Modern Divorce, Nicholas Sparks, and the Myth of the Friendly Exes

FullSizeRender(19)It’s pretty easy to come up with snarky things to say about love and marriage when the most popular romance writer since Shakespeare announces he is separating from his wife. Yes, Nicholas Sparks, the author of such mega-selling novels as Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, and of course, The Notebook (swoooon!) publicly announced that he and his wife of 25 years were unhitching yesterday, and the internet caught fire with clever little titles about “the death of love” and all of that.

But what’s the deal?

Is it really time for all of us to take a good, hard look at marriage?  Given the recent past, the plague of “conscious uncouplings” that have been jammed down our jaded throats these past few years, has modern mankind finally concluded that the idea of falling in love and being with one person for the rest of our lives is … I dunno … old fashioned?

Here’s a quote from Nicholas Sparks himself, in an interview this past October with Babble editor Megan Sayers, before anyone knew his marriage would be ending. And c’mon, no one knows what was going on behind closed doors, obviously, but it really doesn’t matter anyways. Because his words are compelling no matter which side of the marriage/divorce fence you hang out on.

Megan: One thing our readers love about your stories is that they depict really strong and supportive relationships. What do you do to keep your own
marriage strong? We know you’ve been married for a very long time …

Nicholas Sparks: I suppose it just comes down to … (long pause) both of us just committed to being friends. I think that in the future … as you look forward into the future, if you don’t have friendship you don’t have anything. If in the end it came down to, oh well, she met someone else or whatever, you would still want friendship, right?

That’s a really a lovely sentiment. It really is.

But I get a little jittery thinking about it.

It almost seems to me that a lot of the quotes along these lines are from complete amateurs, and I mean that with no disrespect. But when Nicholas Sparks says this before he’s even gotten a divorce from the woman he has shared his life with for a quarter of a century, or when Gwyneth Paltrow says the same thing basically in the days following her separation from her rock star husband, are they really the voices that we should be listening to?

Is there any serious data or scientific research that shows that any of this “remaining friends and rah-rah-ing each other on from a respectable distance” is anything but a pipe dream that we WANT to believe but that rarely happens?

I don’t have the answer.

I really don’t.

Some people must break up a marriage and find themselves way closer and more comfortable with their ex than they ever did when they were married.

However, I have to stop and wonder sometimes, just how many are we really talking about?

My mom and dad speak now.

They’ve been divorced for like 200 years, but they can eat dinner together and have a few laughs, I guess. But I have to be honest, it’s kind of awkward to be around. I appreciate the effort. And yeah, I think it’s swell that people who once loved hard and then hated hard and then didn’t  speak — or even really know where the other one was for 25 years — can now let bygones be bygones.

But I don’t whiff the scent of true friendship coming off of them whenever they’re in the same room.

In fact, I smell a freakin’ rat, to be honest.

Look here.

Sparks had more to say.

Nicholas Sparks: … I think friendships are within or without and I think there’s no law that says that … if it doesn’t work out, you have to be enemies. There’s no law … And I think that if you have friendship, no matter what happens, ­ someone passes away, or it’s just not working anymore and they’re not happy ­ but you have that friendship, I think that’s key.”



Okay, there’s no law. I’ll give you that. But that seems like a dumb thing to compare your heart to. Or your banged-up sense of security. Or your twisted guts or your endless guilt or whatever the heck a lot of divorcing people are feeling when they’re trudging through the fetid swamps of a marriage imploding.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe being friends right out of the gate is the way to go.

Hell you know what? It almost sounds like a whole new genre of books when you think about it.

Exes engulfed in the passionate throes of unflappable friendship.

But I doubt Ryan Gosling will work for the film versions. He’s too damn sexy for the friend zone, y’all.

Someone call Steve Carrell.

He’ll do fine.

Listen, the only reason I’m chiming in here at all is that I have a dog in this fight. I just do. See, I’m a few days away from my first marriage ending. Officially. In a week and change it’ll all be finalized.

I was married for ten years.

We have three young kids.

I am not going to stand here and pretend to you that I’m ecstatic about any of this. It’s been painful as hell. It’s been beyond heartbreaking. And it’s made me second-guess every single emotion I have ever felt since I met my ex in a Salt Lake City bar once upon a time.

Divorce makes me feel guilty. My kids, they won’t have many memories of a mom and dad ever living together or holding hands or dancing in the kitchen. Fact is, they won’t have any memories of us being in love at all, I don’t think. But still, I try and tell myself that I guess we’re doing the right thing, divorcing because we argued a lot and became pretty miserable. Only time will tell.

Divorce makes me feel sad. I loved a woman hard and true, despite our differences, our outlooks, and ultimately, our problematic co-existence. At this point though, I’m still reeling from the blows, you know? And as much I try and be honest with myself  about wanting her to always be okay in this world, and for her to find true happiness or whatever the hell sweet notions that divorcing people are supposed to hope for the one they are divorcing, for the one they are cutting loose and watching drift away, it seems to me to be disingenuous at this point to just come on out and say, “Hey, we are still TERRIFIC friends and I cannot wait to hang out with her at the kids’ birthday parties or whatever!”

I just don’t feel like hanging out and catching up and all that crap yet. That seems pretty natural to me, to let time go by and to embrace space and separation as opposed to concentrating on telling the world that we are better chums than ever before.

We ain’t.

And I’m thinking that neither are most people who walk away from a marriage.

I hope Nicholas Sparks and his soon-to-be ex wife remain crazy close friends. I hope they continue to vacation together and have cookouts together and talk on the phone all the time and, when one of them starts dating someone else, I hope they all join forces as this ultra-mature progressive love amoeba, everyone’s individual egos and memories simply fading away in this new style of coagulating ex friendship that everyone keeps harping about.

People are getting divorced. And those people are talking up a storm, me included, trust me. But the ones that are saying that if you want to have a “successful” divorce in the wake of an unsuccessful marriage, being super great friends for the rest of your lives is really the only way to go, I’m not sure I trust them completely.

I think a lot of them may be a little shell-shocked, to be honest.

I think a lot of these folks thought that their marriage was forever. And now that it’s not, the pain is so big and bad that the only thing they can think to say is that we’re always gonna be close. We are always going to be each others friend.

I want to believe they’re on to something.

But I just don’t know if I do.

Image source: Serge Bielanko private

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