Every social trend gets its own name and team of researchers. Somebody noticed that the fastest growing rate of divorce in the past decade or so is among people 50 and up. And named it “gray divorce.” Couples who no longer live together, but don’t legally divorce (like Warren Buffet and his first wife) are now referred to as having an “undivorce.”
I don’t think the undivorce is a new phenomenon. Privately, my ES (estranged spouse) and I used to refer to it as “Catholic divorce.” He came from a devoutly Catholic family and while his mom got a for real legal divorce, his Uncle R got what we called a Catholic divorce. After a couple decades of marriage and two kids, Uncle R moved out of the family home and set up housekeeping down in Mexico. Later, we heard he was living with another woman and had a whole second family. As far as I know, Uncle R and Aunt B never got a legal divorce. When our marriage began its final unraveling, my ES and I had a conversation in which this undivorce was mentioned.
I guess I should’ve paid more attention to that brief mention, because it appears that he has settled on the undivorce as his solution. I have thought of this time as marital purgatory, when nothing is settled. ES left the kids with the impression he was moving out temporarily to “clear his head.” It was a dishonest and cruel statement that gave them the unwarranted hope we could reconcile. These few months without him have been a time of me comforting the kids, leading them to the inexorable conclusion that their dad is gone and not coming back, and this is our new normal.
They seem to have embraced that truth faster than I would’ve predicted. In fact, all three kids have asked, with expressions ranging from curiosity to horror, “When are you going to start dating?” And it’s a tough question to answer. I’m not even legally separated. I’m in a netherworld between marriage and divorce. It’s not fair to drag anyone else into the weeds with me. Also, I’m not interested in dating now. But I will be someday.
This undivorce can be a practical, if emotionally bizarre, solution for longtime married, middle age or older couples who just cannot stand to live together anymore. As an undivorcee, I still have health insurance. And that’s no small consideration at any age, but especially after 50. The kids can stay in the home they’ve known for most of their lives for a few more years. I can hold onto that home for awhile, during which time the real estate market will (hopefully) recover.
But an undivorce leaves a lot undone. There’s no definite severing of ties as when a legal divorce is finalized. There’s no clear division of property and responsibilities. I need to find an experienced accountant to figure out the tax ramifications. My undivorce requires an almost daily stifling of hope for reconciliation or revenge. And I live with the constant nagging fear that the other shoe could drop at any moment, shattering this temporary calm.
I know I can file for legal separation and/or divorce. Right now, I’m stubbornly sticking to my position that he who moved out is he who should do the legal footwork. But I’ve also gained some insight into another statistic: two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. Probably because their lazy ass spouses moved out and just didn’t bother with the paperwork.