I had been debating the cushy down-filled couch for a good 20 minutes, sitting on one end, then getting up and sitting down on the other.
"It is a nice couch," Jennifer said, trying to be helpful — although it could be that she was finally getting a little annoyed. "And, you know, you deserve it."
She was right. Plus, I loved the couch. I wanted it.
Of course, I already owned it! But when Rob and I split, everything we accumulated in 15 years of marriage had to be divvied up and negotiated. Who gets what, and at what price?
And so I walked around the house we'd bought when Trent was a baby with pen and pad in hand, eying my stuff as "deals," not unlike I used to do as an 8-year-old playing "Store" in my bedroom — placing stickers on everything I owned and "selling" them to my imaginary customers.
Divorce had turned my home into a gigantic estate sale, but of my own stuff. The rugs, the paintings, the silverware, the wonderful couch. Everything needed a price tag attached to it so Rob and I would come out equal. Even the garbage can, which Rob priced at $4. I wasn't going to fight him for it; I mean, I could buy a much cleaner one for $8.
In fact, there wasn't too much we owned that I wanted to tussle over — it was, after all, just stuff. And when we managed to work out a 50-50 custody arrangement for The Kid, divorce didn't seem as bad as I thought.
True, I was an emotional mess, but at least we'd handled the his and hers part fairly well.
Or so I thought.
"So what'd you do this weekend?" I asked Trent as I picked him up from his dad's new house shortly after our divorce.
"Oh, we were over Kristen and Simon's house for dinner. We watched 'Gladiator.' It was fun."
"That's nice, honey," I said, trying to sound cool as I loaded his backpack and suitcase into my van, things he'd need to spend the next few days with me. But I wasn't. In fact, I was confused and, well, shocked. Anna, Kristen and Simon's mom, is one of my good friends.
What in the world was she doing inviting my kid over without me — but with my ex?
And that's when it hit me; Rob and I were able to split our stuff and our kid's time fairly equitably, but there was one thing that we had no say in whatsoever, and that even a judge couldn't decree — which friends went with me and which friends were Rob's.
Our friends got to decide for themselves.
After all, I brought those friends into the marriage! I was the one who planned and cooked for all those dinner parties! I had their kids over for play dates! I listened to her complain about how he never remembered their anniversary, and him complain how she always seemed too tired for sex! They were ... mine!
It's one of the big unpredictables in a divorce. Forget a prenup over money and possessions; who gets custody of the friends is the real issue.
Yet as hard as divorce is for the exes and the kids, it's just as complicated for the friends. Do they congratulate us or say they feel sorry? Do they stick by both of us, or one or the other? If they were the wife's friends but they liked her hubby better, do they ditch her as ruthlessly as he might have ditched her? Who gets invited to the Saturday game nights, the bar mitzvahs, the 50th birthday parties? And how quickly will they tire of hearing his and her post-divorce woes?
Now, it would seem that the friends you brought to the marriage would be yours to keep after the split. But if you were the "bad" one, like the one who suffered a midlife crisis in the worst possible way — red Corvette, Armani Exchange sunglasses and the idea that you deserved someone younger, prettier and blonder — maybe your friends might not want to go along for the ride. But if there isn't any "bad" person, just a seemingly happy marriage gone awry, it's even more troubling. Suddenly, friends you've known forever, who told you the raunchiest jokes in confidence, who shared their most intimate thoughts — their Rebecca Romijn fantasies and how they still secretly love Foreigner — are at a loss of what to say or do to help.
When Rob and I were in couples therapy, all our friends were supportive of me — but I'm pretty sure it wasn't so much about the fact that he'd done the "bad things" (although he did!). More likely, they projected our reality onto their own marriage: "If that could happen to them ..." Most started to take an emotional inventory of their own relationships. And more than a few of them bad-mouthed Rob, but that wasn't too helpful, either. I once loved the guy and carried his baby; if he was that bad, what was that saying about me?
Then, when we divorced, there was some collective mourning — all those potlucks! the crazy New Year's parties! the vacations together! — nothing more than digital files on our Canon PowerShots.
But as we made our way through the Kübler-Ross steps, an odd thing happened. Rob slowly started becoming a welcome guest, and I — the same woman who once could banter with the best of them — now stripped of a man, became as threatening a B-movie monster. I would steal their husbands! I would "put ideas" in their wives' heads! I was single, carefree and happy, and they were, well, married!
In a way, I felt relieved for Rob — men often suffer so much more than women post-divorce because we gals tend to be the social gatekeepers. But losing a husband and friends just adds to the isolation and unlovability most divorced women experience, at least in the early stages. I sometimes felt like I didn't know who I "belonged" to. Not unexpectedly, the men eventually became closer to Rob and the women became closer to me, especially as they themselves have gotten divorced and looked for a sympathetic ear served up with a Lemon Drop or two. A few broad-minded souls decided that even though we are now two separate units, we're still pretty much a bargain — like two for one.
So just like I "shopped" my own stuff during the split — what to keep, what to discard — I've had to shop my friends, too. Who were the classics who fit in with the "accessories" — new lovers, new activities — of my post-divorce life? Who were the trendy ones who wouldn't last in the long haul but would hang around long enough to be part of the action of my relationship drama? And who were the ones who no longer fit no matter how hard I — or they — tried?
But I've also shopped for new friends, too, and the beauty of that is that no matter the color, size, shape or style, you can truly find the perfect fit. And that, as the MasterCard ads say, is priceless.