(published in 1937)
R is 32 and lives in Maine.
Why did you get married?
I was never one of those girls, or teenagers, or women who dreamed about her wedding day. It never occurred to me to fantasize about that event. I daydreamed about life with a partner, and had considered what it would be like to be a co-parent, but the actual marriage ceremony was not something that excited me. Honestly, I think I got married because he asked, and I didn’t see a reason to say no. Our relationship had become pretty rocky 3 months in, and had remained so when we got married 3 years later. He consistently and very rationally explained to me that relationships were hard work, and that I had to work on myself and my behaviors in order to better our relationship. I took on a lot more responsibility than was my fair share for the problems in our relationship, and when I rarely attempted to hold him accountable for his contributions, I experienced such a backlash that I would feel guilty and ultimately regret it. So I drank the Kool-Aid and lived my life as the good girlfriend, and then the good wife, asking my therapist to hold me accountable for our relationship problems, consoling my man when two separate couples therapists told him he was blaming too much on me and not taking enough responsibility for his role in our troubled paradise. I thought it was normal to have that many knock-em-down drag-em-out fights. I thought every couple had those kinds of issues. I thought so because he told me so, and since I was rather inexperienced in the relationship realm, and he was 5 years older than me and very smart, I believed him. So when he asked me to marry him, I said yes. It was fun and exciting, and even though our problems continued through our engagement, marriage seemed like the reasonable next step.
What changes have divorce/separation brought to your life?
I am exponentially happier, and everyone can tell. My parents were in udder shock and denial when they found out (from him, no less) that I was getting divorced. They kept saying that maybe our separation would bring us closer together. Not even a month after my divorce was finalized, my father sent me an article titled “When Divorce IS Happily Ever After.” He noticed almost immediately how much lighter and more joyful I was. I also stopped lying to my parents about my relationship struggles, and I stopped hiding my emotional ups and downs from my siblings. I smoke less pot and drink more whiskey. I no longer apologize for things for which I am not sorry or not accountable. I learned how to make really tough choices about my finances, my relationships, and my career by listening to my heart and soul, with advice from loved ones, but without having my answers dictated to me by a partner. I dance more often with complete abandon. I am open to receiving more support from my friends. I choose my friends independently, growing closer to some and more distant from others of our mutual friends. I focus my therapeutic and healing practices on my personal growth and not on saving a relationship. I learned how to stand up for myself and stop taking other people’s bullshit. I learned how to fight with someone, still love them, and then laugh about it later that same day. I have exponentially better sex. I treat myself better and love myself more. Without someone nagging me to go to sleep earlier and eat better, and without someone to nag to relax, let loose, and go with the flow, I play all of those roles for myself, and feel more supported and more free than ever before. I feel more at home in my own body and soul. I found my strong, powerful, beautiful, amazing self, and I’m enjoying getting to know her better every day.
How has divorce/separation changed your view of marriage?
Marriage doesn’t seem sacred anymore. Maybe it never did. Through all our struggles leading up to our wedding day, I think I knew in the back of my mind that if it really didn’t work out, I could always get divorced. If I were living in another country, where divorces are much less common and much harder to secure, especially for a woman, I might not have gotten married in the first place. In the USA, if you’re heterosexual, getting married and getting divorced are not very difficult processes (especially if you’re lucky like me, with no children and no shared property). A real, true, loving partnership, now that’s harder to come by, and I don’t need a glorified tax break to commit to and treasure that kind of relationship.
Do you think you’ll get married again? Why? Why not?
I don’t know. I am not opposed to getting married again, but I do not feel any kind of pressure, or even strong desire, to do so. Three years after my divorce, I finally feel ready to get into a committed relationship again. That would be nice. If that relationship becomes serious and long term, I might be interested in some sort of commitment ceremony or celebration, to honor our relationship in the presence of friends and family. But marriage itself has lost its sparkle for me. With so many states legally defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, getting married is starting to feel more like a political move, and I’m not interested in being a greedy heterosexual. I guess if I was in a really strong, healthy, loving relationship, and I was sure (as sure as one can be) that I wanted to be with that person for the rest of my life, and that person really wanted to be married to me… I would consider it.
What advice would you give to women who are going through divorce/separation?
Do not look at your divorce as a failed marriage. Look at it as a next step in your development as a human being. Easier said then done, I know, but I do not regret my marriage because getting divorced was the best thing to happen in my life. I am so much stronger, happier, and healthier for it, and I couldn’t have gotten there without having gone through the whole process. Talk about it. You’ll be surprised how many people you know have been divorced—your coworkers, your hairdresser, your yoga instructor, even your own family members. I somewhat shamefully sent messages to my extended family, telling them the news and my new address. I was shocked at the amount of support I received in return. Somehow I had forgotten that my cousins were on their second marriage (the first one is for practice, they said), and that my Nana had been divorced twice, widowed once, and married four times. Perhaps I am blessed with a very supportive family, but the shame I initially felt melted away with an outpouring of support and love from my extended family. Therapy also helped. A lot. Which reminds me… Go to therapy. You will learn so much about yourself, and you don’t have to worry about wearing out therapists’ ears, because they’re professional listeners. Just do it. Find kinship with other women who have gotten or are getting divorced. You will help each other keep in line and not go too far off the deep end. You will move each other out of your married residences and into new single abodes. You will attend each other’s divorce hearings and provide emotional support. You may even drag each other, drunk and sobbing, upstairs, through the kitchen, and into the bedroom, barely able to crawl let alone walk, crying for your losses and holding on to one another for dear life. And then you may grow apart as you grow stronger standing on your own. Maintain your social life and your regular support networks. Don’t NOT go somewhere only because you think your ex will be there. You are just as much entitled to a social life as your ex is. Keep in touch with your mutual friends. They’re your friends too. They might not reach out to you right away, because they might be embarrassed or not know quite how to handle the situation, and they might be grieving your relationship themselves. But most likely, they still love you and want to be your friends. I actually noticed that my friendships got stronger after my divorce. Because I couldn’t rely on my partner to make social plans for me, it was up to me to maintain those relationships, and when I invested more in my friends, they invested more in me. Keep up with whatever activities you normally do to feel whole in your life, especially the healthy ones, like exercise and creative expression. With the unhealthy ones, just be gentle with yourself. It might be better to quit smoking or lose 10 pounds after some post-divorce healing time has passed. Meanwhile, treat yourself to a pedicure. Above all, do not judge yourself. I did crazy, unhealthy, and abnormal things while I was getting divorced. I slept around, sometimes having great sex with great men, and sometimes having awful sex with disgusting men, just to be having sex. For a few weeks, I stayed with a friend who was also going through a divorce, and we drank like fish every night, almost getting kicked out of bars, flirting with every man we saw, and starting and ending affairs with both single and married men. I started smoking cigarettes. I got my first two tattoos in the same month (but I do not regret either one!). I overworked, hardly slept, and overdosed on processed foods mostly consisting of white flour and fake cheese. Perhaps these behaviors are normal for some people, but they were abnormal for me, and I recognized how unhealthy some of them were even as I was engaging in them. Some I still engage in, and some I don’t regret at all. And my divorce was a huge relief! For women like my aforementioned friend, who are extremely saddened and distraught by their divorce or separation, I can only imagine the extent of abnormal behaviors they may engage in to cope with the emotional distress. Do not judge yourself. Do what you have to do to survive. Eventually the dust will settle, you’ll find yourself amidst the chaos, and you’ll find your own path to healing. You can do this.