How my ex-wife having a baby with another man healed the pain of divorce
WHAT is my worst memory from getting divorced? hmm, tricky. Plenty of runners and riders in that contest.
I remember when I told my mother that my wife was moving out. that wasn’t much fun. another time I was at a party not long after we separated and it was as if everyone was viewing me like a mentally ill patient, looking for any signs of an impending breakdown.
I remember packing the last of my things into boxes from our home, a home we’d spent an agonising year renovating, and realising how it now looked the same as the day we moved in.
But while then it was full of hope, that day it was just a soon-to-be vacant shell, a deserted vessel of unfulfilled promise. Yeah, that was probably the worst.
Divorce is a miserable business, no two ways about it. When a marriage ends, people like to say ‘there are no winners’, and they’re right.
For us, there was no great drama. No third parties involved. No children to squabble over.
Our marriage had simply crunched to a halt. If those early years in our 20s could be compared to skipping along on a neatly laid path, then by the time we reached our late 30s, it felt as though we were wheezing through the Gobi wilderness, parched and hopelessly lost with no clue how we got there.
We made a pledge to do things differently from the horror divorces you read about every day.
We split the house and possessions accordingly, and found our own places to live. No need for mediators and certainly no God awful lawyers poisoning the well.
We managed to do all the legal stuff online. after 13 years together, I think the final bill came to £400 (split between two). It felt weirdly insulting.
AFTER that, the barriers came up. When you separate from someone you’ve been in daily contact with for nearly a third of your life, you have to cut the umbilical cord. Photos wiped. texts deleted. Social media accounts unfollowed.
Somewhere in my mind’s eye, a little Facebook icon flashed up: ‘You and your wife are no longer friends.’
We weren’t totally out of touch. We have a dog, a terrier called Lily, which I take off her hands at weekends, but our conversations were limited to when I’d pick Lily up and what food she needed.
One of the things I found most difficult was discovering a new TV series and resisting the urge to tell my ex, knowing how much she’d enjoy it. I suppose that’s what people mean about having someone to share things with in life.
as the months passed, the ties began to loosen. Our friends naturally fell on one side or the other. So I knew nothing of what she was up to except through scant details we exchanged when dropping off the dog.
It felt cold not to ask how her family were, or how she enjoyed a recent trip. But it seemed the less we knew about each other’s lives the better. these weren’t particularly easy times, but they were cordial, polite.
We never once rowed or tried to demean one another. In a way I felt proud of how well we were both getting along. ‘Gosh you’re so lucky,’ people would say when I conveyed this to them, much to my irritation. Luck had nothing to do with it. We had made a deliberate choice not to be bitter.
then one day, two years after we separated, came the moment I’d been dreading: after picking Lily up, I found a note she’d slipped on to the passenger seat under the dog’s paws.
Nervously opening the note when I got home, it announced that my former wife was three months pregnant.
the news came almost out of nowhere. Deep down I probably knew my ex wouldn’t be single long, but because of the distance I’d chosen to put between us, I had no idea that she was even seeing anyone.
For the past two years, I’d been carrying around a niggling sense of anxiety over how I’d digest this kind of news. But after a few deep breaths, I felt something else: a huge sense of relief.
It was as though all the awkwardness from the past couple of years could now be put behind us. I told her how pleased I was, and how much I looked forward to seeing her as a mother.
as for the logistics of how to deal with the dog now there’d be a real baby in her life, we’d find a way of working it out. ‘ We always do,’ I said. and so we have.
a few months later I popped into her flat for the first time and met the father- to- be, something I could never have envisaged doing two years previously.
he couldn’t have been more charming, something I should have expected really. My ego could have done with him being more of an ugly sod, but no matter.
Fast forward 18 months, and my ex and I chat almost every day. It’s no longer just about the dog and hardly ever about our past.
She fills me in with what old friends are up to, or her latest family drama and how her beautiful baby boy is doing.
She’s even gone back to nagging me about my wardrobe. Dropping Lily off the other day, she whispered out of the corner of her mouth: ‘ Maybe don’t wear that shirt again.’ She was right, of course.
Old nicknames which died a sad death after we separated now crop up again. and we can laugh again together, something we hadn’t done in yonks, not even when we were still married.
My ex has a deep, throaty snicker, what I used to call the tart’s cackle as it would have every man in the pub looking round in terror. I’d forgotten how much I’d missed hearing it.
Similarly, she always knows when I am down and in need of a lift. I was having woman trouble the other day, and she could see something was on my mind.
Later, she texted: ‘Love yourself a little.’ It’s amazing how comforting a small thing like that can be.
If that all sounds a little syrupy and nostalgic for the past, then it isn’t meant to. Life has moved on for the better for both of us.
I’m just glad to have an old friend back; the one who, despite some of the unpleasantness we’ve been through, I still trust more than any other person in the world.
LOOKING back, I suppose what that fateful note appeared to provide is what our friends across the pond refer to as ‘closure’.
having been together since we were barely out of university, the whole period of separating felt surreal.
right up until I clicked the door shut on our old home for the last time, I still wondered if it was a stubborn stand-off we were both having with each other.
So when my ex told me that she was pregnant, it felt like the second act of our lives could finally begin.
She plans to marry soon and with the baby eventually needing more room she plans to move in a year or so. I’m hoping not too far, but no bother either way. We’ll deal with all that when we come to it.
Somehow we always do.
Platonic parting: Henry with Lily the dog, who is shared with Henry’s former wife, Sophie