It was a question posed to me by a stranger on an airplane.
Thirty minutes into our journey from Dallas to New York, after a futile attempt on his part to watch a movie on the plane's weak Wifi signal, I noticed my seatmate grow increasingly frustrated and stifle the need to curse. In an effort to calm him down (and also distract my need to giggle at the scene he was making), I made a sarcastic comment about what it must be like to re-watch the same 30 second clip on a loop.
Two hours later, we were still talking, and our conversation had taken a turn from handheld device failures, to our jobs, and onto relationships.
The subject of my recent divorce came up, and after listening to a (CliffsNotes) version of the story, he turned to me and asked,
What was the exact moment when you knew it was over?
I paused, partially to come up with the answer, but also to register the fact that this stranger had accomplished the unthinkable - getting me, a true, Myers Briggs defined introvert, to open up more than I had in quite some time.
Leave it to altitude and alcohol to get the job done.
In all of the time since my divorce, it dawned on me that I'd never been entirely honest with anyone who had asked why my marriage had ended. I'd always felt compelled to keep my response tailored to society's expectations of why we probably failed.
We drifted apart.
He and I wanted different things.
The fighting became excessive.
All of which played a role in our dissolution, but no singular statement that had come out of my mouth prior had reflected the all-encompassing truth.
And oddly enough, it was then - sitting in 14B, next to this man who had nearly thrown his iPad into the aisle - when it dawned on me.
Many who emerge from divorce are able to pinpoint a particular fight or heated exchange as the tipping point, but for me, it was the exact opposite.
The end was marked by laughter. A seemingly positive thing - levity. Humor. Often considered a necessity in relationships, especially marriages.
When my ex and I fought, it was never about the subject at hand. It was about how he reacted to me, and vice versa. We both grew more and more incredulous as the days passed, simply because we were evolving into strangers and could not recognize our counterpart. Gone was the ability to predict what would make the other one tick.
Every day was a mystery. And not a good one.
The moment I realized it was over, we were in the midst of a discussion which had grown heated. Much to my surprise, instead of meeting me with a similar degree of seriousness, he burst into laughter. Not in an effort to lighten the mood, but because the subject matter - important to me - was petty, to him.
He laughed out of sheer dismissiveness.
The response was unexpected, and reinforced the notion that this man was not the one I had married years prior.
In an instant, I recalled our wedding vows. Not the overtly romantic part, but the very basic, foundational statement that every bride and groom exchanges:
To have and to hold.
In becoming ghosts of our former selves, we had lost the ability to hold onto each other.
That sentiment, while metaphorical, struck a chord while the sound of laughter and one-sided merriment echoed throughout our kitchen that fateful night.
And it was then, surrounded by what felt like palpable irony, that I realized it was over.
PS: Props to the man sitting next to me on that flight from Dallas to New York. Proof that in one eye-opening, thought-provoking conversation, someone can go from a stranger to a friend. Thanks, Steve.