Hard promises

The trouble with 'as long as you both shall live'

By Robin Rouse
February 6, 2011

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As the big day approached, I was a walking cliche – filled with anticipation and anxiety as well as hope and fear. I had been looking forward to this day for almost a year and wanted the reality to match my fantasy. Suddenly, there we were, standing before the judge. He said some words. We gave our answers. And before I knew it, it was over. He pronounced us no longer husband and wife.

Thirty years before, almost to the day, we had said our wedding vows before a different judge, and while we carefully excised the word “obey” from our ceremony because we found it archaic, we left in “as long as you both shall live.” What were we thinking?

As baby boomers, many of us married young (unlike today’s generation, which – possibly in an evolutionary stroke of genius – seems in no hurry to get married). I met my husband when I was in college. We had everything in the world in common. We loved the same rock bands, pizza joints, and movies. Our politics and passions were perfectly aligned. Our plans for the future were perfectly in synch: Finish college, get married, start a family, be successful – roughly in that order. But people change over the course of decades, and while some couples stay on a lifelong parallel path, we did not.

Our ways began to diverge ever so slightly about 20 years ago. I became a vegetarian; he remained a committed carnivore. He became an avid bicyclist;

I became an avid shopper. As we got older and started talking about our retirement dreams, the gap grew wider: I thought about moving to Manhattan and starting a second career as a writer; he talked about retiring to North Carolina and learning to play golf. I didn’t hate him in the least, but I was not willing to spend the rest of my life married to a man with whom I now had almost nothing in common.

It’s amazing how much time I’ve had to spend defending my decision to divorce. Everyone wants to know: Was he a bad husband? No. Is there someone else? No, not at all. Then why, they all ask. Well, because I no longer wanted to be married. They get even more confused when my ex and I go on dates and vacations together. Many friends advised me to just go on my merry path alone, not bothering to get legally divorced. But I couldn’t get my head around staying married for the sake of avoiding divorce. How does that respect the institution of marriage?

I reject the labels tossed at me: failed marriage, broken home, etc. In my view, I had a very successful marriage. Did I make it

to my deathbed? No. But let’s face it, “till death do us part” was invented ages before our life expectancy reached 78 years. I was married longer than my mother, who died, still married to my dad, when she was a year younger than I am now. Does that mean her marriage was more successful because she died young?

Marriage is a cultural construct that has evolved and devolved over the millenniums. As our lifespan increases, “forever” becomes a very long time. Do we really want to commit until death? Maybe there is a better, healthier way to end a marriage. At least I think there is. I say it’s time for us to take another look at marriage, so that it doesn’t become more of a life sentence than a loving commitment.

In the end, I had my fairy tale divorce ceremony. There was no acrimony, no fighting – nor any lawyers. We were not at war. It was just the two of us and a judge, dividing up thirtysomething years of accumulated stuff. I have no desire to find another mate. I’m having a fine time with my ex-husband embarking on a new journey – as friends. Together, we continue to enjoy those activities we still have in common: kayaking around Buzzards Bay, going to movies, and spending time with our adult children. And while that wasn’t quite enough to sustain a marriage, I’m hopeful that it is enough to sustain our friendship – till death do us part.

Robin Rouse is a freelance writer on the South Shore. Send comments to

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