You should've seen us. Beaming as she walked down the aisle, radiant on her father's arm. Pulling Kleenex from our purses as she ascended the altar to meet the groom. Dancing at the reception, a wild circle of us, frenzied with laughter, champagne and excitement.
Typical scene at a co-worker's wedding? Yes, except for one massive difference: all of us beaming, sniffling, dancing women are divorce lawyers and our staff, turned out en masse to celebrate our paralegal's wedding. Really? Aren't we supposed to be deeply cynical? Aren't we so blinded by the dark side of marriage that we can no longer see beauty and hope in a wedding?
Not a chance. To the contrary, my firm and my colleagues at the family law bar are, in my wholly unscientific estimation, deep appreciators of marriage. We, more than most, understand the value of family. We know it's what gives meaning to people's lives because we see the depth of the pain when it doesn't work out. Divorce makes most people miserable, it makes some greedy, and it makes a few (a pretty big few) violent and destructive to themselves and their kids. Grown men cry in my office because they miss their kids. Women shake with fear at the thought of having to sell their homes. But marriage remains a powerful draw. Despite the misery, so many of our clients navigate the choppy waters, land on the other shore, and what's the first thing they do? Get married again! And our gay and lesbian clients have been fighting hard for years for the right to join the ranks of the married.
Perhaps the paradox of the hopelessly romantic divorce lawyer is also a product of self-selection. There are many lawyers out there who can't get away from a divorce case fast enough. Could it be that those of us drawn to this practice find the issues so compelling precisely because we place such a high premium on marriage and family? Because rather than viewing a divorce as someone's dirty laundry we'd rather not get involved in, we take pride and pleasure in shepherding our clients through a difficult period of transition to a place where they can be happy again? At my firm, we have been touched by invitations to attend the weddings of former clients, we routinely send wedding and baby gifts, and we love to receive holiday cards with pictures of our clients' children. It makes us feel good to know our clients are enjoying their families, however those families are now reconfigured.
Whatever the reason, I know for sure that I'm a better spouse and parent because of my profession. I feel grateful for the marriage I have and -- here's what I think is probably the key -- I'm tolerant of small problems and differences because I am so acutely aware of the big picture, of how unimportant those differences may be when compared to the potential cataclysm of divorce. And my husband is a better spouse because of my profession too. As he's mentioned on more than one occasion, he'd be terrified to divorce me and anyway, if he decided to, he'd want me to represent him.
I once met someone who was a member of a religious group that completely rejects the notion of divorce. He asked me what I did for a living, I told him, and he asked how I could sleep at night. Of course, I can sleep at night because I strongly believe that people should not remain in marriages that are unhappy or abusive. However, I think he had a picture of me as someone who goes around with a wrecking ball aimed at marriage as an institution. I only wish he could have been at the church when our paralegal walked down the aisle.