Two to Tango
It seems like whenever the topic of divorce comes up, the phrase, “It takes two to tango” is somehow woven into whatever conversation follows. Sometimes I even say it myself.
But I’ll tell you – when I was in the early stages of the breakup of my marriage, I used to literally feel like throwing up when people would say that to me. This is because I didn’t want my divorce, and I knew that if John met me halfway, we could piece things together and grow together. But he checked out, telling me outright that he would never work on our marriage again and that as far as he was concerned our marriage was over. He suggested that we stay together for the sake of the kids, but he was clear that he planned to divorce me when they grew up.
This was not only one of the most painful messages I have ever heard in my life, but it also left me with few options. Some friends suggested that I wait it out, that he was bound to turn around if I just hung in there and kept my heart open to possibility. I don’t know if I could have done that. Maybe. But I’ll never know because I ended up filing for divorce within a couple months of his declaration.
I did this because all the rules changed in our relationship at the time John made this declaration, and I ended up with no power. John had control over our finances, and he began to tell me that I now needed to get a job to support myself and the kids. He would not kick us out of the house, but he would no longer pay for many of the things required to keep a household running. Meanwhile, he began making major purchases without consulting me.
And the emotional rules of the game had also changed dramatically. John spent significant amounts of time with another woman, and while he and she both claimed that they were just friends, warning sirens were screaming in my ears. And John quickly lost any interest in hearing about my feelings on the topic. It got to the point where he couldn’t even stand to be in the same room with me. He told me he felt like he was suffocating.
I say all this not to villainize John, but to explain why I had such a visceral reaction when people would tell me, in what struck me as a very pompous manner, that it takes two to tango. Their implied (and sometimes explicit) message was that I had played as much a role in my marriage getting to the place it was as John had, so I had no right to complain or point fingers.
Of course, this was as my heart was bleeding from the pain of it all…
From my current vantage point, I totally see what people were telling me. And I have done enough soul-searching to see many, many ways in which I made life unbearable for John while we were together. Yes, every relationship is a dance, and if both parties aren’t doing their best to stay attuned to one another, to satisfy the emotional and physical needs of the other, then the whole thing will fall apart. I’m as guilty as the next guy. But…
When one person really wants to take dance lessons, or to throw herself into the rhythm, and the other person won’t even join her on the dance floor, then what can she do?
I say all this because I recently had a conversation with a friend about this blog, and her feedback for me is that it’s great and inspirational, but it’s also a little painful for those who want to have a functioning relationship with their ex, but the ex won’t participate.
Wow. Really good point.
I’m so glad she brought this up because the aim of this blog is not to showcase John and me as having it all together, and it is certainly not to suggest that somehow we have all the answers and that if you don’t have a great working relationship with your ex then you must be doing something wrong. No, no, no…
Our story is one way, a way that has worked for us. That’s all. The tango dance continues, and if one person chooses not to participate, even ongoing as exes, then the individual on the dance floor cannot be held responsible for that choice. Or be punished for it. Or be righteous about it.
It simply provides an opportunity for a different kind of dance. A solo dance. One which celebrates what is possible and good in that moment for the dancer.
Ultimately, this is the tack I took when my marriage began to crumble and when John expressed his unwillingness to participate in the dance that was our marriage. I could have raged, I could have begged and pleaded, I could have laid down in a mess on the floor (I did do that quite a few times), but at the end of the day I knew that I could only be in charge of me. And my best choice was to practice and enjoy the solo dance that I would create for myself from this point on.
So that’s what I would say to all readers of this blog. There is no magic formula. John and I happened to luck into this ongoing relationship that works for us and for our kids. If you have an ex who won’t meet you halfway, then seize the opportunity to be the best person you can be. Your kids will see it, the world will see it, and – maybe most importantly – you will feel it. You will be filled with energy and joy, and your unique dance will make the world a more beautiful place.