My son got married a few weeks ago. However, what should have been a weekend of unadulterated delight was filled with moments of sadness. Not because I don’t like his new wife (she is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met), or because I’m estranged from my son (he’s great), or because of the venue or the in-laws or religious objections. No, I was unhappy because my ex-husband invited his girlfriend.
Ever since I found out that my ex-husband of two years was bringing his girlfriend to the three-day camp wedding in the Adirondacks, I’ve been alternatively dreading and looking forward to the occasion. At first, I tried to get a date, but I’m not dating anyone, and I just couldn’t see asking even good friends to travel six hours each way from my home in New York City for three full days. I asked everyone I knew if they could think of someone who might want to come, but to no avail. I even tried to find a rent-a-date agency. After all, with visions of The Wedding Date with Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney flashing before my eyes, how hard could it be? Well, it turns out that such people are fictitious, even if you’re willing to pay. All I found was one agency with some guys who were about 30 and looked like Chippendales dancers — not quite what I had in mind.
So I decided to go it alone. After all, I am pretty independent, have a good life, and do reasonably interesting things. My friends told me that I would be fine, that all my negative feelings would disappear. I was the mother of the groom, it was a wonderful happy occasion, and I had a role to play that was meaningful. Plus, it’s not like I wanted my ex-husband back or was jealous exactly.
Well, it turns out my friends were not exactly correct. On the two days before the actual ceremony, I did not feel strong. I felt like a loser. I hid in my hotel for most of one of the days, thinking up cutting remarks to make to my ex-husband and his date if they dared approach me (it turns out that you can take the girl out of high school but you can’t take the high school out of the girl). I cried a little and felt sorry for myself. And I got angry with myself for being a coward, and missing out on any part of this happy occasion.
But mainly I ached. My ex-husband and I were married for 30 years and although not all of those years were happy ones, we shared a life and raised a family. However, this wedding forced me to recognize that my “gray” divorce means that for every special family occasion that occurs in the future, I will have to be prepared to share it with a stranger, an outsider to the tight circle I viewed as my family. We are no longer the happy nuclear family we once were. I will have to be more mature and more accepting than I am currently. And I will have to deal with the fact that my ex-husband found someone special pretty quickly, while I am sort of in limbo about relationships. I haven’t gone on an online dating site or taken any affirmative steps towards going on a date, but I do sort of wish I could meet someone I like.
It turns out that the actual ceremony and dinner afterwards were wonderful. My son and his wife were joyous and radiant, and the entire evening was incredibly special. I laughed, danced and enjoyed myself. I was able to reconnect with my son’s longstanding childhood friends, a group of boys who basically grew up in front of me and have developed into amazing men. And I met some newer friends of my son and his wife, all of whom bathed me in warmth. But I never said a word to my ex-husband or his girlfriend, never quite had the courage to be gracious and even tried to avoid standing next to my ex in the wedding pictures.
One of the great lies about getting older is that it inevitably leads to wisdom or acceptance or understanding. At least in my case, that hasn’t been true. I’m still the same person I always was (well inside, anyway), and changing my reactions will require a conscious and not inconsiderable effort. But I have a goal. My daughter is getting married in two years. So, along with helping her plan her wedding, my personal wedding agenda includes a determination to greet my ex-husband and his girlfriend, assuming they are still together, with equanimity and banish all hints of sadness or mixed emotions.
But, if you happen to know a good rent-a-date agency or if Dermot Mulroney is available, please let me know!