I was reading the book Epilogue: A Memoir
and the author’s discussion about her husband’s death, about her grief, about her attempts to find new companionship brought to mind my divorce and my grief over it. It also made me think of an acquaintance going through a divorce, and how what she’s written of her experiences are so very similar to my own internal life when it first happened. It’s also brought to light one of the reasons I’ve had so much trouble getting the book on Wicca and Divorce of the ground: yes, it’s been years, yes, I’ve moved forward into a new relationship, but no, I’m not quite done and it’s not the sort of thing I can or should force. Emotions and loves don’t wrap up in end in neat little packages and it’s a disappointing behavior of modern life that people think they should; I blame this idea on too many people modeling their emotional lives after thirty minute sit-coms. Living doesn’t give you neat conclusions; otherwise you wouldn’t shit yourself when you die.
With that perspective, this is what poured out of me this afternoon.
I want to write this as a letter to an Internet acquaintance. She is going through a divorce now after she married her off-and-on bohemian wannabe rock star lover, and is now grieving as the divorced and hopeful grieve. I hope that she is taken seriously. I hope that she is taken more seriously than I was when I left my husband after three-and-a-half years.
She is not surrounded as I was by Indian women operating on the very false assumption that because divorce happens often to American women that marriage is casual and happens easily. She does not have to deal with them imitating the characters on Sex and the City, not realizing that what they were watching had nothing to do with the western experience. She was not advised “you dumped him! Forget him!” so insensitively as though he had been just a boyfriend, perhaps with more paperwork, but someone to be dismissed and forgotten as, in their minds, all Americans are to be dismissed and forgotten. At least, I hope that’s not what is happening and has happened to her.
At least on this side of the cultural divide, people try to hide the stigma they project on to you, frequently resorting to just not talking about it. You might even think you’re fully supported until you find out that the couple you used to have a weekly drink with have had three dinner parties without you. Easier to avoid you, let you drift, than to go so far as to proffer insightful opinions on a dead relationship, where clearly, some insight had been missing from within and certainly can’t be applied from without.
Divorce, even when you leave him like I did, even when you fall in love with someone else, even when he hits you on purpose or “accidentally,” even when he tells you artists are all useless and should be dead and then tells you that you aren’t really an artist… divorce still hurts, and is the choice that you do everything you can to avoid. Divorce is as bad as death. It’s worse than death, and not just because the body is still walking around. It’s choosing euthanasia before the puppy bites another neighbor and draws blood.
At least, with death, you are expected to grieve. But with divorce, unless you are talking to other divorcees, and sometimes not even then, your grief is not respected. You are to move on as soon as possible, put it behind you, pretend it didn’t happen. You aren’t supposed to talk about the friends you’ve lost, that you’ve had to lose, about the family members that are no longer family. You aren’t supposed to talk about the best friend that turns on you, seeing you as some harlot for going through a divorce without separating from your former spouse like you should, despite your support of her when she carried on an affair with a married man and was very nearly the cause of a divorce herself. You aren’t supposed to mention your feeling of sheer frustration at having to leave after spending so much time trying to make peace with your partner’s unwelcoming family.
Suddenly you become the “single” friend, especially if you are childless. You are expected to listen to the long and dolorous exploits of friends with family and children, and they are secretly expecting you to wish for what they have, silently demanding your jealousy whether you have any or not. If you admit that you are bored by their monologues or angered by their indifference towards your life then you are cast as “bitter.” I don’t know if this is the way it happens with the people that are married for twenty years and then finish up when the children are raised and the choice is divorce or homicide. I just know what happens when you are young, how a divorce gets you cast as being young and frivolous whether or not there has been anything about you or your personality that has been inclined towards the shallow or impulsive. People will act as if you’ve grabbed a diamond and then thrown it down a toilet like a frustrated brat with a broken vending machine toy.
With no formal process for managing the way your reality has completely unraveled allowed, you usually end up choosing someone to imitate because the crisis makes it too hard to figure out what your emotional process is now. Either you become something wildly bohemian, embracing singleness and aggressively trying to replace what you lost and repeat until you find what you had to kill in the first place, or else you expand your rancor against the person you used to love, imitating bitterness because at least you’ve seen it before so you know how it works.
Even the bitterness is easier on the people around you, the people that don’t understand. It gives them something almost concrete, something identifiably wrong with you. It’s easier on the mind to apply stigma to someone who is angry and bitter because clearly, they deserved to fail, than to a person who is simply sad. People who are just sad that a marriage didn’t work out are the ones that are the most disturbing, because it raises the possibility that the marriage wasn’t a failure, that there really were circumstances beyond either partners’ control, that despite religious edicts and chest-pounding claims to the contrary, sometimes things just don’t work out.
Whatever the reasons, they didn’t work out, and you had to end the relationship and now you still have to let the part of it that was in you, the part of the person that is in you, die. There is no quick way to kill it after you’ve married a person. All the heinous things ex-boyfriends do that can make the heart strings snap and break until you’re completely out of patience and compassion don’t break so easily when a husband does them. The strings are thicker, the attachment deeper, and the memories much more palpable.
So there you are, without support and without ritual. Seeking out other divorcees may or may not give comfort; for me it didn’t work as it was only ever more people still imitating, acting on how they thought they were supposed to feel with fake toughness and all too few really working through the grief and loss. My divorce has made me lose all respect for the badass. To hit, to yell, to confront – they have their place, those acts can defend, but the way they usually get used is just another type of laziness, a way to avoid facing the hurting soft bits that anatomy can’t name. It’s not the bad asses who heal. They’re much too invested in their identity as tough birds to choose to let the poison bleed out. It’s the softer ones, the ones who cry more and who say they’re sad but who don’t reach out for their old loves, who don’t seek replacement or curse but who simply grieve – they are the ones who recover, have new lives, becoming something other than just divorcees.
There is no shortcut, and there is no easy way. There is no ritual or magic spell that will make it all go away. And there is never, ever any absolution of responsibility for your actions no matter what you are feeling. Forgiving yourself, having others forgive you, will still not absolve you. You are not who you were when you married, and you are not supposed to be. You are who you are now, and you are not yet who you are going to be. That’s good. No matter what may happen to you as a result of divorce, whether it’s economic loss, health or dignity, no one has the ability to take away your potential to change, and that potential is what you absolutely must have to continue living your life, married, single, divorced or just alive.