Divorce, like rain, is in the air and unaccountable

July 09, 1995|By SUSAN REIMER

There is divorce in the air around me.

The conditions have been right for a while -- the barometric pressure of our lives has been dropping -- so we look into the sky, into the horizon for what we can feel coming. Divorce is in the air. You can smell it, like rain.

Not me. Not yet. If I'm lucky, if my kids are lucky, maybe never. But there are divorces all around me, among couples closer and closer to us, and I fear one will strike us. Like a virus. Somebody in your neighborhood comes down with it. Just wait. It will get to you.

I am not surprised by these divorces. Because this time in our lives -- when our marriages and our kids are in their teens, when each year brings the need to disguise another body part, when it becomes clear that our lives will not turn out as we had planned -- is the perfect time, the perfect incubation, for divorce. A petri dish of discontent. Divorce may be our last bold act, our last chance for true love or freedom or starting over.

So I am not surprised, just afraid. I feel vulnerable. Will it strike me, or him?

We are awash in the fatigue and chaos of two jobs, two cars, two kids, and our conversations sound something like: "Will you be home in time to pick up the kids?" We have no time to examine our marriage to determine its health. I don't think we have any movies in common anymore, but it has been so long I can't be certain. Is that the first sign that your marriage is over? When you can't agree on a movie?

How did these couples know they had to divorce? He didn't beat her, she didn't drink. He didn't gamble away the mortgage, she )) kept a nice house. No other man, no other woman. No obvious reason to divorce. Nothing you could see from the outside. Just a phone call after a long silence, when they start to tell their friends, "It's over."

"I can't bad-mouth him. I have the kids to think about. They still need to love him," she will say when you ask why.

But there is a reason. There always is. And after a while, it will leak out and we will all know why. But it might not be the real reason. It might be the distillation of a lot of reasons. It might just be their spin on it, his spin, her spin.

"I don't want you to have to pick sides in this," she will say. "You can be his friend."

His friend, her friend? I don't want to be anybody's friend. I don't want to get too close. It might be catching. If they can hate their life enough to turn it all upside down, knowing why might make me hate my life, too. Their marriage looked as good as mine feels. If it wasn't, mine might not be, either.

But there is a morbid curiosity, isn't there? I cannot imagine the pain and turmoil of splitting up a family, so I want to know what made them do it. What was so bad that the tears of the children could be better?

The children. "They will be better off. There will be no more fighting." Divorce starts here and then moves on to a benign notion of civilized co-parenting. Sometimes it works out that way. Sometimes the kids are not the weapon.

But it's naive to think that separate but equal parenting makes kids happy.

We have demanded that our husbands be more than breadwinners, that they be nurturers, too. And they have responded to an extent that makes divorce doubly horrific for the children. For years, the courts thought it cruel and unthinkable to separate a child from its mother. Now it is equally cruel to separate them from their fathers.

Children are tangled up in love with their fathers in a way our generation was not. Our fathers were often remote or working late or simply undemonstrative, unaccustomed to intimacy with children.

Our children's fathers are not that way because we refused to allow it. My sister's husband was the one at home the first time their daughter shaved her legs. She ran naked from the bathtub in triumph at not having nicked herself, and he gathered her up in an unself-conscious hug. He will probably be the one at home when she starts her period, and that will not be a problem for any of them.

Remove that father and there will be more than an empty chair at dinner; there will be a hole in that child's life that can't be filled by weekend visits.

But these couples know that. They know all of this. And yet they are still divorcing. I can't imagine how much trouble, anger or pain there was in these marriages if divorce is better.

And that scares me more than the rest.

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