When someone asks me if I’m married, I’m often unsure how to respond.
“Well, I’m divorced but I live with my ex-husband and he’s my best friend” is my casual response but only when I don’t mind follow-up questions.
In recent years, I also explained that not only did I live with my ex-husband, but with his new wife as well. Oh, and she shares my first name. This revelation not only incited more questions, and no we were not sister-wives, but there was typically a facial expression that could be described as a cross between skepticism, horror, and maybe a trace of hidden laughter. It seemed the idea of living with my ex-husband, our two small children and his new wife was the height of hilarity, or I was simply out of my mind. What I share with M is what may be considered modern love because it doesn’t seem to fit in any traditional definition of marriage or romantic love. Our love story did start out something more akin to the movies which may have been exactly what caused the relationship and marriage to implode so many times.
M and I first met at a small community college. I was studious and trying to save money by going to a cheap school for two years before transferring to the University of my choice. He was a slacker who was stoned most of the time. At first, I found him almost repugnant. It wasn’t anything to do with who he was as a person, I just didn’t know much about people because I was an anti-social teenager and had my eye on the prize, not boys. My best friend, Mary, was the one who had eyes for him, which led to M and me becoming friends. After spending increasingly more time together, something began to grow and we had to deal with having romantic feelings while also being respectful to Mary. Though there were tears, fights, and the brutalization of a seven-year friendship, Mary finally accepted M as my boyfriend. Our relationship seemed to have exhausted multiple emotions in a short amount of time. We were inseparable and unbearable to our friends but we didn’t care because we were young, passionate, and naive.
M also enlisted in the Marines a few months after the beginning of our relationship which created an urgency between us. I wasn’t planning on being a military wife just yet as I had been accepted to a private liberal arts college an hour from home and was ecstatic.
Thus, began the first of many trials our relationship went through. Going from every day together to more than three months of exchanging only letters, and a single phone call with a poor connection. Once he returned from boot camp, we were two completely different people. He was a stoic marine and I was a social college girl living in a dorm. It just didn’t work and by the end of his leave, before he had to ship off to his next round of military schooling, he had broken up with me. This was a particularly hard blow as it was apparent throughout the week that we didn’t make as much sense, and even more upsetting when his family asked us when we were going to get married just hours before the dumping. I returned to school but assured him that I really did want to remain, friends, because we were friends first. A month later, I visited him at Camp Pendleton, and when he was about to fly to Kentucky for six months, I skipped class and my two best college friends came along with me for an impromptu trip to the San Diego airport so I could say goodbye. We decided that we wanted to try us again.
The combination of long distance and immaturity is a recipe for insecurities to creep through every thought. Only a couple of months after reuniting, M unceremoniously broke up with me again, this time over the phone while I was at Target. Months went by and we continued our friendship, through emails, and phone calls culminating in another attempt at the relationship upon his return. We continued a long-distance relationship when he went to Iraq. There were arguments and jealousy while he was gone but when he returned, we were stronger. One day in the summer before my senior year of college, I decided M and I were going to get married. I prepared paperwork and booked a library that does weddings. I let M know that we were getting married in two weeks. He only asked what he was going to wear. So, began our marriage. Missing college experiences, dropping out of college after commuting and being excommunicated from my friends caused resentment that didn’t show itself for a few years.
Six months of being married, M was off to Iraq for the second time and I was left in our three-bedroom house with only our three dogs to keep me company. The time away was strenuous at times but most of that stemmed from the uncertainty of whether he was going to come home again. There was more than one instance of confusion in which I was told my husband was one of the marines who was killed during a firefight. Terrible communication between marine wives and military officials aside, M returned home and we knew we wanted to start a family. After only a few months of trying, I was pregnant and we were buying our first home.
This was also around the time when M was discharged from the marines. Unfortunately, PTSD is a real thing and the only way the VA was helping him was through piling on as many medications as they could, resulting in someone less like a husband and more like a zombie. We became distant, barely talking and when we did, it would end in an argument. He thought I was a nag and I thought he was lazy and didn’t spend nearly as much time with our new son as he should. We were on our way out when one day we decided to have sex that was more out of need and probably a bit of hatred which resulted in the best marriage parting gift we could have asked for, my daughter.
While I was in my early stages of pregnancy M met another woman named Megan (So many M names! I know). She was two years younger than us but seemed even younger. She was a free spirit and apart from our matching names, long dark hair, and Tina Fey glasses, we were completely different. I saw their relationship blooming, and while I trusted M, I also realized how much I didn’t care if they did have feelings for each other and wanted to act on them. I was done with the marriage, so rather than build an even larger divide of hatred between us, or wait to see if he did cheat, I exited the marriage. I found him an apartment and we went our separate ways with M kicking and screaming the whole way out. I barely wanted to speak to him for months. When I gave birth to our daughter, I called him from the hospital but didn’t even have a working number for him. He had seedy new friends and I wanted nothing to do with it.
It was almost a year after we separated when I felt comfortable seeing him regularly and we remembered how much we adored spending time with each other. He and the other Megan were a happy couple and I wanted M to know that I respected his relationship and wanted to get to know her. The three of us spent an evening chatting, laughing, drinking and reconnecting as people beyond who was married to who, and who dated who. A month after our divorce was final, M and other Megan married. She was now in the Navy and moving to Washington state. Upon finding this out, M was unsure if he wanted to move with her because he didn’t want to leave his children. Somehow the three of us decided that since I wanted to move out of California anyway, that maybe the kids and I should stay with them in Washington for a while until I find work. The fact that this woman was offering to house her new husband’s ex-wife and two toddlers just so they would be together was what I believed to be exceptional. The five of us did have plenty of good times and a real friendship grew between Other-Megan and me. We even published a children’s book together with my story and her art. Things weren’t so positive between the newlyweds. Their marriage was of constant tension and it surprisingly had nothing to do with me. She tended to cheat and it ate away at him daily. There were screaming matches a few times a week. The deterioration of their marriage only strengthened our friendship. After Other Megan returned from sea declaring she wanted a divorce. It was truly disappointing to see the end of another marriage for M. He didn’t deserve so much strife and she wasn’t prepared for all the responsibility of being a wife, and stepmom. She’s just a nice girl from Orange County who took on too much, but we did have a lot of fun together and I think about her often. M, the kids, and I returned to California where we lived together in the house we originally bought as for our family.
Now a few years later, we have returned to Washington just the four of us. He is still legally married but more out of inability to complete the paperwork with her. We have no plans to remarry as our relationship isn’t that simple. Romantic love is fleeting and our love is deeper and more vital to our lifelong happiness. We are completely dedicated to being parents together, and being best friends who have no interest in finding anyone else for right now. There may be a day in the future when one of us may find someone else we want to be with, and neither one of us deny this reality, nor are we concerned by it. We also know that no matter what happens in the future and even if it leads to the distance between us, we will always find each other in one way or another because relationships aren’t always permanent but we are.