So I'll be running my mouth off, telling some story, and I get to a part about something that happened before, the part where most people just say, "that's when Joe and I" or "and then Mark told me." But some of my stories are from before I got divorced, so it's a little different. So then I go, "and this guy I used to be married to. . . blah, blah, blah." And before I can finish my story, everything stops and I have to explain the not-name, and why I use it.
Yes, it's odd to refer to someone by a not-name, like "The Artist formerly Known as Prince" or "He Who Must Not be Named." Nevertheless, I refer to the guy I used to be married to as "The Guy I Used to Be Married To."
People laugh, and they are sometimes offended. "He does have a name!" they say, as if he needs defending from my cruel little joke. "You can use his name, you know," they advise, as if I'm afraid to utter the words, like it recalls a memory too painful to resurrect by speaking of it. Or they correct me -- "Your ex-husband, you mean" -- as if I wasn't aware there was a proper term. And they look at me funny, and I can tell they're wondering if I'm in some kind of denial.
Look, I'm not afraid and I'm not in denial even though sure, it is sometimes painful. But let's face it. Names designate status. Think about the difference between "Mr. President," "Barry," and "Daddy." Got it? Only certain people get to use names that signify a friendlier or more personal relationship with you. And in these relationships, you are defined by what name people call you. Ahh. You're remembering that as a child, you knew you were in trouble whenever you heard "Mary Catherine Frances O'Malley!" That's because the emotional distance between two people is measured on the line going from "Hey, Lady" to "Hello, Darling." You see?
So this guy I used to be married to used to have a lot of status in my life. Now he doesn't. Back when, he was called "Honey." Now, he's not. If Princess Di got "Her Royal Highness" taken away from her when she got divorced, then I think once a person stops being your "husband," he shouldn't be able to use that title anymore either. Even if it does have an ex- in front of it. Plus, even if I did have a little chip on my shoulder about the whole "ex-husband" thing, which maybe I do, it's because the guy I used to be married to wasn't really a very good husband, and I don't want anyone thinking that he performed the role well enough when we were married to get to keep using the title afterward.
Of course, when it makes sense I call him "Purl's dad," because sure, that's what he was when we were married, and still is now. In an effort to be polite, I almost never use the not-name in front of her. And sometimes if I am feeling generous, I will say "my former spouse," which I think is an accurate and fairly neutral, legal term. But I think even that is misleading. Notice the use of the word "my" -- as if he's still my something, or any something in my life. I am pretty sensitive to this. We got divorced so that we didn't have to be in each other's lives anymore, and I think continuing to refer to each other as "my ex" keeps pulling him back in. That's not something I promised to do in the settlement agreement, so I think as long as I'm not using any derogatory terms I can name him whatever I want, and I can also not-name him anything I want.
I have been using the not-name for over a year now. It feels normal, comfortable. More and more, his actual name is becoming something I have to reach for. His name, his face, his identity is disappearing into that big fog of memory where crushes and old boyfriends often end up. Once upon a time, he was someone special to you and had a real name. Now he's just some guy you dated, or slept with once, or used to be married to.
I highly recommend the not-name. Once you get it under your skin, you will find yourself having conversations that go: Remember that guy? What guy? You know. That guy, remember? No. Who? You were soooo in love with him? I was? I can't believe you don't remember. Didn't you marry him? I did? Yes! Now what was his name? [Long pause]. Ohh, wait -- THAT guy! Oh my gosh, I did! Shoot, what WAS his name? I should know this, we were married for over ten years. Give me a minute, it'll come to me. Crap, now I'm going to be up all night trying to remember. Maybe it's in my address book here somewhere. . .
Remember, getting divorced is something you do, not something you are. Your goal in getting divorced should be to get 'er done so damn good that you forget you were ever married to begin with. Good luck!
About this Blog
About this Blog: Divorce is something you do, not something you are. It is not easy, but it can be funny. I know hanging on to my humor gave me hope and courage. Divorce shouldn't cramp your style. There are whole industries devoted to helping brides plan their weddings -- why shouldn't we have a style guide for divorce?