Red Flags, Red Dresses, & Recriminations

For more years than I can recall, I have consistently made two jokes about my ex-wife:

The last time I saw my ex we weren’t able to speak… I was too busy crossing the street and she was too busy speeding up.
Before we got married I ignored every red flag even the really obvious ones. When I passed a bank, instead of the sign flashing the date and time it would say “Refugee, don’t do it.”

Like most jokes, there is some element of truth that under-girds both of those two jokes. The simplest distillation of the truth is that I married the wrong woman. The simple distillation of the reason why I married the wrong woman is that she was a rebound relationship that lasted too long (don’t scoff; that sentence took tons of cash in therapy to produce. I now use it frequently in an attempt to metaphorically amortize the cost over multiple usages.)

It is the rare day that she crosses my mind more than a decade since divorce did us part; but a confluence of coincidence brought her to mind today.

A newspaper advice column was the first with its discussion of compatibility. Then an obscure reference (two mental jumps, and a cerebral leap that only make sense in my mind) while watching Friday Night Lights on Hulu became the second. The final coincidence occurred while watching the ladies final at Wimbledon.

When my ex and I had bad times in our marriage, which is to say about a cup of coffee after vows were exchanged, the tennis court was the one place we always got along.

One random afternoon I went to the racquet shop to get one of my racquets re-gripped. While I waited, I saw a crimson tennis dress that I thought my then wife would look great wearing. Without much forethought, I grabbed the dress and plunked down a credit card. I was so pleased with myself for having done something nice for my wife just because. It never occurred to me that she preferred to play in old gym shorts and ratty t-shirts. Later that evening I gave her the dress and she feigned appreciation for it.

The following night we met at the tennis courts near our house for a few after-work sets. She wore her usual shorts and old t-shirt. I made the critical mistake of asking her about the dress and if she liked it. An argument ensued in which she accused me of trying to change her (maybe a kernel of truth,) that I didn’t think she was good enough for me (patently false,) and that I was being selfish when I bought the dress (true but only in the way that a man who randomly buys lingerie for his partner is being selfish.)

That was the last time we ever played tennis together.

About a year later, I ran into my ex-wife on the tennis court. She was with her new boyfriend and wearing that crimson tennis dress. At that moment, I concluded that it wasn’t that she didn’t like the dress, she just didn’t want to wear it for me. The lesson was at least as valuable as all of the therapy to explain all of the others.

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5 Responses to Red Flags, Red Dresses, & Recriminations

  1. I’m the Queen of ignoring red flags, but we all need to learn in our own time. It’s interesting (albeit in a sad way) how the red dress represented so much more than a piece of fashionable clothing.

    Happy that you are writing so much this month, as I love to read your words! xoxo

  2. k8 says:

    Oh therapy. I’m certain the amount I have paid by this time could have bought a very lovely house.

  3. kitty says:

    you can run, you play tennis, you like restaurants and bars, you no longer have questionable facial hair… sounds like you’re a catch!

  4. elle dubya says:

    I was beaten with the red flags and it still didn’t matter. Usually doesn’t…

  5. Yeah, I’m still pining for a man swathed in red flags. His birthday is in two weeks and I’ve spent more time debating what to do (and to what degree) when, this past spring, he failed to even acknowledge my birthday. For the second time. In four years.

    Amen for therapy on Monday.

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