Summer. Right smack in the middle of my Facebook feed, a video clip of a deliriously happy couple dancing in St. Mark’s Square as their kids watch from the café table.
No matter where you are in the divorce experience, five years past or scrambling for tax returns and bank statements, you’ll likely experience momentary couple on vacation photo envy.
I’ve always considered myself to be pretty emotionally independent. I’ve never been the girl who needed a plus one to see a movie or comfortably attend a New Year’s Eve bash or wedding. Though my 15-year marriage had more than a few decent times, a fair share of travel opportunities and birthday parties were clouded with anxiety-fueled arguments when I’d want to leave the room to take a walk.
Still, even when my finalized divorce was like a more peaceful stroll, I’ve faced down those couple envy demons like the rest of ’em.
I have tremendous gratitude for a life void of the tension, anger, sometimes fear. I value my close relationships with my daughters. I fully experience life, engaging with people who are passionate about what they do. And when I need some downtime, I can get into bed with a good book or stay up writing till the wee hours.
But staring at someone’s happy family vacation photos of mom, dad, and the kids or watching loving couples set up their daughter’s dorm room does bring pangs of sadness for what I’ve missed.
Envy, any more than that sense of loss, isn’t necessarily specific. I appreciate couple’s relationships as I would the Mona Lisa or a sun-bleached beach house. My occasional touch of envy has more to do with missing the experience of watching my kids first watch the Changing of the Guards or graduate from high school within the loving embrace of my children’s father.
Some of my happiest childhood memories were family road trips, my brother and me in the backseat. My parents lovingly stood together through our bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations, my wedding, and the birth of my children. Together, they babysat for my young daughters.
They shared a history from that day at the beach when they met when my mother was a graduating high school senior till the day she died.
Regardless of our childhood experiences, we’re socialized to believe we’ll fall in love with the handsome prince and trot off happily ever after into the sunset. What we might not see is that the prince ended up having anger management issues or perhaps had a profile on Ashley Madison, all of which happened after the credits rolled.
When we experience those pangs of couple envy post-divorce, we’re grieving the romanticizing of the engagement ring, holiday card, European trip, or beach vacation as much as our own existence.
Most couple envy, perhaps, has to do with bemoaning that we’re not part of the Hollywood ending, whether that means a romantic comedy, a Lifetime Christmas movie, or a family sitcom.
Other than resigning ourselves to a pint of gelato and sobfest accompanied by Netflix, how can we get through those pangs of couple envy?
First, we need to engage with our feelings without guilt. We’re socialized to look at those who have it worse. “If we feel bad about where we are, it’s our own fault.” It’s perfectly natural and healthy to sometimes feel lonely or sad because things didn’t out like you would have liked. Cry. Talk to a supportive and understanding friend, even if it’s your dog.
Secondly, redefine your experience. Whether a family is a mom and the kids or a single woman and her urban tribe, it’s still a family. Step away from those who make you feel less than and surround yourself with those who support your experience. Travel with your kids, a great friend, or even on your own.
Maybe, just maybe, one day, we’ll be able to enjoy watching that happy couple dance into the sunset on a European piazza without feeling like we’re missing out.
If not, there’s always Netflix.