Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The BIG Capital D

Once upon a time, long long ago, in a land not so far away, I knew nothing of Divorce. No one in my family was Divorced. OK, not true. EVERYONE in my father's family was Divorced but it all conveniently happened before I was given life so I knew all my aunts and uncles with their second husbands and wives, and we didn't see anyone very often anyway so how did this affect me? And I believed right there on the top of the list of people least likely to get divorced, was my name. 

In my family, my brother fell first. It lasted less than 2 years. He married his high school sweetheart and after 8 years of dating, what was left to do in that relationship except get married? Once when I was about 19 and taking a summer course at the University, I had a conversation with one of my older classmates, who was about 23 and working already as a teacher and married. I remember asking her, as we awkwardly strolled to our cars and attempted to make conversation, "What made you get married so young?"  I thought I was asking a benign question.

I interject here to say that I remember it as a question but knowing me I didn't ask it as a question. I probably made a statement of observation, You're pretty young to be married. I would have been too afraid to ASK.

Our relationship got to the stage where only one of two things could happen, she said, we either got married or we broke up. Breaking up wasn't an option, so we got married.

I didn't understand this at the time but it struck me enough that I know I wrote it down in my  journal. I don't even know what it was about her answer that left me cold. What about love? What about shared plans and passions? I doubt I knew much about either of these things beyond fantasy at the age of 19 while asking such a loaded question, given I don't think I'd had a relationship up to that point that lasted beyond 5 weeks.

This is not an enviable state

Several years later, married with one kid,  I was sitting at one of our "couple" friend's houses having a heart to heart with the sister of the female half the couple. She was Divorced and had been for what I think at this point was nearly 10 years. She poured out her heart to me about her relationship struggles, as people tend to do. I have this knack for having people, completely out of the blue, tell me profoundly personal things without my even asking. Over the course of this conversation, or perhaps over the course of many conversations with this person, she also told me about another friend of hers who had recently left her husband. Her friend cornered her just prior to making the big leap into singledom and asked the big unanswerable question:  What's it like being divorced?

Well I don't know. I wouldn't recommend it, was her response. Don't get me wrong, I don't have any regrets. But if it could have been different I would have wanted it to work out.

The version of me who believed herself happily married for life, took these words and tucked them away inside me for a time in my future when I might need them. I did not understand at the time. And who knows if the words I quote here are exact. They could have become MY words now, because what I remember most vividly is not the words, but rather the sense of bewilderment I felt in my friend's sister. How could someone actually be envious of her state?

I have felt other people's envy. I very nearly wrote, I have felt other women's envy, but there is at least one man I have experienced signs of envy from too. I haven't done anything worthy of admiration. I've heard that word used often to describe the steps I took to change my life and make it what it is.

All I can say to that is: Please. Please. Don't.   Being Divorced is not romantic.

Don't Assume, Please Ask, I'll Tell

Who is a Divorced women?

You want to know what I picture: overly skinny, perfumed, too much lipstick, excessive hairspray, leopard print skirt so short that butt crack is nearly revealed, stiletto heels, shallow and stupid in mind. I wasn't any of these things. At least I'm not those things now. I may have gone through a bit of a phase before I realized I was about to jump ship where I was a little bit of some of those things. 

But you have people in your life before the change who carry through till after the change and, trust me, there will be moments when some of those people will look and speak to you as if you are all of those things. I've felt judged, I've walked away from interactions with people and felt stripped naked and scarred from unspoken thrashings, and I've watched with my very own eyes and ears how people who know nothing about me or who I am, take sides as if one party is to be blamed more than the other. And none but the bravest ever dare ask. In certain cases, where I could feel certain individuals wanting to turn me into the evil party, I've gone so far as to offer to tell ... but the people doing the most judging are generally the people least interested in hearing.

Things I Didn't Know

When it comes to Divorce I must admit I've spent the last three years flying a bit by the seat of my pants. But I can identify several things about my state that never popped into my mind either before or during that initial separation period. I will tell you those things now.

1. There will be days when you do not see or speak to your children. Are you shocked that I never thought about this? Maybe it was purely out of survival that I never considered this reality in the process of ending my marriage. It just might be if I had thought about this too much I could not have gone through with it. And I had to go through with it.

