Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It Is What It Is

I met Jen on a chilly October morning in 2006. I was the location manager for the film "Honeydripper" and we we shooting a scene at the abandoned Army barracks at Ft. McClellan in Anniston, Alabama. I was still living in Los Angeles at the time, but had been hired by John Sayles to come back to my adopted home state to work on his film for a few months. The majority of the film was being shot in Greenville, some 200 miles away, but we had one crucial scene to shoot here in Anniston, so the entire crew had made the journey north for one day of shooting. The sun hadn't even come up yet when I arrived on set that morning, so I quickly headed for craft services to get my first cup of hot tea for the day. As I was getting my caffeine on, a cute girl I had never seen before bounded down the back stairs of the craft services truck. I turned and said, "Hi. I don't know you. Who are you?" She smiled, held out her hand and said, "Hi. I'm Jennifer." We shook hands. I immediately felt that Jen was sweet and charming, the kind of person who you know has never met a stranger. I asked her how she came to be on set. She said she had been hired as a production assistant to help out with craft services for the day. She then told me she was from Birmingham and had recently made a short film starring Mo Rocca (from the Daily Show) called "Piece of Cake." It had screened in the Sidewalk Film Festival that September, where it won the Audience Choice award for Best Alabama Short, which is when she first heard out about "Honeydripper" coming to town. I was even more impressed when she told me she had never written or directed a short film before. She asked me where I was from. I told her I used to live in Montgomery, but currently lived in Burbank, California. I was only in Alabama for 3 months for the shoot, and then I would jet off back to Los Angeles right after Thanksgiving. We talked for a few minutes more, but soon I was called away to deal with some sort of location problem, and that was that. I saw her again sporadically throughout the day, but never got the chance to talk to her again. And as the day was winding down and everyone was packing up to make the 200 mile trek back to Greenville, I figured I would probably never see her again. But as I was glamorously tossing garbage bags from the day's shoot into a dumpster next to the location, Jen's car pulled up. She was leaving for the day, but wanted to give me her MySpace address in case I wanted to know more about her short film. I tucked the piece of paper in my pocket, told her it was nice to meet her, and said goodbye.

Three years to the day later, we were married.

Cue the romantic music. Fade out. Credits.

Sounds just like some great movie, right? It's a great story. Jen and I have told that story to people for nearly 5 years. When people ask us how we met, it's cool to say, "We met on a movie set." It always gets a great reaction. So when we started telling our friends and family recently that we have decided to split up, it came as a bit of a shock to everyone. Including, and especially, to us. But real life isn't like the movies; there are no guaranteed happy endings. We don't have an omniscient director guiding our every move. Award-winning screenwriters aren't plotting the destinies of the two young lovers who "met cute" on a film set. Life is what it is, and sometimes things don't work out the way people expect them to. It's not always tragic when it happens. Sometimes it's exactly the way it's supposed to be. It's sad and it hurts and it makes you cry, but after you wipe away the tears and really listen to your heart, you know it's just the way it is.

The truth is, Jen and I love each other very much. And there are things in our relationship that work like gangbusters. We support each other, we inspire each other, we bring out the best in each other. I know I am forever a better person for having Jen in my life. She has given me so much and taught me so much about myself. She makes me want to be a better person every single day. And I know that the reason for all the good things in our relationship is that we have always been totally honest with each other. We can and do tell each other everything. There is nothing I can't tell her, and she the same with me. The irony is that because of that honesty, we have decided to split up.

No relationship is perfect, and ours is no different. We found each other at the exact right time and place in each of our lives. We didn't realize it at the time, but we each had a piece of what the other person was missing in some way: Love. Stability. Encouragement. Comfort. Love. We were both alone and lost in the wilderness, but somehow we found each other. It really was like something out of a movie. But from the very beginning, no matter how quickly and completely we were drawn to each other, there was still something missing. Something intangible. A spark is the only way to describe it. That feeling you get deep down on a purely romantic level that words just can't explain. We've looked for it many times, but for whatever reason, that quality is just missing between us. We both realized it when we first met, but at the time it didn't matter. At that time in our lives, we needed each other for all the other reasons. But as time has passed and our relationship has grown, we have both come to realize that we love each other too much to ignore it any longer. It is painful and difficult and hard to admit to one another, but to pretend that it doesn't matter would mean we would have to stop being honest with each other, and that's not how our relationship works. At first, we tried to figure out how to fix it, like there was something broken. But the truth is, it didn't really break. You can't fix something that has never existed in the first place. It doesn't make it any less painful, it just is what it is. Jen is my best friend, and I am hers. And the only way for us to remain best friends is for us to stop being husband and wife. Because if we don't, even though we still love each other now, one day, be it one year, five years, or ten years down the line, we will wind up resenting or blaming or hating each other for pretending that nothing is wrong, and the thought of that is a thousand times more painful than the thought of splitting up. I can survive losing my wife, but I can't survive losing my best friend.

In many ways, Jen and I are different people than when we met. We've both grown and changed and evolved. We have different goals and interests and dreams than we did that cold morning in Anniston. We're not mad or angry or upset with each other about it. In fact, as strange as it sounds, once we finally admitted to each other that something was missing in our relationship, we were both relieved. The elephant could leave the room now. It's been weird and sad and confusing wrapping our heads around this whole thing, and we've talked about it extensively from every possible point of view, but we both agree that this is the only honest decision we can make. It sucks and it hurts and it's going to be a huge life change for us both, but it is the right decision for us to make. I will always treasure my marriage to Jen, and I know she feels the same. I don't regret a second of the time we've spent together, and I know we will always be part of each other's lives. Some people might think we're being rash, or that we need to give it more time. But that's what people do when they're trying to be polite with each other. Polite and honest are two very different things. Love is no reason to be polite.

8 comments:

Arik said...

Thoughtful, heartbreaking, tall.

That's Mike.

thejenwestquest said...

What Arik said. :) Love you so much.

Chez said...

*hugs*

Joe said...

Mike, you impress me more and more. Thank you for sharing an absolutely beautiful, heart-breaking, yet hopeful piece of writing. My best to you and Jen both.

Sherri said...

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful, heartbreaking story. I went through the same thing and know exactly where you both are coming from. My ex and I remained best friends for many years after our separation and divorce and it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We have since moved on, but continue to be in each others' lives and still love each other very much. Hugs to you both.

jodie said...

I dont really know either one of you, but I have been following jens blog since she started it, This story is so sad but also insightful. It'is good to recognize what it is that defines your relationship.....Go with the good, acknowledge whats not there, & if u dont think u can ever have that then maybe u would be better off as friends,,,,,but are u sure that it's not "the 7-yr. itch" All marriages level out after a while,i'm just saying, sounds like yall do have a lot going in your favor.God Bless!!

Teressa said...

Mike,
What you speak of was the reverse of my first marriage. We had so many sparks we were like the Fourth of July! Something as simple as dependability was what tore us apart. You' re not alone. Everyone has to peal their own orange eventually. At least you' re being honest.

composerannie said...

One of the most moving and transparent blogs I've read about love and honesty. You both have so many people routing for you...