F. Scott Fitzgerald
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
I struggle a lot with my blog. I only have one mode of writing and that is from the heart. Some of the things I want to write about would be too raw and too exposing for my children, so rather than curate posts I choose not to write. I have also left many references to my former husband because those too came from the truth. I was that woman, then. I can’t erase her or pretend she wasn’t who she was. I do not edit my past, I am proud of all of it regardless of the outcome. Without her I could not be me.
With each month, though, I grow a little more emboldened. I want to tell the stories, all of them. I think I must not be alone in so many of the adversities I’ve faced, and I’ve long believed that being vulnerable invites vulnerability in others. So I will dip my toe.
One thing I have learned from first hand experience is that many people will tilt their heads and say something like “I’m sorry” when you explain that you are separated or divorced.
Having lost my mom at such a young age I realized early that people who haven’t been through your particular challenge are generally coming from a good place. I had to remind myself that time and again when well-meaning family friends would say something like “She’s in a better place’ or ‘She wouldn’t want you to be sad.” Believe me I had to choke back my actual thoughts. Being 22, many of the people who would try to relate were in their fifties or beyond. I didn’t know anyone at my tender age who’s mother had died. What could they know about my sadness? I would never get married with my mother fixing my veil or see her hold her first grandchild (her lifelong dream, unfulfilled.) They couldn’t know, and I couldn’t hold them accountable for that. In fact, I chose to look at it like they were fortunate not to know, not to have the right words to say. (In case you’re wondering, say “I am here and thinking of you. I will check in but never feel the need to respond. I just want you to know you are not alone.” The ones who said those types of things are in the most elite class of compassionate souls to me.)
So back to divorce. The word itself conjures defeat, failure, and a path no one dreams they would find themselves walking down when they stand at that altar, imagining old age with their beloved.
Those connotations, however, are products of a bygone era, one where the shameful act was to leave, no matter how poorly you were treated, or what your partner had done, or how unhappy and unfulfilled you were. Thankfully we live in a different time, but generational conditioning is hard to unwind.
There are those for whom choosing their self worth, dignity, and mental well being is an act of valor, one that demands of them the deepest introspection and analysis. So I am here to educate you again. It comes up, more often than ever, these days. It might help to know the two ‘best’ things to respond, in my humble opinion, when confronted with this news.
Number 1: “How are the children?” Now of course not every couple that chooses to separate has kids, and this question presupposes that condition. But it is often the case and divorce is unquestionably hard on children, no matter how evolved the parents may be. For me, it was not until leaving became the maternal act that I could muster the strength to execute my design. Truly. Even when I knew in my heart I was being a better mother for choosing to separate, the conversation where we told the boys will never, ever leave me. It was among the most painful ones of my life. I wish I could go back and whisper in my ear “It will be ok. They are strong and resilient, they will be happier and more empathetic in the long run though this will hurt like hell for a while.” So asking after the children is always the kind thing, and as parents I hope we all agree that no child deserves to suffer. For a parent to elect a path that they know will cause pain for their children in the near term is hopefully a statement on how strongly they feel about their decision.
Number 2: “I hope it was a good thing.” Always, always the right thing to say. It is sensitive to the idea that it might not have been that person’s choice, but that you hope the best for them. It also holds space for the person who slowly and methodically garnered all the strength they could gather, sometimes over many years of quiet anguish, to express their pride in this accomplishment. Sometimes, as it was for me, it is the culmination of tremendous fortitude and wherewithal. The amount of conviction required to elect a path that is unknown other than what it isn’t cannot be overestimated. When people inquire about my physical transformation I always think how that was the easy part. My body was simply the last manifestation of that discipline, that dignity, an undying commitment to emerge stronger, leaner, and more focused than I had been in fifteen years. I shed my protective exterior and stepped into the version of myself in my mind’s eye. How lovely it is to tell that story, please don’t rob someone of the chance to tell you theirs.
So give that person the room to let you know. They will. Here again, the rock stars who instead of expressing well meaning but tone-deaf pity allowed me to fill in the blanks to my comfort level are in a special category in my heart. I want to pay that forward. I hope it informs one of you for some future conversation you might find yourself in. You will be making a bigger difference in the listener’s life than you realize.
It’s a small shift perhaps but take it from me, it is profound.