of our marriage, my ex had become a stay-at-home dad by default. He’d lost his job and had not been able to find a new one. It wasn’t that there weren’t jobs. It was something in himself. I don’t know if I will every fully understand what held him back, but I have my theories. They aren’t favorable to him. 

I was not comfortable with the breadwinner role, and my resentments grew as time passed. But what did I expect? I’d become a lawyer, so it was quite foreseeable my salary would be the bigger one in the family. The pressures of work and childrearing took a toll. More corrosive, the pressures of our unmet expectations multiplied. 

Eventually, we stopped talking and started blaming. Then we stopped communicating altogether. At least for me, I tended to fill in the silence with the worst-case scenario. I made assumptions and ascribed motives. I projected. I catastrophized. I practiced silent scorn. I assumed he did not love me because he would not go back to work. Truth be told, between the two of us, he was the better caretaker, but in my anger, I only saw failure. His caretaking did not resemble what I expected caretaking to look like. My frustrations festered, and he withdrew. It is painful to look back on this time. We were emotionally divorced long before we made it official. It was easier when I could box up our roles and responsibilities in neat compartments. In my fantasy, I played the heroine, as well as the victim. You know the role I cast him in. God only knows how he viewed me.

Now, I am older and wiser. God, the Universe or Fate had a different ending in mind for us. After 14 years of divorce, we faced a dual crisis that demanded our complete attention. One of our children was experiencing a serious mental health crisis and needed two full-time parents. The other crisis was COVID-19. Our almost-adult child, who had been away at college, moved back into my home. My ex came over every day to make dinner and to be there for our child. Because of COVID-19, we stayed together in my home as a unit for months, none of us venturing much farther than the grocery store. My ex and I dedicated ourselves to helping our child heal. We watched movies, played board games and did puzzles. We struggled through some minor home improvement projects. We helped each other stay sane and on task during months of Zoom and isolation. 

Little by little, laughter returned. Gratitude blossomed. We were working as a team. 

At the same time, I’d been having long conversations with friends about what I wanted once I fully empty nested. I knew I wanted a committed relationship and was encouraged to identify those qualities I most wanted in a partner. Financial security was high on my list, and as COVID-19 restrictions began to lift, I found someone who, on paper, fit the bill beautifully and then some. The problem was that there was no laughter between us. I found myself looking forward to those evenings at home with my ex-husband and child, watching movies and making dinner together.

I mentioned this to some friends, who, knowing my history, universally tried out “NO” – do not go back hoping for something better. I hadn’t even asked the question of going back, but my friends saw something I was willingly blind to. My ex, I told myself, was only hanging out to be available for our child. Sure, he had started to do things that helped me, but didn’t they also help our child? Fixing things around the house, cooking dinner, buying groceries. He was contributing, and it was long overdue. 

But of course, my friends were right. At least about what they were seeing. My ex and I were growing closer. As for their opinions that I should steer clear of him, perhaps there was more to the story. Then came the day, in the midst of a stressful moment, my ex gently grabbed my wrist. Not my hand, but my wrist. As he did this, he looked directly into my eyes. It was a powerful moment. I saw him again. For the first time in over 14 years, I saw him. Not my image of who I thought he should be, but him. I could see his pain, his support, his helplessness and comfort all at once. Then, the moment passed.

I must have imagined it, I reasoned. Perhaps it was only meaningful to me. Yet, eventually, little touches began. Fingertips on my forearm. Hands on my shoulders in passing. This went on for some time. I found myself thinking of him more and more often. I looked forward to his arrival in the evening. 

Finally, a friend encouraged me to tell him what I wanted – to have a relationship. I did not say it was with him. What I said was that our child was improving, and he didn’t need to be with us as much. I told him his constant presence at my house would stand in the way of my moving forward. He was remarkably gracious and agreed to start limiting his visits. Yet he remained flirtatious, which confused me. Finally, I told him outright that I saw his behavior as flirtatious and asked what this was about. That was it. The dam broke.

He tentatively confessed his feelings, and I confessed mine. We acknowledged concerns and confusion about what this might mean. Then, we ignored those concerns and confusion. Attraction got the better of us, as it had in the beginning. Before we knew it, we were sneaking around, stealing moments together. We agreed not to let our child or anyone else know we had started a romance. I did not want anyone else weighing in with their opinion, and I did not want to set up hopes that could be dashed.

We are still sneaking around, and it has become one of the sweetest, sexiest times in our relationship. I did not think I could feel the rush of romance again, yet here we are. We are taking it slow, but we have found ourselves in some very meaningful conversations. Unlike when we were young and would talk an issue to death, each of us desperate to be “heard,” we can now communicate so much meaning in just a brief exchange. And we take our time to mull over what has been said, rather than rush to react. I have learned things about his feelings and his experience I did not appreciate so many years ago. Instead of telling me he loves me, he shows me. I don’t need his reassurance because I can now understand the ways in which he is showing me. He has grown, too, in his patience. He expresses his feelings more than before. I can’t speak for him, but I am more in love with him than I ever have been, and I appreciate him more than I could have imagined.

Reconciliation may be rare, but it is indeed sweet. We have only been back together for a few months and we are taking it day-by-day. But time is healing, and we are learning. I don’t know if we can overcome all of the things that separated us, but for the first time, I am choosing to believe we can. This April 2, I know I, for one, will be celebrating National Reconciliation Day.

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The Future of Connection for Women

Lauren Mullen

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