Divorce or A Year in Division

Divorce has been a recurring theme for this last year or so of my life. It has affected my friends, my family, my pastimes, and has been much on my mind. As my friend Jamie Cole might say, "Divorce reeketh."

Not all of this divorce has been literal. In fact, the only literal divorce of the bunch was between a couple I was in school with at Tennessee Tech. She was one of my best friends and graduate school study partners. I knew them while they dated, and spent a lot of late nights as we all studied together. I can hardly ever hear a Jimmy Buffet song without thinking of him (he had all the albums, and they were typically the study music). He became very unhappy in the relationship, and moved out. "They got a divorce as a matter of course, and departed the closest of friends." He went to California to find himself, I think. I hope he was there when he got there!

I haven't had much communication with him through all this, but I've been in touch with her, and gotten at least some idea of the fun of it all. A hint; there's not much fun. It makes me question why I'd ever contemplate marriage. What if she left me, just because she didn't want to be with me (the potentially married to me she, if there were such a creature)? I don't believe I could remarry in that case, as a matter of faith. So how could I take care of the kids? How could I deal with the anger, shame, frustration, reproach, pity, and loss? Is the risk worth it, with the kind of odds I'm playing to in this day, in this culture?

About the same time this was happening, my brother and his wife separated. They aren't actually divorced, at least not yet, but they aren't living together, and have no immediate plans to get back together. Christmas was at Ron's house this year. It was strange without her. Is the situation affecting Alan, their son? I don't think there's any question about it.

Another case that was closer to home (certainly so geographically), was with my dance group. For some time the group has been nominally led by a steering committee made up of all the dancers interested enough to show up for very occasional meetings; the steering committee was formed by the couple that had kept things going for years, and it really started steering when they moved off to Atlanta. I began editing the newsletter shortly before they left, and was a part of the committee. I say the steering committee nominally led because much of the day-to-day operation of the group was done by volunteers who just did things. Especially the callers had a lot of autonomy for arranging the dances they called.

One of the callers, Fred, was a particularly hard worker. He kept the sound system at his place, and carried it to all the dances for setting up. He had a lot of very particular ideas on how things should be done; the exact way a speaker should be set up, or a cable rolled, the way an advertisement should be done, etc. The steering committee pretty much let him have his way in exchange for all the work he did. We weren't always real happy with the results, but it meant we got to dance without worrying about all the details, and avoided confrontation. At least that worked until Fred decided to dissolve the Senate...

That's the steering committee, I mean. It's not quite this simple, but basically Fred decided since he was doing all the work (in his opinion), the dance belonged to him. The North Alabama Country Dance Society (NACDS) was dancing in two different places by this time, with one being pretty much totally run by Fred, the other being more of a group effort. Fred chose a separation where he took the sound system and two dances, leaving us with the bank account and one dance. And hurt feelings and confused dancers. After many meetings, discussions, recriminations, and e-mail messages, the result has been an official break between Fred and NACDS, negotiation for custody of part of the sound system, and a reorganization of NACDS into an official group with officers and by-laws and such to prevent such a mess from happening again. I'm now the group's official Treasurer, and unofficial Internet geek.

I realize this all sounds pretty silly if you're not involved. But the whole situation was remarkably painful, much like a divorce or a church split.

The final divorce, and the most personal one, was between me and my dissertation. After years of working, fretting, worrying, and praying (all in varying proportions through the years), I finally came to the decision to cease work on my Ph.D. program. The official date would be April 12, when I talked to my advisor, Dr. Grigsby. With the dance group I was on the side of the dumped. In this case I was the dumper. While I was never officially married to my dissertation, there was certainly a level of commitment and sacrifice there. We lived together for 7 years, so perhaps common law marriage was in effect! Okay, I didn't work quite that long on the dissertation, but I had been working longer than 7 years on the degree. I felt a great deal of guilt in the desertion. Partly due to all of the investment of time and effort -- perhaps more so by the fear that I'm learning how to abandon commitments. Another reason to fear marriage, experience in running from problems. This is not a relationship skill I need to reinforce, at least not if marriage is a potential result. I do regret the effort wasted, but I'm glad the decision is made. I'm already enjoying work more than I have in years, even though the repercussions of the decision aren't all in on the work front.

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