And Then There Were Three

I have two children; family vacations were the highlight of our lives before their father and I got divorced. After the divorce, the thought of vacationing as a threesome without our fourth member sounded abysmally sad to me, so I avoided this by not vacationing. Then my ex-husband took our kids on vacation, and they had fun. He texted me photos of the three of them bronze and laughing in the sun, so like any good parent, I vowed to myself not to be outdone (did I mention the post-divorce competition?). I booked a vacation for the children and me at an all-inclusive family resort within a reasonable driving distance.

Thanks to the magic of Siri, the drive to our vacation destination was easy. The resort was beautiful, with numerous activities that encouraged exercise and fresh air, no wifi required. Meals were served in the dining room during set times of the day.  We were famished after the long drive and excited about our first meal. Internally, I was giving myself a pep talk about this vacation. I can do this; we’re going to have a great time, who needs a husband? We’re not sad, we’re happy. Pose for smiling selfie by the sunny lake, send to ex, nailed it!

We arrived at the dining room, and the hostess seated us. As we perused the menu, the waitress approached, smiling. “Shall we wait for your husband to place the order?” She asked.  My gaze shifted to my children. Still so young, the divorce fresh and painful for them, I saw the smiles fall from their faces. I wanted to scream at her, “Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, have you seriously never seen a single mother before?” But aware that my children’s eyes were on me, and it was up to me to show them by example that we’re fine, I smiled at her. “We’re ready to order now,” I said, and we did.

That waitress never asked me that question again, but unfortunately, she was not the only server. Every day of our vacation was like ripping open the wound that had just begun to heal. “No, no one else will be joining us. Yes, we’d like to order now. It’s Ms. Rowe, not Mrs. Thank you.”

That was three years and four vacations ago, and I’d like to say that does not happen anymore, but just recently my children and I were on vacation, and nearly every time we sat down to eat someone asked if my husband would be joining us, if he was in the restroom, and whether we wanted to wait for him. It happened three years ago, it happened last month, and it has happened at every vacation in between.

The children and I are stronger now, and the divorce is further in the rearview mirror, but it still hurts. The empty place at the table, the constant reminders that someone is missing or expected, serves to make us feel as if we are defective. Or perhaps we already felt that way, and this brings it to the surface.

No one plans to grow old alone, or spend their holidays and vacations staring at an empty seat at the table, but fifty percent of people do. So why, when I take my children on vacation, or out to a restaurant, am I made to feel like a leper? I don’t know, but I do know this: there needs to be more sensitivity training in the hospitality industry.

This post is for everyone who has ever felt less than because you are single. No matter what your waiter says, you’re not missing anything. You are whole, just as you are, and just because your family doesn’t look like it used to, or doesn’t look like other people’s, does not make it less of a family. So dine out with your kids, or by yourself, and if your server asks if they should wait for someone else, tell them you’re not waiting, and they shouldn’t either. Your life – albeit not the one you had planned – is still great, and it starts right now.

Discussion questions:

Divorced parents, are you frequently asked about your non-existent spouse? How does it make you feel, and how do you deal with it? And what about widows and widowers?

Still smiling, even after being asked about my non-existent spouse (again).

Still smiling, even after being asked about my non-existent spouse (again).

Amanda Rowe2 Comments