Together ... with children, 2 homes and dates

Together ... with children, 2 homes and dates
(Casey Crisenbery, For the Los Angeles Times)

She photographed me for the book jacket of a forthcoming novel. It was love through a lens. She had me at click.

Each of us was recently divorced, with a son from a previous marriage. We were not geographically compatible: She lived in Santa Monica; I lived in the Hollywood Hills.


Yet we persevered, dating on weekends, speaking on the phone during the week. As often as possible we had a Thursday afternoon tryst at my office. Even though we were consenting adults, there was, nonetheless, something deliciously illicit about these afternoons. Maybe it was the time of day. Maybe it was the setting. Whatever it was, it was delightful. We felt as if we were in a French movie: "Always on Thursday."

It took some effort to manage the complexities of dual-custody marriages, but we handled them. In these kinds of reconstituted families, you learn to navigate around the shoals of soccer practices, orthodontics and sleepovers.

This arrangement went on for a couple of years. Everyone was happy, or so I thought. Like many men emerging from a bad divorce, I was not eager to remarry. It seemed at best superfluous, at worst perilous. Our relationship was committed and monogamous; we both felt we had finally met our life partner. There were no serious financial issues: We each owned a home and supported ourselves. If it's not broke, don't fix it, right?

Wrong. She was reaching a certain symbolic birthday and didn't want to face the prospect of being unmarried at that age. Frankly, I didn't get it, but one of the things I had learned, the hard way, about relationships was to accept some of the things I didn't get. One night I had dinner with a second-marriage couple who had recently married after 10 years of cohabitation, and I confided my dilemma to them. "You know why you should marry her?" the woman told me. "Because she wants you to." Case closed.

Still, I fought the idea. Neither of our present homes was suitable for four. Neither of our sons wanted to move. Their schools, their friends, their comfort zones were geographically established. We would be making them both unhappy. And, even more problematic, we would be dealing with all the hands-on stepparenting issues that we had so far largely avoided.

And then the obvious solution presented itself. The idea was so simple it had eluded us. Get married but don't move in together. Keep our own houses, keep our sons happy, keep our weekend dates and our Thursday afternoon rendezvous, but do this in wedlock. Duh. Everybody wins.

We went off to Las Vegas to tie the knot, which we accomplished at an Elvis-themed wedding chapel. A few months later, we had a ceremony for family and friends at my house, exchanged vows at sunset overlooking Hollywood, drank Champagne, danced. And then when it was over, she and her son returned to their house in Santa Monica, and my son and I cleaned up.

So now we were married, but living exactly as we had before — seeing each other on weekends and stealing away for our Thursday afternoons. Our friends and families had some difficulty grasping the concept. You're married, live in the same city, but in separate houses? There was a certain amount of perplexity about this arrangement, as well as some ill-concealed envy. Especially about the Thursday afternoons. There was something piquant about a married couple going to the trouble of getting together on a weekday afternoon.

Yeah, it probably was more expensive than a single home, and yeah, we burned some gasoline going back and forth, but our sons were happy, and so were we. It was working. We were married and dating, avoiding some of the tedium that quotidian life brings. As well as the challenges. We didn't have to agree on gardeners, thermostat settings or who takes out the garbage.

Two years into the arrangement, my son went off to college, and her son moved in with his father. And there we were — two single people living in two single houses. It was not only extravagant, it was getting silly. And full disclosure: As time went on, we began to miss coming home to each other and talking about our respective days. Speaking on the phone like teenagers had outlived its novelty. We were ready to take the plunge.

So we bought a house together, commingled our CD and book collections, filed a joint tax return. We survived remodeling, contractors and dishes in the sink. We had become just another normal couple, enjoying the banality of mowing our lawn and putting contact paper on shelves.

But we kept one thing from our salad days. Thursdays. Though we moved it to Sunday. Every Sunday afternoon — after the 1 p.m. football game ends — we drink Champagne, eat dark chocolate, put a little salsa music on the box and remember what it was like to be married and dating.

Lefcourt is the author of nine published novels, including "An American Family."

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