My Own Private Idaho
By Jeannie O'Conor

I've noticed that we women tend to go through a period of internal anarchy when a marriage ends. Propelled by fear, dread, anxiety, we often hurl ourselves headlong into experimental behavior ranging from uncharacteristically daring to full-blown Lost Weekend (or in my case, 47 Lost Weekends). This can result in personal growth, when we break free of stereotypes and patterns that have kept us down, or it can be…well, self-destructive. This tendency can be so extreme that I think we should all get a free pass for, say, a year from the time the marriage ends to allow us the time to achieve balance again.

When my marriage to the AntiChrist ended, I embarked on an ill-advised, inappropriate, loveless affair with a 23-year old former lacrosse All-American- my friend's husband's NEPHEW, for God's sake. He lived in my friend's guest room, and one time he helped me get down from a tree, lifting me effortlessly to the ground with his strong arms (I don't remember how or why I happened to be up that tree, but I was certainly Up Shit Creek as far as my marriage was concerned). Only now does it become obvious to me that this is insanely metaphorical, but at the time I was crazed with fear, dread, and anxiety about the future. His strong arms represented rescue, and manhood of the most neanderthalic kind, and I was a lust-crazed goner from that moment on. Over the next year our "relationship" progressed from the tree rescue to sultry, suggestive stares held way too long for decency, to stolen kisses in the upstairs hallway at wholesome family barbecues- during these he would peel our shirts up so our bare, hot stomach skin would fairly sizzle with the contact. I hadn't had a decent roll in the hay for years with my husband at that point, and I was so turned on I could hardly see straight. At 35, the mother of five-year old twin boys, I fancied myself in love with this man-child, who barely gave me the time of day after "giving me one", despite the fact that he was a churl and an inconsiderate, though intense, lover and I never once had an orgasm. I asked him to dinner once and he almost laughed in my face at the absurdity of the thought; he booty-called me around once a week, sneaking into my house for a furtive and unsatisfying coupling; afterward we would smoke cigarettes in my cramped bathroom, silently, while standing in my bathtub blowing the smoke out the window. My parents lived next door to my friend's house, and I used to slip out of the back door on alternate weekends when I slept there so the AntiChrist could spend time with our boys in their own home with minimal disruption to their lives, and I'd climb the fence between the properties to meet him in the wee small hours. Despite his smolder and swagger-or perhaps symptomatic of them- he was an arrogant, unpolished, ill-mannered young punk, and he treated me with no respect or tenderness or kindness, ever. And yet I played this cheesy song by Kylie Minogue on endless loop while I drove my boys to school; I thought about him almost every minute of every day for over a year.

For this I remain profoundly grateful to him. He rescued me from hell, in a way, by blotting out the fear, dread, and anxiety that would have paralyzed me had I allowed myself to dwell on them for even a moment. He never led me on, and made no bones about the nature of his feelings for me, which were purely sexual in nature. He reminded me how potent a kiss can be, and how powerful a force physical longing is, even if the payoff in no way matches the buildup. Despite his offhand treatment of me, he made me feel like a highly desirable, passionate creature again after years of living in a sexual Dead Zone with a sociopath. He gave me something to focus on rather than my abject terror about How I Was Going To Do This, Alone, and how I would extricate myself from a hopeless, scary situation.

My friends- the two I had left after the mass, post-separation Exodus of my other 20-or-so "friends"- were horrified and appalled at my behavior. The aunt-by-marriage of my young partner in crime wrote me a three page long tirade about my whorish actions that ended our friendship. My other friend made me install an alarm system in my house, for fear that I would awake to find the AntiChrist standing over me with a long, sharp knife if he found out about the All-American.

I have since discovered that this is more common than you might think. I managed to rein in my own behavior without truly hurting anyone else, but I have seen post-divorce insanity destroy good friendships and faultless reputations, if not lives. With varying degrees of destructiveness to themselves and others, I have seen friends abandon all scruples and loyalty after the breakup of a marriage. Sometimes fear, dread, and anxiety can get in your way, and it can be good to eclipse them with more life-affirming feelings, but at what point does self-distraction become self-immolation? At some point you have to put down the bottle of vodka, put your pants back on, and start doing yoga or something. Pull yourself together, Woman!

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On the highway of life, there's nothing like a little relationship road kill to get you to slow down and pay attention. What can we learn from others? Sometimes the best break-up authority isn't an authority at all. Let's check out these lessons from people who've been in your shoes, and who have lived to tell.