I was 15, attending a family friend’s bar mitzvah in suburban New Jersey where I lived. There was a couple there about my parents’ age who were behaving in a way that I had never seen grown-ups behave. They looked happy, sexy, in love.
My mother and I were on the dance floor in a throng of people making enthusiastic gestures somewhat in time to the music when we overheard this very tan couple, pressed together as if one or the other might disappear if they released their grasp, say to the mother of the boy being bar mitzvahed, “We got divorced to save our marriage.”
On the drive home, I asked my mother what she thought the tan man and woman were talking about.
“They’re from California, dear,” she answered, as if that explained everything.
Having lived 15 years with good and loving parents whose commitment to each other was anchored in their shared commitment to their children, I had stumbled upon an alternate reality abundant with paradox: the possibility that a couple could not only divorce, but also be happier for it.
What if “Divorcing for the children” was as viable an alternative as “Staying together for the children”?
30 years later, I am preparing for a trip back to suburban New Jersey to attend the bat mitzvah of a dear friend’s daughter. I imagine my son and me whooping it up on the dance floor, as we so often do in the privacy of our own home.
I imagine a teenager noticing this mother and son who seem to be having more fun together than parents and children typically do. This attentive young woman overhears me saying to the mother of the bat mitzvah girl, “We got divorced to save our family.”
On the drive home she asks her mother what such a statement means.
“They’re from Oregon, dear,” her mother reassures her, as if that explains everything.