I'm taking a do-over on my marriage after a two-year break. My almost ex-husband and I are looking for a new place to live, and this time we're going in with a plan and clearly defined expectations for how our lives together should look.
No way could we have done that 12 years ago or even two years ago when I left. For this marriage to have any chance of making it, it first had to come all the way undone.
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I met Sam in line for Grateful Dead tickets a few months after I started my first out-of-college reporting job. He was tall and tan and big across the shoulders with brown hair hanging down to his chest.
Some scenes you see forever in your head. I still see Sam coming down the block. How his arms hung away from his body, not touching his sides when he walked. He had on Birkenstock sandals, khaki shorts to the knees, and a green and black plaid flannel we still called "grunge" in 1993. And he was palming a cantaloupe.
After introducing himself, Sam pulled a Swiss Army knife from his shirt pocket, sliced the melon and offered a piece. I thought I hated cantaloupe, but he looked good and I took it anyway. When I asked to bum a smoke, he handed me a fake cigarette packed with pot grown in his basement.
Usually my mind would shut down around a man my eyes saw as more than a buddy, but with this guy the words came easy. We sat there all morning smoking and talking.
A few hours after we'd each gotten our tickets and gone our separate ways, he called the paper trying to track me down.
"I didn't get a chance to ask you your last name or your phone number or what you're doing after work," he said. My heart beat all the way up in my ears. "I got yesterday's paper out the garbage to find your byline."
We shot pool and saw my favorite band that night, and had sex for hours the next. There were chunky buds of bright-green pot drying on the terrarium beside his futon bed, and they made the room smell all skunky. But I was more stoned on Sam than that pot.
It was only supposed to be a summer fling, that's what I told myself, no strings. He was moving out West in the fall, and I had a killer new job. But hey, no reason we couldn't have some fun before he left.
Thirteen years later, we sat on our therapist's couch not touching. "You met me in line for Dead tickets, who did you think you were marrying?" he asked.
Right then the answer was easy. I thought I was marrying someone who'd grow up with me as we grew older. And I thought I married someone who'd catch the irony of that comment, because he met me in line for tickets, too. And I was there first.
But the truth is when I met Sam at 23, and when I married him at 26, I had no ideas about how our lives should look ten years out. I wasn't one of those girls who spent childhood daydreaming her fairy-tale wedding and the happily ever after to follow.
That was the problem. I didn't have a vision. I didn't know myself well enough to define the boundaries I needed to keep whole and happy. And, even If I had known those things, I didn't know how to define them to Sam.
We married at 26. Stood on the deck of this tiny boat, off the coast of Alaska and exchanged vows with a Hershey's bar broken in half so the split made "hers" and "heys." No rings. I wore a white fisherman's sweater inside out to hide the dirt. Sam wore black fleece pants, a purple sweater, and a knit cap. We were half drunk and laughing all the way through.
Three years later we bought $1.50 wedding bands in a Mexican silver-mining town where white houses with terra cotta roofs stacked up and down the mountainside.
Some people enter marriage with picket-fence visions and expectations about mortgage loans, career paths and who will do the cooking. I had a great friend, lover and travel partner, and that was all I wanted or needed or expected back then. That was my expectation. I never considered what I'd require from a grown-up, settled down partner. We snickered at career-path jobs, and rented houses without considering buying a home because who wanted to be tied to a mortgage working 50-weeks a year to pay for it?
It all worked perfectly, until it didn't.
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