Dory, 66

"If someone had told me that we would ever get back together, I would have laughed. Because it wasn't just a separation. We really did sever the ties."

Published April 6, 2009 10:35AM (EDT)

It worked for a really long time. We laughed a lot. He was a really funny guy. He still is. And I admired his -- he was a very hard worker. Our first years of marriage, it felt like we were real compatible, and we had fun together. We had a lot of friends, went to lots of parties. We didn't have children until after we had been married for four or five years, and so we traveled and did fun things together.

But there were some pretty really big events a few years before we split up. We moved out to Montana due to my husband's job in about 1983. And then we moved back three and a half years later. We came back to the Twin Cities. My husband was starting a new business. I was not seeing the great stress that he had during that time, and I wasn't in sympathy with that, I guess.

I was just kind of plugging along being a mom and being probably not the best wife in the world. I didn't take care of myself as much as I should have the early years of our marriage. I got just so into the children, and I was just so focused on them and doing all the things that I was supposed to for them, that I didn't do enough things like going to exercise class or just even going out and having fun with my girlfriends. I just way felt like I had to be the mom and be everything for everybody in that family. He wasn't very helpful because he had stresses. Over a few years' time, things were sort of deteriorating. It just sort of crept up on us. We just weren't communicating.

There was one separation for a few months where my husband moved out. I can see myself and I can see him in the kitchen. I can't remember really what led up to it. We must have been in some kind of discussion, but all I remember was we were both standing in the kitchen. He said he was leaving, something about that he was leaving. And I said, "Oh?" And I said, "When?"

He told me later he was shocked. I probably was feeling some relief.

That lasted a few months, and then he was back, and then it was maybe a year and a half later he started a relationship with someone and announced that he was leaving again. By then I didn't know that he had another friend, but I knew I didn't really care, because things were not that good.

We were divorced a few months afterwards, and it was then that I realized this was such a huge thing. I spent about a year sort of wallowing. I was devastated and really down on myself. It wasn't that I missed him or was sorry that he was gone, but I was born and raised Catholic, and for that marriage to have failed was just a huge thing for me. A failure of the dreams that you have when you're young, that this marriage that you got into was going to last forever.

In those first couple of years, so many things came up, things I didn't give him credit for. Things that would happen around the house, and I'd go "Oh my God. What am I gonna do here?" Things that, you know, he was always there to take care of them. A lot of financial things. And different things that came up with the kids. I had a suspicion that my son was probably smoking marijuana, and what I did is I took these little weedy things that I found in his bedroom in a plastic bag up to the police station to ask if that's what it was. The guy said, "You and your husband need to have a talk with this kid." I guess Tom ended up talking to him. So that kind of stuff, everyday stuff of being a parent. I did miss that.

That same year a brother of mine died, and he was my favorite. He was an older brother and died suddenly, and I just felt, "Oh -- there's a lot goin' on for me here. All my advisors are leaving me." Because he was another one I could go to and ask questions.

But then I started learning to do things. Especially a lot of financial things that I had never bothered to -- I had no idea about our family's finances, and that was my fault because he had always encouraged me to be more interested. So I learned more about that. I was pretty independent.

We were divorced for five years. During those five years I think I thrived. I did my job. I did a lot of studying and got a higher position. I was a nurse in the oncology system at United Hospital in St. Paul, but I got into a supervisory position. I was very content with doing the things I was doing for myself -- as far as my job went, as far as maintaining relationships with my children, who were by then off on their own.

I don't think that I ever would have started a relationship with someone else. I had a couple guys that asked a couple times to go out to coffee, go out for a drink or something, but I just wasn't interested in that. There are some religious values that I have of my Catholic upbringing, and unless I had a marriage annulled I would not have gotten married again to someone else. Or probably even have gotten into a relationship.

If someone had told me that we would ever get back together, I would have laughed. Because it wasn't just a separation. We really did sever the ties. Except that we did have to communicate about the children.

While he was seeing this woman, we would get together for a couple of hours on Christmas. He came to my brother's funeral. But there was nothing except he was there because it was his duty and I was tolerating his being there. We weren't unfriendly, but we weren't in any kind of relationship at that time.

Our first granddaughter was born about October of 1995. And there's something that happens when [laughs] you become a grandparent. It feels like your heart is just sliced wide open -- or for me anyway. I wasn't aware of what was going on at the time, but there was so much love for this child that I was opened up to be able to receive again.

It's probably similar to when you are first in love with a girl and you wake up every morning and everything is wonderful -- that kind of thing. It does open you to other relationships ,and you're a more optimistic and open person at that time, whereas when you're getting ready to divorce and things are falling apart in your life, you're more closed.

