Beth and I were married once, for a little while. It was the result of some outside influence and our own mistaking a relationship as two good friends who enjoyed each other’s company for two people who should probably just sign some documents, throw a party, and be roommates for life.
I had a neutron-star-level crush on her when I was fourteen, and she was more or less oblivious to this. I met her the night of a Tori Amos concert to which my sister had begrudgingly allowed me to tag along. I cared less about seeing Tori Amos than I did making a good impression on this cute new friend of my sister's. When we got back home that night, she and I stayed up and talked about dogs. She had a purebred yellow Labrador named Beau. I had a black mutt named Bo.
When we reconnected years later, we both felt we’d found a suitable counterpart to match our penchants for blacking out and building local reputations for doing wildly regrettable things that allowed for our own steadily flowing cocktails of adrenaline and dopamine to light up our respective neural circuits.
To understate things considerably, it was not the right decision. I knew it at the time (I'm pretty sure we both did), but for all I’d ever heard about powering through the premarital condition commonly referred to as “cold feet,” it’s a natural reaction to assume all that reluctance and anxiety is an inherent part of the process and one should hold their own feet to the fire rather than run far, far away in the opposite direction. She was my best friend, so it made enough sense to follow through at the time.
It was a spectacular mess.
Even the method of proposal I took was apropos of our general approach to a relationship. At our favorite bar, both of us already being a few drinks deep and sitting on the steps next to a jukebox we’d laid unspoken claim to, I had planned on proposing during “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes. I found it fitting because I had had a thing for this girl when we were both on the greener end of our teens, then followed roughly a decade of indifference, and we ended up reconnecting in our early twenties. It seemed like a slow burn on a good story. We were always more seduced by the narrative than we ever were by each other.
Waiting for my moment in the bar, I still had to wait for the song to queue up. The engagement ring was burning a hole through my pocket. As Beth returned from grabbing a couple of drinks for us, I noticed that whatever song was playing was near its end. I hoped it was the last in line of whatever selections preceded my own. I thought it would be perfect timing if the unmistakeable bassline beat and tambourine intro to The Supremes’ track were to flood the air from the speakers overhead. Instead, what came on was “Flirtin’ with Disaster” by Molly Hatchet.
I couldn’t not.
My dollar worth of songs was still to come, and I was feeling both impatient and excited by the prospect of redirecting the narrative toward something that would make a better story. Less romantic, more idiotic and hilarious. But that was the nature of our whole dumb thing. We thought it was interesting, funny, and we didn’t think we had anything better to do at the ages of 23 and 24. It ended up being the more appropriate song after all.
She said “yes,” we both said “I do,” and then later we said “never mind.”
Though there were ups and downs afterwards, when we got divorced we were pretty relieved to be emancipated from one another, and excited by the prospect of rebuilding a friendship. After signing the requisite papers, we high-fived in the divorce lawyer’s parking lot and went our separate ways. Every year, I try to make a point to wish her a happy “anti-versary” either on the day we got married or the day our divorce was finalized (whichever time I remember to do it), both to celebrate the fact that we are not having an anniversary, and as a way of reminding her, “Hey, remember that one time we had that weird idea and did that thing? So glad that's over, eh?”
As much as I can say I do have some regrets over the past thirty-something years, I don’t think I can ever truly regret making the mistake of marrying my best friend. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea, but in the end, it wasn't the worst thing in the world. Seeing as how she and I are friends today and it didn’t really ruin our friendship, I can consider it something we probably would have been better off not doing, but not a real regret.
In buddhism, there is a concept called muditā. Following the belief that the path to enlightenment is guided by the erosion of the ego and an eradication of self-serving desires, muditā involves a feeling of sympathetic compassion, allowing space in one’s heart and mind for joy and elation felt vicariously for someone else and their well-being.
The obverse to this is schadenfreude, the German word that refers to taking delight in someone else’s misfortune. (It’s a shame to admit, but I’ve been no stranger to the latter concept for most of my life. Sometimes it’s just nice to come across the publicly-available mugshot of someone you have developed an extreme distaste for, or finding out that some jackass from high school has to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.)
Since Beth and I are more like siblings than anything else (and much to her chagrin, I tend to refer to her as my “little brother,” even though she’s older than me and also female and I say it more because it annoys her than because it bears any resemblance to the truth), there’s a subtle sense of competition and rivalry. I can’t consider this a bad thing at all, at least until things occasionally get out of hand. (After the dissolution of my second marriage, Beth was one of the only people to reach out and help me keep my head above water. In one conversation, the subject arose of why I decided to get married again so quickly after ours had fallen apart. I told her, “I think I got married at you.” It was mostly a joke. (Mostly.))
Just as the nuclear arms race between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. might have compelled one side or the other to enter unlikely or unfortunate alliances with other nations, that sense of competition between the two sides also contributed to the advancement of the space program. We went to the moon.
So, thankfully, neither side blew the other one up. But we, as mankind, left some footprints, flags, golf balls, and dune buggies on the moon. Progress was made. It's a cold, unforgiving, spherical desert in the middle of the bigger, blacker, more-full-of-nothing desert of outer space, but we got up on that thing.
We put our boots on the moon. On the moon.
Post-apocalyptic Unicorn Daydream
Since I am afforded the unique perspective of knowing just how bad our marriage was, and I am able to see how perfectly matched she and her husband Matt are, I consider it a privilege to be able to witness the transformation she underwent as she found herself falling in love with someone who could truly love her back the way she deserves. Matt is one of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever met, and I’m extraordinarily thankful that he had the insight and confidence to welcome me into their fold as they moved forward in their own relationship.
I’ve had female friends’ husbands who have forced a moratorium on our communication due to insecurities of their own, no matter how rigidly respected the platonic confines of the friendship. It takes a certain amount of self-awareness and trust for a husband to not only accept his wife’s friendship with her ex-husband (or as we all call it, the “was-band”), but to go above and beyond by making an effort to be welcoming and encouraging for us all to move forward as friends. Though it is likely just a natural aspect of his disposition for him to be so understanding, it is still one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever been able to receive.
As happy as I was for Beth and Matt when they found each other, I was not prepared for the depth of happiness I felt for her, and them both, when they brought their little Eula into the world. I was excited for Beth that she was going to be a mother, but when I saw Eula for the first time, I felt a sense of happiness for someone else on a level I can’t recall ever having reached before. It was unfettered, uncomplicated, and deeper than I had ever felt for myself.
It is the closest I have come to muditā.
And though it was a process that took place gradually over time, the birth of Eula was the milestone in the timeline at which I can point to as the pivotal moment when this grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.