February 11, 2018
“I’m glad this is possible between us. I’m proud of us! Maybe it’s strange, but I don’t feel any aversion to Daniel at all. Everything is OK! I didn’t remember him being so tall. I’m looking forward to having dinner together:)” This is a text message I received from Anna on Fat Thursday, shortly after Daniel and I had gotten home from visiting her. We’d given her some doughnuts Daniel had made. It had been their first meeting.
And earlier it had been just like in life: the first batch of dough had ended up in the rubbish bin because it hadn’t risen. I had to stay focused and push at work in order to leave on time and help Daniel in the kitchen. We had to race to the store by bike because we were out of eggs at home. And after we’d arrived at Anna’s, we couldn’t stay long because the girls were exhausted after their day at school.
It took over three years for such a meeting to be possible. We felt it was an important and ground-breaking moment, but the whole evening seemed surprisingly natural to us. We talked about doughnut recipes, our work, the children. The first thing Daniel said when we got into the car after leaving Anna was, “She looked so beautiful.” And Anna was amazed that Daniel was “so tall”. I was impressed by how they looked at each other with such mutual kindness.
I feel satisfied and happy with the way we’ve managed to establish our relations. As I often heard my former father-in-law say, “happiness favours those who are well-prepared.” We were well-prepared – over the last three years we had been travelling down a long, bumpy road, but it eventually led us to our destination. We demonstrated maturity and showed that we’re able to respect each other despite, or perhaps precisely because of, the difficult past we shared. Earlier (I know I’m repeating myself, but this is important) we’d talked a lot, listened to each other, read, and undergone psychotherapy (each of us individually). Anna had attended support group meetings and I had started a blog. We’d made amends after fights and had tried to smile after tear-filled nights. I’d driven to the river a few times to shout and wail, and then, shaken, I’d hugged the trunks of trees.
Recently I read an essay titled “Divorce – an Optimist’s Guide”. The author, Elizabeth, describes her complex friendship with Beka – complex because of Josh, who was first Beka’s husband, then Elizabeth’s lover and finally her husband. The essay begins with a description of Elizabeth and Beka going to a beauty salon together where, while getting a pedicure, Beka talks about her plans for the day of her divorce hearing. Beka and Josh’s two daughters are with them but they’re so preoccupied with what they’re doing that they don’t pay attention to the conversation. The essay describes Beka and Josh’s motives, as well as the joint efforts of all three of them to achieve such harmony. Beka was mainly guided by her concern for the children (so they wouldn’t be negatively affected by the conflict) and her fear of bitterness, which can result from defining oneself through the prism of divorce. “I’m so happy you understand all this. I wish more divorces would end this way. It’s better for both the children and parents,” Beka said. After the essay was published, Elizabeth faced some harsh criticism. A reader named Nora wrote in a letter to the editor that Elizabeth was behaving like “a character in some Russian novel”, destroying another woman’s life and harming her children profoundly (regardless of what they were saying right now), and that she could no longer call herself a “moral” person. “That’s what a lie will do to you” Nora wrote. She had the right to say so, but her assessment of the situation wasn’t the only way of seeing it; we don’t have to think like this. Nora’s line of reasoning means living in perpetual conflict. In contrast, the choices made by the women described in the essay prove that it’s possible to reach an understanding.
Our evening visit to Anna’s house triggered unexpected emotions. I felt like I was observing the whole meeting rather than taking part in it. I must have been nervous, but I didn’t feel it. I just felt calm and emotionally removed. I restrained my joy cautiously. I guess I couldn’t believe we were all sitting together in one room, smiling and talking casually.
I remember very well how, more than three years ago, I was standing next to Daniel in his flat while he read a story to me that he was writing. In the story he described the five of us having dinner together cheerfully. At that time, I was constrained by many fears and by the belief that the future for a gay married man was inevitably dark. I thought such a happy scene would never be possible. The sheet of paper accepted Daniel’s fantasies, but reality seemed much more difficult at that time, too difficult.
At the end of February we’ll go to Anna’s for a birthday dinner. We’ll make a dessert. We still need to choose a gift for her together.