I Want a Divorce but I Don't Want To Be the Plaintiff
“What? You wanna be the plaintiff?”
Image: Michael Branson Smith
Hard to think of a time a more bizarre sentence has been said to me, and yet here is my husband of a decade, Serge, politely offering me the option of being the one to file for divorce.
He is responding to the expression on my face after he informs me he is heading to the prothonotary office in a nearby town to pick up divorce papers. Yeah, I didn’t know what "prothonotary" meant, either. Just a fancy way of saying "civil court," I suppose.
It’s interesting the way our separation and divorce is playing out. Each new twist and turn always takes me by surprise. If there’s one thing about divorce that’s certain, it’s that nothing is certain. You just never know how each encounter with your partner will go down. Moods change on an hourly basis — one day he’s up and I’m down, the next day I’m feeling positive and he’s not doing so well — and dealing with each other takes a staunch commitment to making everything as cool as possible for our children, and for us.
Nonetheless, it’s a roller-coaster. One minute you think, I got this, the next minute you’re scream-crying into your pillow because it’s so damn overwhelming. Things you could never anticipate when contemplating divorce pop up and gut-punch you: the plastic dinosaur you find in your shoe when the kids are at Dad’s place; the anniversary card he bought that made you laugh out loud you discover while cleaning out your nightstand; watching your entire family drive away from a house that you now occupy alone.
While it’s no secret I initiated the separation, Serge has been the driving force behind actually filing for divorce. We’ve discussed it dozens of times since deciding to separate. Should we/shouldn’t we? Turns out, the actual legal status of our situation isn’t something I spend time focusing on. I’m all about the emotions of the situation: love, hate, anger, sadness. How are we doing? Are you OK? I’m having a bad day. We’re getting along better than ever! That kind of thing. The official documents and all that — just not at the top of my list of Things To Do.
And OK, all right — maybe it’s because I’m not ready to be divorced. I’m OK with just being separated right now. While I don’t feel like living together or really merging our lives in any fashion other than co-parenting is a good idea, I haven’t really felt a pressing need to officially file for divorce either. I’m not dying to date anyone (is anyone over 30 ever dying to date?) and I like Serge now more than ever. My life is 50 shades of gray at this juncture and it certainly ain’t the kinky kind.
Serge, on the other hand, is all black and white: We’re either married or we’re not, if we’re going to live apart and date other people, then we need to get this divorce show on the road. I have deferred to him on this matter and it isn’t really like I have a choice. We’ve talked the thing in more circles than necessary and basically if he needs to be divorced, then OK, I tell him. But if he just wants to wait and see what the future holds, that’s kind of where I am, and he’s welcome to join me in that place.
He needs to be divorced. There is no room for gray in his life. I can understand that and I respect it. I’ve already signed a set of divorce papers once, at his request, and he ended up tossing them. But now he’s bringing it up again and I can tell he means business.
I defer the divorce filing to him because I’m such a confused mess, it isn’t fair to keep him in limbo. If this is what he needs to close the book on us and move on then I have to give it to him, whether or not it’s the route I feel like taking. Letting him divorce me is a risk I have to take, considering what I know about us together. I’ve told him I can’t rule out not being with him in the future but something keeps holding me back from making any kind of commitment right now. My mind constantly relives what we were like on a daily basis for the last couple years of our marriage and I cannot go back to that place. Never again.
When he told me he was headed to the courthouse, I suppose he mistook my expression of distress as me being annoyed that he was the one filing and not me, so he graciously offered to let me be the plaintiff. His very sincere offer made me burst out laughing at the absurdity of the whole situation. “No. I don’t care about being the plaintiff. You can be the plaintiff.”
“Yeah. I don’t care. Plaintiff, defendant — I don’t care.”
“It’s gonna cost about $300. We check off a bunch of boxes and then it’s done. We’ve already separated finances and agreed to joint custody so it’s pretty straightforward.”
“Want me to give you half of the fee?”
“And then what? You file the papers and in three months it’s official?”
“Yep. That’ll put it at the end of October.”
We pause, recognizing the significance of the month.
“Just after our 10-year anniversary.”
We stand there, looking at each other, contemplating the crushing sadness/weirdness of our circumstances. Is he waiting for me to tell him not to file? I don’t know. And I can’t do that out of respect to him. He has to do what he has to do. I understand that even though I also know that letting him file could cause me to lose him forever. I know this man. When he is done with something, he is done. Even though I know that in my heart I’ll never be done with him, I also realize that we don’t work together in so many crucial ways and the only reason we’re getting along so well now is because we are separated.
Letting him go right now is just a risk I have to take. Maybe I’ll regret it, maybe I won’t, but it’s the right decision for right now and that’s all I can really go on. The future is unwritten. And I like it that way.
In this column, "Separating, Together," Serge and Monica Bielanko will be writing about parenting, separation and navigating their relationship in an entirely new way.
Originally published on mom.me