What's that you say? Half of all marriages don't end in divorce, as has long been asserted? Divorces are, in fact, declining? No, I really did not need you to tell me that. What I could use, aside from some sympathy and a decoder ring for this parenting plan, are a few new things.
Yes, it's true, marital dissolutions are becoming rare: Perhaps 11 percent of recent marriages among college graduates end in divorce today. One reason is that young Americans are choosing to marry less often, evidently in sober recognition that forever-promises seem like quaint artifacts of a culture less turbulent than our own. So we few stalwart divorcés, of which I am now one, aren't that different from our marriageless counterparts. A fuller love, a finer life, fewer compromises, fairer treatment; whether by choice or by fate or a mingling of the two, we find ourselves uncoupled, solo explorers in a new world.
Do not forget us in this holiday season, especially those of us raising children. No holiday purchasable will perform magical feats of improvement on us, any more than a mate could. But the holiday giving season is a perfect time to coolly triage the divorcè's needs.
An antidote to magical thinking
Perhaps the divorcé you know wants to go back to the way things were. Perhaps not. My wife and I had some forever memories, but at the end of seven years together, the one thing we shared most deeply, aside from a love for our toddler son, was a conviction that we would be happier divorced.
Even a cordial mutual parting involves grief, though, and even a resolute mind has its eddies and shoals and rip currents. We will have dreams about our exes. We will imagine impossible scenarios. Not merely grand reconciliations, but pleasant small conversations, burning revenge fantasies, future partners and happinesses that exist only in our mental reels. We will also want to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and possibly even Her. We may attempt to wad our frustration into an open palm, suffocate it in a fist, and knuckleball it up to the big cynic in the sky. It can't be helped.
Don't let the divorcé you know drive himself insane trying to extinguish these thoughts; we must be present with them. Give immersive meditation a chance. We have a golden opportunity to better understand how our minds work, and how they break down. We must meet ourselves and others with wizened equanimity.
A cure for the lonely weekend
At some point, a few months after parting, divorcés will tire of eating out on the days their children are taken care of. The atmosphere's novelty will have worn off. They'll begin to worry about the waste of money that in married life seemed a basic operating cost. They will realize that now, more than ever, they have time to cook. So encourage them to cook—good, healthy weekend comfort food. They will find themselves starved for nourishment in so many ways for a while. Let them exult in the ability to satisfy that lack every now and then.
They'll practice so they can make their kids amazing food when they see them. They'll invite friends over the rest of the time. If a divorced dad's friends were willing to meet him at the high-tops in Shenanigans, they'll be willing to try his next-level steak and onion sandwich back at the crash pad. If not, he's better off alone. But he already knew that.
A healthy appreciation of booze and clichès
The divorcé will want to drink. He'll want to feel his feelings, and perhaps share them. He should honor these impulses, within reason. Tell him to go to bars and drink and write things. He should make friends, the kind who will patiently listen to him read things he wrote, and he should bring them home and make them drinks and maybe read things he wrote to them.
Yes, he should go to bars, and recognize that his desire to not be that guy is trumped by the self-awareness that he has already become that guy. We are a little pathetic to young people. (We were pathetic to them, in fact, long before we realized it.) Regardless of his age, he has passed into a new phase of maturity, one in which he is entitled to be comfortable in all his easy, embarrassing solo splendor.
But with our liberty comes a responsibility not to be a real fucking creep. Rather than collapse back into a state of pub-fueled sexual predation, we should allow ourselves to become the archer who is shooting for nothing.
A fitness plan
This is not about sex. This is about the fact that the divorcé is Going Through Some Shit, and shit is extremely stressful, even if the shit-experiencer doesn't realize it, and bodies quickly grow fouled by comfort food and booze and a sedentary tendency to Think Things Through And Maybe Write About Them. Also, we are not very young, and we have children to think of. So Don't let him go to fucking pieces. Make him stay sane and strong and limber.
A materialism-free vacation with the kids
We uncoupled parents need to set the groundwork for a lifelong relationship with our children that is healthy and happy, but that doesn't resemble the broadcast-preferred nuclear fantasy. And we need to do it without spoiling them, competing with the ex, or letting them see too early in life the damage that frail animals can do to each other when wounded or afraid. So Disney's out, the shopping spree is out, and the movies are a cop-out.
The best thing you can do for a guy like that is to take him and his offspring out of cell range, soak them in Vitamin D, and set them to the instantly rewarding work of keeping a different ship afloat.
A little something for the effort
You probably aren't going to buy someone a car for Christmas, unless it's a spouse, and that's obviously not what we're all about in this gift guide. So let me address the divorcé directly here.
The problem is not you. We are, as a society and almost to a person, criminally dishonest about marriage. Even when we criticize the most ridiculous plasticine banalities about love and matrimony, we do so in the most banal of ways. Marriage isn't easy street! The hard part is just beginning! It takes lots of work and compromise from both parties!
This is no less an idealized view than the "happily ever after" trope: On this view, success at marriage merely becomes a matter of effort and character. If your marriage fails, you lacked them in sufficient measure. Seldom is it suggested that despite their sincerest virtues and hardest labors, some people aren't right for a spouse in general, or their spouse in particular.
Whatever transpired to bring you here, you need to understand yourself and enjoy yourself better. Stop blaming yourself. Much progress comes from giving to others and keeping them ever in mind. But some of it comes from taking for yourself the pleasures you've earned.
You deserve to reevaluate the family clunker in light of new needs. It doesn't have to be a midlife crisis Corvette thing, but it can be, if your coparenting partner is okay with the kid in a bucket seat.
[Photo credit: Getty Images]