What Love Looks Like, Sometimes

Yesterday, the actors Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan announced they were separating after nearly nine years of being married. They each posted a very thoughtful message from the pair about their split, in which they wrote, in part:
We have lovingly chosen to separate as a couple. We fell deeply in love so many years ago and have had a magical journey together. Absolutely nothing has changed about how much we love one another, but love is a beautiful adventure that is taking us on different paths for now. There are no secrets nor salacious events at the root of our decision — just two best-friends realizing it's time to take some space and help each other live the most joyous, fulfilled lives as possible. We are still a family and will always be loving dedicated parents to Everly.
Naturally, because of our culture distressingly encourages strangers to become invested in celebrity's relationships, loads of people immediately took to social media to express their dismay, with many of them declaring that Dewan's and Tatum's split means love is dead.

Other people merely expressed their shock at the split, which itself is an interesting commentary on how we feel both privy and entitled to the inner workings of public figures' relationships. Or, really, others' relationships, whether famous or not.

I was married once upon a time to a lovely guy who was a great friend. We divorced for a number of reasons, but they mostly boiled down to this: We never should have been married in the first place. We'd mistaken a wonderful friendship and a charming affair for something bigger — and a divorce was really just our way of setting things right again.

We seemed like a happy couple, and, in some ways, we were. So when we divorced, it was "shocking" to some of our friends and family. Well. The creeping feeling that you aren't suited to love another person that way for the rest of your life isn't something that one easily articulates to oneself, no less shares with people who are inclined, quite understandably, to say, "What the fuck are you thinking? Your marriage is great."

But the truth of a marriage lies between two people alone (or any long-term partnership, between whatever number of people) — and parts of what holds it together, or tears it apart, reside secretly in individual hearts, bindings or fissures that are unknowable, or indescribable, even to the person in whom they reside.

No one knows everything about any relationship, even the people in them. Which is what makes loving another person terrifying, and what makes it exhilarating.

The very thing that makes love precious also makes it a breathing thing, with ebbs and crescendos and, sometimes, an end — which may mean that love taking a different shape, like friendship. Its mutable nature, its lack of any guarantee, means that love doesn't always last forever, looking like it once did — which is seemingly what happened to the love Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan had for one another.

If their separation becomes a divorce, it will be described in many quarters as a "failed marriage," which will really be too bad, given their own description of its end.

I do not describe my first marriage, which lasted only half the time as theirs, as a "failed marriage." The failure would have been to stay, to hold on and hang in and obstinately stay, to honor some idea of love that actually didn't exist between us. It was just a marriage. No qualifications required.

Letting go can be an act of love, too.

And perhaps if we had a cultural narrative about marriage — or any kind of partnership — that also honored the relationships which end in letting go, the love stories that are journeys with destinations other than death, perhaps we would be less inclined to view two people taking steps in different directions, after some time together, as failures, and instead view them as people who know how to do love right.

My ex and I have been divorced since 2001. We still keep in touch; both of us are in different, more fulfilling careers than when we were together, and both of us are in lasting relationships with people who love us immensely, in ways we could never quite love one another. That's a successful outcome. We "failed" into contentment.

This summer, Iain and I will celebrate our 16th anniversary. I hope we will celebrate many more. I want, right now, to be with him for the rest of my life — and he wants the same. But if that ever changes, for either of us, I hope our love stays very much alive, to see us through to whatever future will greet us.

My best wishes for Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum.

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