The killing part. If Thad and I ever pulled a Kristen and Bill, that was exactly the thing that would undo me. Because no matter how glorious the alone-time was, and no matter how roomy the bed felt, he would eventually start dating.
And I would have to kill him.
I explained this to Kristen the next time I saw her, when we ran into each other at a bar in town. I was there celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday; she was on a date.
Actually, she was almost on a date. He hadn’t shown up yet, so I sat down next to her.
“Does Bill know?” I asked.
“He does now,” she said, and pursed her lips. It had been months since I’d seen her at Wegmans. Things had changed. A lot.
It had gone down like this: For more than a year, Kristen hadn’t been intimate with Bill at all. (“I barely wanted to look at him.”) Shortly after they separated, she had started getting her battery charged again with a no-strings-attached guy she met up with on her nights “off.”
That didn’t mean it wasn’t awkward at home. For one thing, she and Bill were still living like a married couple. For another, Bill still wanted to be a married couple, hoping that they’d work this all out and he’d move back in full-time.
“I warned him, ‘Don’t touch my phone. You’re not going to like what you read,’” Kristen confided. “But he looked at my phone every chance he got.” It cut both ways: There was the time she grabbed his backpack from the floor and a condom fell out of a pocket. She claimed she didn’t care, but I wasn’t sure I believed her. But the point is, she wouldn’t have had to deal with it if he’d moved out entirely in the first place.
Then there was the night when she came home late—and drunk—and there he was, on the couch.
“We hooked up,” she admitted. “I opened the door to him, even though I told him the next day it didn’t mean anything and even though he agreed it didn’t mean anything. It was all my fault.” His three days on the couch stretched to four, then five. Everything went back to where it had started: They weren’t sleeping together, she was frustrated, he was promising to do better.
And I realized: Kristen’s marriage sounded a lot like mine. Not all of the time. Barely even part of the time. But Thad and I had dry spells. We had frustrations. We periodically felt uneven and unconnected and unhappy. I wondered, then, if these stories I’d been hearing weren’t necessarily the signs of new rules for divorce but, instead, new rules for marriage.
Until there was a game-changer. Like when Kristen met someone. After that, she could define the true and final end of her relationship with Bill with a single crossed line.
Bill was at the house for one of his scheduled nights. Kristen took a bath before she went out. The next day, Bill confronted her: “I saw hair in the tub.”
“What?” she asked.
“I saw that you shaved your legs before you went out last night,” he went on. “Were you meeting up with someone?”
“Oh God,” I said, feeling suddenly like I knew too much. “That’s creepy.”
“So creepy,” she said.
I couldn’t help but think: Was there really such a big difference between Kristen’s microscopic, behind-closed-doors,
bottom-of-the-tub truth and my microscopic, behind-closed-doors, beer-glass-soaking-in-the-sink truth? In a lot of ways, we were both in the middle of the mess of it all—
marriage, divorce, whatever-it-was. The difference was that I was pushing on in one direction, aided by the occasional side-hug. Kristen was pushing, hard, in the other.
“I told him right then and there he had to find his own place,” she said. In fact, Kristen was filing for divorce—real divorce. She told me she hoped it would all be final this spring. That’s right around the time Thad and I celebrate our 10th anniversary.