it's all relative

The Ex Who’s Friends With the New Wife

Photo-Illustration: by Stevie Remsberg/Photos: Getty

It’s All Relative is an exploration of all the different ways of being a family in the year 2019.

Traditionally, divorce is a dark word. There are no Divorce Dinnerware sets at Macy’s or Divorce Cupcakes from Baked by Melissa. And culturally, many of us grew up with Kramer vs. Kramer, a contentious custody battle movie, or as products of not-so-fun divorces ourselves. But divorce seems to be experiencing a re-branding of sorts. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin consciously uncoupled, and now they’re in the Caribbean together with their new significant others. And look at the Bonet-Kravitz-Mamoa family, in which the men lucky enough to have married Lisa Bonet wear friendship rings! This is a good thing. After all, marriage doesn’t always work out (there’s no denying that), but that doesn’t mean anyone deserves an unhappy life. In fact, it’s brave as hell to walk away from a negative situation, and even braver to embrace the concept that through struggle comes beauty.

Melissa and Harrison got divorced about 16 years ago. Now they’re in their 50s and have not let separating take away their closeness and appreciation for each other. Along with their daughter, Keri, who is 20 years old, they shared how they’ve remained one big family, new partners included.

Melissa: My story … are you watching Dirty John? Yeah, I’m Connie Britton with less gorgeous hair. [Laughs.] I’ve been married a couple times, and always to the wrong men, except for one. That one is Harrison. He was my third husband. Harrison is a good man. Our marriage didn’t last but there’s never been a question, Harrison is a good man.

Harrison: Let’s see. I met Melissa after my first marriage fell apart. She had two under her belt — but she was young and naïve, as we all are, for both of those relationships. She was strong to get out of them. I admired her a lot. When we met, neither of us had kids yet. We were both hurt by our past. But that wasn’t the only thing we had in common. We were both from big, close New England families and wanted to grow our own big, close families. We both loved to laugh and have fun. We could both laugh at ourselves — and that’s the thing that I think made everything that happened next totally okay.

Keri: My parents (Harrison and Melissa) got pregnant with me before they officially got married. And they quickly had my sister, just after they got married. My sister and I are “Irish twins;” she was born right after me.

Melissa: We were great parents and our girls were the loves of our lives, but Harrison and I were fighting a lot. I blame myself. I was dealing with all kinds of wicked mood swings. Maybe it was postpartum but they didn’t call it that then. I was mostly just a crazy bitch. Especially when I drank …

Keri: Okay, so, my mom runs hot. She’s extremely eccentric. She reads a lot of self-help books. She talks to trees. I idolize her, but I also can see how being married to her might be a little … draining.

Harrison: I couldn’t quite figure out how to make her happy. I am no one but myself, and I couldn’t change myself, so I kind of just gave up. I stopped caring because when I cared, I failed. I kept failing her. It was the little things … if I worked too much, or worked not enough, if I saw my buddies and had a good time or if I made no plans and hung around the house too much. She was always on my ass!

Melissa: Again, I think I make a nightmare of a wife. I’m a great person but a shitty wife. I drink a lot less now, by the way.

Keri: I was only 4, but I vaguely remember my parents saying they were getting divorced. I’m not sure if I’m making up the memory, because they’ve told me how it went down so many times, or if it really did stay in my brain. I just remember them holding each other and loving each other so hard and crying and telling us they were going to live separately. Beyond that, I don’t really remember any weirdness or trauma. My dad was around all the time! He moved a few blocks away. He was always really involved. When I talk to kids of divorce, most of the time their sadness stems from never seeing their dad anymore, or being disappointed by their dad. I can’t think of a time my dad ever disappointed me.

Melissa: So we get divorced, and within a year, Harrison meets someone new. He meets Erin. And I knew immediately that Erin is the woman he’s meant to be with. Deep in my heart, I just knew it. My soul knew it. And I loved her too! She is calm, kind, centered, non-judgmental, open-minded. She’s a wonderful, wonderful woman.

Harrison: I met Erin through a friend, and she was just a breath of fresh air. I loved spending time with her and getting to know her. It felt very easy to bring her into life with my girls and my ex. It just happened easily, I don’t know. We didn’t consult a therapist or teachers or anything. It all just happened, there was no drama.

Melissa: I knew I’d never marry again. I just wasn’t interested in it. I had my babies and my freedom and that was enough for me. So maybe I’m crazy but I delighted in seeing Harrison fall in love. I felt like his big sister cheering him on. He belonged in a marriage.

Keri: I remember being very excited when I heard that my dad and Erin were having a baby. My sister and I were very girly and we loved all things babies. When our brother was born, it was like getting the best puppy in the world. Pure joy. We were all there in the waiting room as Erin pushed … my mom, too! I think she was the first person to hold my brother after Erin and my dad.

Melissa: All these years later, my girls are thriving in college and Erin and Harrison’s son is just the most wonderful young man. I go to his soccer games with Erin sometimes, and I cheer like the loudest soccer mom of all. I have been dating someone for a few years, and while I intentionally and deliberately keep it casual, he is also a part of our fiber now.

Harrison: I love seeing Melissa with her boyfriend. She likes to say that she’s better alone and somehow I worry that she feels unworthy of love. But we all know she deserves love … and this guy seems to adore her. That makes every single one of us happy. Her taste in men has definitely gotten better, God knows.

Keri: Has it ever been hard? Um, it’s a little hard and annoying to explain the situation to people, like how my brother is not some “half-brother” but my fucking BROTHER. I hate the term half-brother, so I like to remind myself that I don’t have to explain anything to anybody. It’s my family, not theirs.  For the most part, I’ve always just felt lucky that I had a bunch of loving family members around me at all times. I respect my parents for giving me that gift. I’m sure there will be some residual issues as I grow older, but as of now, all I know is that I’m really lucky to have them.

The Ex Who’s Friends With the New Wife