“How was your day?”
“Very Happy. Happy?”
After a year of planning, meetings, interviews, anxiety, angst, excitement, and over seventy thousand dollars apiece, my best friend, Rebecca, and I are beginning new lives. I am getting divorced and she is getting married. Both of us did it “New York Style.” Getting in and out of relationships “New York Style,” even for bargain hunters and hagglers like us, costs. Yet, she got a registry, shower, party and mazel tovs, while I received looks of sympathy, heard “Oh, I am so sorry,” and got scratched, over and over, from friends’ party-lists. After years of suffering in a bad marriage, I deserved the mazel tovs…for finally leaving; not to mention that, just like Rebecca, I was also in need of new linens, kitchen knives and a few fun parties.
Rebecca and I have been best friends for over a dozen years. Both of us are thirty-three, long-time Manhattan dwellers, originally from very small towns. She was there for me through my engagement and each of the painful years of marriage that followed. I was there for her boyfriend after boyfriend and painful break-up after painful break-up. We knew life was going to be interesting when within the same week she announced her engagement to her boyfriend of three years and I announced that my husband and I of nine years were divorcing.
Rebecca wanted a splashy New York style wedding at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and I wanted a top-notch attorney. While she was interviewing caterers and discovering costs could run her at least $300 per person, I was sitting down with lawyers that were costing me between $450 -$550 an hour and charging me for the postage to send the bill!! We girded ourselves for the expensive year ahead.
When I confronted her midway through and said, “Hey, no fair, at the end of this you’re getting a big party,” she reminded me, “Yeah, but you’re getting your freedom.” She added, ironically, that she could have used the parties after each of her break-ups, but now that she is at peace and settling down with the love of her life, “the parties and wedding are like the icing on my $1000 wedding cake.”
It was surprising to me how similarly we spent our time this year. Both of us spent an inordinate amount of time browsing in lingerie stores and shopping. Our cell phone conversations went something like, “So which Victoria’s Secret are you in? With your legal bills and my wedding bills don’t you think we should be curbing our shopping habit?”
I was thinking ahead to my life on the dating circuit, and accepted that it was probably time to shift out of Jockeys-for-her. Replacing the most comfortable underwear known to woman with something a little sexier without giving up comfort, like lawyers in New York, I discovered, does not come cheap.
Was I jealous that my best friend was shopping at lingerie stores with gift certificates she collected at the bridal shower that I had thrown for her? No, but I couldn’t help wondering what Rebecca’s reaction would be if after I burn my current lingerie in a bonfire I ask her to throw a divorce shower for me and register for $20.00 underwear and new silk nightgowns.
If we weren’t shopping, we were most likely exercising. I was off to a yoga class or dance workshop to burn off some stress and she was on a treadmill ensuring her size six dress would fit on her big day. For all the wear and tear of the last year, I must say, we are both looking healthier and more toned. But is it fair that I should be judged for all the TLC I gave myself this year, while she was praised? The expectation is the bride should be blooming, not the divorcee.
In between and sometimes during our shopping, exercising, and expensive meetings, we did a lot of praying. Neither the path to the chupah or to a get (jewish divorce) is particularly smooth. She prayed that her husband’s secular a l’extreme friends and family (the Sopranos seem more Jewish) would not crash her traditional Jewish wedding (she flew Rabbis in from Israel). I prayed and prayed that I would have the strength, courage, and right lawyer to get me to the finish line. Unlike a wedding date, a divorce date is a moving target set by the one who wants it least.
There was one major difference. Her Hollywood script was all non-stop sweet talk between her and her fiancé. “Oh, I love you.” “Oh, I love you more.” My script? Passive-aggressive death wishes between my estranged husband and me. Sure, they had some of the usual pre-marriage tensions and tiffs, but nothing to compare with the scenes that took place during our feeble attempts at divorce mediation. If only we had sold the rights to a network looking for reality TV, we could have recouped the $3,000 that we threw away there. “I am sorry we are going to need a time out for you two!” The mediator said to us after one explosion over a fabricated illicit affair.
Did I mention her Mom, Rosie? The one who held both of us together many times over the course of the year. Often, when her mother from Massachusetts would call to discuss wedding details, she would find me there and end up discussing outstanding settlement issues. A fellow writer, she did her best to direct my attention back to the written word: “ Are you at least writing down these dialogues with your husband?”
Surely, it’s the lack of proper rituals and celebrations to assist a woman or a man through a divorce that creates so much pain and acrimony: A grave denial of the life/death/life nature of living. Yes, at one time there was life in our marriage and now it is dead, but once again there will be life for all concerned.
The time has come for the divorce shower, the divorce shiva and divorce sheva brachos (seven blessings following marriage). As a little mourning over the burial of lost dreams would go a long way in acknowledging everyone’s sadness: close friends, family, and community at the time of divorce. After the wedding, Jewish couples get a week of parties called sheva brachos, a time for them to receive seven blessings for their new life together. Do divorcees need a week of blessings for their new life any less?
Well, getting married and getting divorced New York style will always have one thing in common. When Rebecca is finally married and I am finally divorced, no matter how much cash she gets or how ample my settlement, neither of us will be able to afford a decent apartment.