Divorcing My Best Friend

"For me, the hardest part about divorce is that I can’t pinpoint a singular reason or event or moment that led to it."

"It started with a shooting star and ended with a firefly."

Those are the words I jotted down the night my husband and I realized it was probably over. The night we decided it was definitely over was too heated and painful for me to form a coherent thought. Five months on, and still not legally divorced, I'm just now beginning to be able to put into words the extraordinary heartbreak of divorcing my best friend.

We were a couple of college kids when we met. I was a month shy of 20 and he was a newly-minted 18-year-old. I spotted him entering the classroom on the first day of Intro to Philosophy and made a point of sitting near him on the second day. A few weeks went by before he asked if he could borrow my notes. We flirted, poorly, and I was elated. His dark hair and green eyes had me spellbound.

As the semester wore on we took to venturing to the library together under the guise of studying for whatever quiz or essay was on the horizon. For our final, we were instructed to write a paper on the philosopher of our choice. We made a bet: If he got an A, I'd take him to dinner, and if I got an A, he'd take me to dinner.

We both got A's, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

That was the spring of 2003  —  what seems like, and in many ways is, a lifetime ago  —  and to borrow from Fitzgerald, we "slipped briskly into an intimacy from which we never recovered."

The night of our first date felt like a fairy tale. We went to dinner, and I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu (it was the first proper date I'd ever been on and I thought that was the polite thing to do). We tried our luck and ordered a cocktail ("What should we get?" he asked. "How about the French Kiss?" I answered cheekily) and were half-way through it when the waiter came back to ask for our ID's. We went to a pool hall and played a few rounds. We went out to his car and had our first kiss. We stayed out until 4 a.m., not wanting to say goodbye. It felt so immediately natural to be in his arms.

On my way home (I had driven to his house) I spotted a shooting star. I took it as a sign, even though I don't really believe in signs, and I still believe it was.

It started with a shooting star.

A few weeks after that, to celebrate the end of the semester, we decided to take a road trip from the Dallas area (where we lived) to Colorado. I was beyond excited, and I thrilled each time his hand grazed mine during the pleasantly long drive. We got to know each other. We laughed. We had a run-in with the law on a blank stretch of highway in Kansas. We drank too much on our first full night alone. We stayed up until dawn talking about everything on the last night. I nearly cried when we got back home and he dropped me off at my house.

And here’s how we spent the ensuing five years of courtship:

In the fall he moved to Austin to transfer to a different college. He invited me to join him, so I applied, got in, and moved in with him in January of 2004. We graduated in December of that year and moved back to DFW. We lived in a small house together. We got a dog (Buddy, a Great Dane who became a massive part of our life). He started a business. I went to grad school.

In 2006 we moved to New Hampshire, where he attended law school and I got my first real "grown-up" job (with health insurance and everything!). He studied. I worked. We made friends. We cooked dinner together. We took dozens of weekend trips around New England.

In February of 2007 he surprised me with a trip to Paris, a place I'd dreamed of visiting my entire life. On our third night there, as a light Parisian rain engulfed us and the Eiffel Tower glittered in the background, he asked me to marry him. I said yes.

And in May of 2008, we became Mr. and Mrs. I was the happiest I'd ever been. I was excited to take his last name and start a new adventure with the man who had become the love of my life as well as my best friend.

We were "that" couple: the couple that rarely fights, that finishes each other's sentences, that laughs together and cries together and cooks together and travels together. It truly was us against the world. I was so in love and I felt so fortunate to have found my "forever person."

And here’s how we spent the nine ensuing years of marriage:

We moved to New York City for his final semester of law school. He had an externship in Manhattan, and I was glad to follow him there, as the Big Apple had always been the green light at the end of Daisy's dock for me. I hoped against hope that we could stay and find work and make a life of our very own there. But family and duty and reason beckoned, and he moved us back to Dallas.

I joined him there in the fall of 2009. I kept my job and worked from home. He passed the bar and I beamed with pride. He started his own law firm and I beamed with pride. He swung from success to success, and I beamed with pride. I was content to be the girl in the background, living in a place I didn't particularly love, because I loved him, and he made up for whatever unhappiness I felt by traveling with me as often as we could.

Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Scandinavia. A week-long road trip around Northern California. New Year's in Jackson Hole, Vermont, and Vail. There was no more cooking together, and I spent most of my weekends alone or with friends because he was working constantly. But I was confident I was making sacrifices for some greater good, some future happiness, that we would share together. Because we were going to be together forever.

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For me, the hardest part about divorce is that I can’t pinpoint a singular reason or event or moment that led to it.

The decline began slowly —  though I still don't know why it began at all  —  and then it moved faster and faster until our marriage came to an abrupt halt.

It's hard  —  nearly impossible  —  not to point fingers during a divorce. We've both done our fair share of that, but we've also done a good job of trying to keep it to a minimum. That being said, if I had to look for the beginning of the end, I'd say it started about three years ago.

Some things are too painful and private to share with the universe, so I'll sum it up like this: Success makes you hungry for more success. Attention makes you hungry for more attention. And on the other side of the coin, a lack of success can either inspire your ambitions or leave you feeling worthless and aimless. And a lack of attention can either make you seek it out in the wrong places or sink into a lonely, reclusive world. He and I embodied those two ends of the spectrum, two opposites who were not attracting one another.

I tried  —  and we tried  —  for a long time to find our happiness again, resorting to extreme measures including but not limited to: burying our feelings, harboring unspoken resentments, and spending increasing amounts of time away from one another.

And then one day earlier this year, I came home from a work trip. Our dog, the aforementioned Buddy, had recently passed away at the age of 12 (I was beyond grateful that he'd lived to such an old age, but devastated to have lost him during a time when I needed him most), and it was the first time I'd come home from a flight and he wasn't there to greet me. The house was empty and deafeningly silent. And the thought struck me hard and fast: "I don't see any of me in this life."

I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve when something is bothering me deeply, so it wasn't surprising when, a few weeks later, while sitting on the back porch, my husband asked me what was wrong. The truth is, I couldn't have told him even if I wanted to, because I didn't know where to begin. I had a feeling that we were both thinking the same thing, but neither of us wanted to be the one to say it out loud. So we danced around the words themselves, both of us crying as we realized our day in the sun was coming to an end. We talked about spending some time apart over the summer to see how we felt — a trial separation, I suppose — but I think we both knew the final nail was in the coffin and the whole thing was headed six feet under.

And then at one point, he stood up and said, "Do you see the fireflies in the yard?" I did. He walked out slowly onto the grass and managed to catch one. He came over to me and opened his clasped hands just enough for me to see the gentle flickering inside them, before it extinguished.

It ended with a firefly.


Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock
Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

Shortly after that night, on a trip to New Orleans, we had the sort of throw-down, blow-out, say-whatever-the-hell-is-on-your-mind sort of fight that you expect during a break-up. It wasn't pretty, and that was the night when we decided definitively to end it.

But, though not every day since then has been easy, we've managed to keep the peace, by and large. And I know that's because he's still my best friend. There are so many years of good stuff between us, and I don't want to throw that away. I've moved into my own apartment, and it feels healthy to have a place where I can lick my wounds without distraction. But I'll confess that there are many nights when I lie awake, missing the warmth of a familiar man sleeping next to me; missing the way my right foot would seek out and find his left foot in the middle of the night; the way he'd wrap his arms around me for a few minutes after his alarm went off; and how he'd cover me with a blanket and tuck me in if I was still in bed when he left for work.

I miss our inside jokes, and the random movie quotes than only he and I remember, and the way we'd give each other a knowing glance at parties and understand (and agree about) exactly who was being obnoxious.

But the thing about divorcing my best friend is that I'm hopeful that I won't always have to miss those last few things. People say an "amicable divorce" is the stuff of myths, but I beg to differ. We're in the eye of the storm right now. It's no fucking picnic, I'll tell you that. But when it passes, I'd like to think the cute boy from that philosophy class all those years ago will still be inside him somewhere, and the girl who dared to sit next to him will be waiting to laugh with him about what a wild ride we've had — and where it will take us next.

This post originally appeared on Stephanie Farah's Medium page. Stephanie is a Francophile, oenophile, and bibliophile. She's also a part-time Dallasite and a full-time citizen of the world. She holds a B.A. in english from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Journalism from the University of North Texas. Farah blogs at Moveable Feasts which she created to share her adventures in the kitchen, on her little farm, and on the road. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Cover image via Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

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