After my parents and I swept the floors and took out the trash, we bid adieu to the rental house I had shared with my soon-to-be-ex-husband. Mom, Dad, and Tucker headed west for Minnesota, leaving me alone to wrap up loose ends. My divorce hearing would be held at the county courthouse the next afternoon, and I was grateful to be spending the next two nights with my church friends, Julie and Jodi.
Julie, Jodi, and their five-month-old son, Reuben, lived in a gorgeous “green” home that they built using straw bale construction. It was full of repurposed materials and personal touches, including kitchen counters made from chalkboard slate they salvaged from an old schoolhouse. The stuccoed walls were stained with earthy shades of matte clay paint, and the quiet room I stayed in was a deep red that was counterintuitively calming. With its wide open spaces and accents of marvelous wood, the home—much like its owners—emanated warmth and character.
On Sunday night, I sat and talked to Julie and Jodi about the last few months of my marriage. I had largely kept quiet while in the fray, as opening up would’ve meant admitting to myself how bad things had gotten. So I recounted bits and pieces of the hellish summer, my escape to Minnesota, and the divorce process. Julie and Jodi were curious about all my name-changing, and I explained that it was relatively easy, since it’s built into the marriage and divorce documents.
Before they had Reuben, the two of them decided to create their own family name—rather than choose between their names or hyphenate, they crafted an original name out of words that had significance for them. It was shocking to hear how much it cost to have their names legally changed. It hadn’t cost me anything—beyond the fairly modest cost of a marriage license—for the “privilege” of adding John’s last name to mine.
In my humble opinion, U.S. marriage law could use some work. The legal aspects of marriage should be entirely separate from the (many, wonderful, diverse) religious traditions associated with marriage. I got married in a church, and guess what?—the pastor didn’t officiate, or even attend, my divorce, and the church didn’t offer to help me work through the end of the union. How was I supposed to reconcile my “I do” with what I was about to do, which was go to the courthouse and take it back?
Technically, the legal and religious aspects of marriage are quite separate, but people don’t seem to get that. If your church doesn’t want to marry certain people, well, that’s just fine with me. But your courthouse should provide equal access to the legal contract. All adults should have the same opportunity to enter into what might become a phenomenal marriage, a complete nightmare, or some middling form of coexistence. All couples should have the same shot at making it to their “golden anniversary” party—to eat cake, surrounded by their progeny, in a house full of memories. Matching cardigan sweaters optional.
Maybe this is a radical idea, but I also think it should be a tiny bit harder to get married and a great deal easier to get divorced. Currently, it takes a hell of a lot more time, money, and paperwork to get divorced than it does to get married. Sure, weddings are ridiculously expensive. But you don’t have to throw a lavish party to get legally married. The current laws make it easy for a man and woman to get hitched quickly (Vegas, baby!) and painfully difficult for people who can’t afford a divorce attorney to free themselves from what are sometimes terrible situations.
Can I get an “AMEN!?” At the very least, I hope I can get an “I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from, sister,” because life is more rich when we attempt to see things from another perspective.
After the heavy conversations with Julie and Jodi, I went to bed with an equally heavy heart and a self-help book. (Believe it or not, someone actually wrote Chicken Soup for the Divorced Soul. But that’s an aside, and it’s not the book I read.) Sometimes, when life feels impossibly confusing, it’s reassuring to wander around a bookstore in search of written respite. So with my latest find in hand, I snuggled into the soft bed in Julie and Jodi’s red room and read and prayed and cried and slept. In that order.