2. Be prepared to redefine "family." I grew up in a traditionally married household. This is always what I envisioned my life would be like too. My parents are still married. I went to Toronto on a run-away vacation about three months before my now ex husband moved out. While wandering up in the CN Tower, I watched a young family, mother, father, two kids similar in ages to my own, and it hit me that I would never ever have that again.

3. You will lose friends. People want to hang out with people like themselves. They don't want to hang out with people who set up awkward situations like, "Which of the two do we invite?"  But no worries. You will make plenty of new ones. And the true ones stick around.

4. I didn't leave because I was unhappy. This is hard to explain. I wasn't unhappy being married. I did however know that there were certain aspects of my marriage that would forever prevent me from being my true self and in order to stay with him I would have to continue to be something I wasn't. But divorce is NOT the magical key to happiness. Figuring out who you are is.

5. Being a single parent is hard. And it is exponentially harder than the one weekend or week, you spend every few months without your spouse while they go to a conference or on a girls weekend or a fishing trip. Contrary to item #1, there will be times when you can't WAIT to not see your children.

6. He will always be my (ex) husband. I still slip and forget the new prefix.  This isn't like the transition from boyfriend to fiancee to husband where you eventually get used to the new terminology. In a small way, I will always be married to him even when I am actually truly Divorced. So when I speak of him, I tend to just use his first name or call him "the father of my children."

7. I dreamed about it endlessly but relationship perfection does not exist. There are flaws in all of them.

8. You will develop a split personality and you won't always get to be the person you want to be when you want to be. There will be days when you are supposed to be Mom and you would rather be the wild single girl you are inside. There will be days when you are supposed to be the wild single girl and you'll wish you were being Mom. 

9. There is no question harder to answer than: "Why can't you and Daddy just live together, ALREADY?"

10. There is no perfect age to split when there are children involved. When they are young they are resilient and adaptable and accepting of new people as long as they feel loved by you, but scheduling of kid activities is difficult and switching households is a bungling logistical nightmare and you don't have a built in babysitter. Try that 9PM phone call, when you've already switched persona's, and someone with half your genetic makeup is in bed crying because some toy is still at Mom's house. When they are older they have an opinion but at least they can get themselves around and they are responsible for their own stuff. I know Divorced people who's older kids said, "It's about time!" and I know Divorced people who's older kids won't speak to them. It all rests in how honest you are. And in terms of honesty, age is irrelevant.

11. You will wonder if your parents feel responsible for the fact that both their children got Divorced.

12. You will be poorer than you were before. I didn't care. I still don't. Money was never one of my reasons to stay but then again, I am financially self-sufficient. 

13. You will have astonishing lapses in judgement to rival anything you did between the ages of 13 and 22.

14. For a long while and maybe for forever (because I am not past this stage yet) you will wonder why anyone would be enamoured with marriage and weddings. Why did I fret and stress or even consider walking down some church isle with a white gown on as something that I wanted? I see brides and I want to scream:  DON'T DO IT!! There are better things to spend money on. Like bikes.

15. You will feel weak and cowardly while saying words and taking action on things that require more guts than you knew you had.

16. It is just as stressful and difficult to be the leaver as it is to get left. You still mourn.

17. Be prepared to know instantaneously with simply a glance or a vague sense of intuition when you've crossed paths with someone who is experiencing the same despair that you have now survived. Be careful about pointing this out. They may not know it yet.

18. Odds are that your first (few) relationship(s) will be disastrous. You are one fucked up cookie even if you think you aren't.

Are there legitimate reasons to get Divorced? Absolutely. There are the three A's: Abuse, Addiction, Adultery. I would add one other: Crazy. Let me be more specific... uncontrolled crazy. But then again, not everyone experiencing these things sees them as reasons for Divorce. My Divorce involved none of these things and that is much harder to explain. Even to myself.

All I know is this. I have no regrets and it was the right choice for me, but if I could have made choices that would have made things turn out differently, I would go back and make them.


Carly said...

Great post Kim.
I'm glad that you have found your true self now and are enjoying life (despite it's hardships).
And, for the record- I got married... AND bought a bike! ;)

Andrea Tetrault said...

Well-written, thoughtful and honest, as are all of your posts. Thank you!

Kim said...

LOL Carly.. but that is your first marriage (and hopefully only) ... you are supposed to be excited about that one.

Andrea. Honest to a fault and far too revealing at moments. ;-) Thanks.