Looking back, that was the time when we began corresponding a little more. And then it was shortly after that I heard that he was no longer with this woman.

I can't pick out a minute. It just evolved over a year's time. We started visiting the grandchild together. And from there, once in a while we'd do stuff together -- go to a concert or something. It seemed really natural. Then one day my daughter said to me, "Mom, are you and Dad dating?" And all of a sudden it occurred to me. "I guess we are." [Laughs.]

I remember the first time we kissed again after all this time. It was at his home and I was dropping him off after we had gone somewhere. It felt like I was a young teenager having my first kiss. We weren't staying over at each other's houses or anything like that at that time. I remember going home and thinking, "Well, this is kind of silly that I'm feeling like a young kid again."

And then another time, maybe a couple of weeks after that, when we were departing after a nice evening, I had driven and took him back to his house, and we were just having another little kiss goodnight -- he said, "Dory, next time bring your toothbrush." And I'm going "Oh my God." Here I am, a grown woman, and I'm feeling pretty much like a young kid.

I think he wanted it a little more than I did, to get back together. I think he was lonely. I had learned to accept myself. I could have been happy just going on the way I had the last five years. It didn't feel like I needed another person at that time. But, you know, we kept on; we had fun together.

We had talked about getting married again, but I still wasn't sure if that's what I wanted. We decided we'd wait until after our daughter's wedding because we didn't want take away from her enjoyment. I guess we waited another six months.

Our second wedding, we had a mutual friend who's a judge in Pine City, Minn., and we got dressed up -- not in wedding clothes. He wore a suit, and I wore a bright red dress, and we had corsages. We went up to the courthouse and his friend married us. Our kids didn't come. We didn't invite them. And then we went and had lunch with our judge friend and went out for dinner, and that was it.

So we got married December 26, 1966. We divorced in, I think it was, 1991, and we remarried in 1996. We celebrate our anniversary on the day that we were first married.

I guess I don't look back and have any regrets about anything that we did. We weren't the first people this had happened to. And more and more I hear about other people getting back together.

I think we're in a really nice place in our lives now. We're ready to help each other through whatever might come in the next years. We're both getting a little older -- any day there could be a health issue that could diminish one of us or devastate one of us.

It just -- we grew back into a relationship that I'm pretty satisfied with now. And I think he is. That feeling of failure is gone now. And I think we both admitted to ourselves -- probably not as much to each other -- all the ways that each of us needed to change to make it work again.

We're just so much more tolerant of each other. We've gone through a lot together and we're older, and I think that getting older makes you see that there's so much more to the world and to love and to life than what you see when you're young.

It taught me there's so much more to love. Accepting everything about the other person even though, in any relationship, everybody doesn't love everything about that person, and if they say they do, I don't think that they're being honest.

In my everyday living with the guy, you realize you just have to let some of this stuff go. Little things -- they seem like fairly childish to me.

We have our lake cabin on Lake Superior near Schroeder, Minn., like 78 miles northeast of Duluth. We actually spend seven or eight months of the year here. And then we have a condo down in the Twin Cities, in St. Paul.

OK, I'm looking out the window and I have some beautiful flowers and pots out here and stuff, and my husband. For about two or three weeks, he's been running around the yard, buttoning things up for winter. You know, putting away hoses, putting covers on different parts of the house for winter so things don't get in there. And it's October. I'm going, "But we still have five weeks before winter. Do we really have to worry about this?" And he says, "Oh no, I'm not gonna be doing this in the middle of the winter." And I pretty much need to close my eyes to it now.

Or: My husband has taken up cooking the last couple of years. I'm really thrilled about it now, but he's rearranged the whole kitchen. The first day I came in and couldn't find anything. I just was going ballistic. This happened a couple years ago. And now I just think, "OK! He cooks! Let it go and just keep looking for the stuff that you need." So that's a couple examples.

I guess that before, I was more controlling than I ever wanted to admit. I think I probably wanted things my way or no way a lot of the time. There was probably a lot of me overreacting, and him withdrawing. At the time you don't think you're overreacting at all. And he didn't think he was withdrawing at all. But that's what you learn after a lot of years of looking back.

When we were starting over, it felt like we didn't have any real attachment to each other except we had been married so many years before -- like 25 years. We were both free. I felt I was a different person and I had learned new things. And surely he had, too. I guess we had learned to be kind to each other again, or good to each other. To be more careful to listen to the other person and not reacting. Listening. I guess that's a huge thing.

By John Bowe

John Bowe is a freelance writer living in New York. He is the co-writer of the film "Basquiat," co-editor of "GIG: Americans Talk About Their Jobs," and author of "Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor And the Dark Side of The New Global Economy." He has written for the New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, McSweeney’s, and appeared on NPR’s "This American Life."


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