We texted back and forth in a delicate flurry. He said she was just a friend and of course he would have told me if anything was going on. We agreed to this as our first rule: If anything happens dating-wise, there needs to be a conversation. We agreed that that would probably be the beginning of the end of this little living arrangement (and this is still our assumption).
A couple of months later, he was cleaning up after having ripped up all the carpet in our former guest room upstairs, now my new bedroom. It was a surprise birthday present for me, getting the floor prepped and ready to paint. I was sitting on the floor, scrolling through my phone as it charged, and realized that, per our agreement, I should tell him I had joined Tinder that afternoon. So I did. “OK” was the entirety of his reaction.
I never ended up going on a single real date, so I never told him anything that happened while I was on any dating apps. The whole experience was so weird and theoretical and stupid. But when he read my manuscript for an essay collection about divorce, one of the things he was most upset by was my dating app story. He said, “We had agreed we would tell each other if we were dating anyone.” And I reminded him that almost being scammed by an anonymous stranger is not dating. We agreed to disagree.
As our living situation continues, a curious shift has occurred: We ask about each other’s days and share more now than we did before. For the most part we exhibit a level of manners and appreciation more associated with longtime friendship than with longtime marriage. Sometimes all four of us will watch a show or a movie after dinner, but more often than not we are scattered to our various shows, work, books and FaceTimes with friends. We are a house of four relatively self-reliant people, and there is a communal, roommate-ish feeling to so much of our lives now.
On the one hand I’m grateful for that independence, each of us with room to roam inside our own home. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I sometimes worry about how this mirrors my own teenage years in a divorced household, especially when we each grab dinner and retreat to our own corners. I loved having the independence to do whatever I wanted, but sometimes too much freedom at that age makes you wonder if anyone cares about what you’re doing at all. Very little has changed for our kids, though, other than they get to see their parents learning to become real friends.
Our approach reminds me a little of a realization I had the day after getting laid off from a job that had become a cornerstone of my identity. I had worked so hard, I had given my life over to it, I had left my small children during dinners and weekends because of that job. But what struck me the morning after I was laid off was this singular thought: “Maybe I could just do what I’m good at now instead of everything I was made to feel bad about.”
Our current arrangement, our prelude to a divorce, is like that. We are just doing what we are good at and not doing the things we were bad at (mostly).