I was chatting with a friend the other day about the situation my husband and I suddenly find ourselves in and how we’re dealing with it. I mentioned that I’m stressed about finding a place to live on my own, and that I’m even more stressed about moving day and splitting up all our stuff. He said, “Oh, so you’re getting divorced?” and I said, “Well, not right away. In fact, it’s possible we’ll just stay legally married until one of us finds someone we’d like to settle down with.” This surprised him. Why wouldn’t we get divorced and just get it over with?
Well, for one thing, divorce seems to be a costly and difficult thing. It’s something I know almost nothing about – for instance, do we file for divorce in the state where we got married, or where we’re currently living? Do we have to hire a lawyer or is it possible to do without, assuming the split is amicable enough? How does one get started? How much does it cost? Are there laws that require us to, say, separate for a certain amount of time before filing or jump through other legal hoops? These are all big scary questions that I know I’ll have to answer someday… but I don’t want to answer them right now.
There’s also the issue of lost benefits once we split. We enjoy a better tax rate because we’re married. We share car and health insurance. We are currently able to care for each other and act on each other’s behalf if catastrophe strikes. I hope it doesn’t – but it is reassuring to know that, in this new city where I have no family and only a few close friends, there is someone who is willing and legally able to handle my affairs if something terrible should happen. It’s a safety net that, frankly, makes this transition less terrifying. I don’t want to give up that safety net – and I don’t want him to have to give it up, either.
In my case, there’s also the very real possibility that once I give up these benefits I won’t get them back – whether or not I ever meet someone else I’d like to marry. We are making great strides toward equal marriage opportunities, but we are not nearly there yet. Even if I live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, it’s still unrecognized at the federal level and is likely to stay that way for some time. So as soon as the divorce goes through, I am at the mercy of institutionalized discrimination. I find myself wanting to delay that inevitability as long as possible. Is that a selfish line of thinking? Not really. It would be selfish if my husband wanted a divorce, and I was refusing him one based on those reasons. As long as he’s ok with staying married on paper, so am I; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
I still love my husband. I always will. In fact, it’s because I love him that I think it’s best for us to separate. We have discussed the option of staying in an open marriage, where we still treat each other like spouses and keep our legal benefits but are free to date and find certain kinds of fulfillment in other people. But I know he wants children. I know he dreams of having a wife who loves him and wants him, who wants to build a family and a future with him. He deserves that dream. He deserves to be married to a woman who desires him. He deserves the children he’s always wanted. I can’t give him that, and it would be cruel to trap him in a relationship where those things were either impossible or complicated to achieve. Eventually, I will be in the way. I don’t want that for him or for me.
But there’s no reason to send ourselves through that difficult and costly journey just yet. There’s no reason to take this leap alone, without the safety net a marriage implies. For now, we care about each other and have the means to take care of each other. Our marriage is – and always has been – what we make it.