Every one of those beautiful fantasies you had about still being in love as a cute little old couple or beating the odds to be one of the ones who does make it shatters into dust right before your helpless eyes.
I share an office with three spectacular ladies. They are my family away from home. Three of us are, shall we say, “seasoned” with all that life has to offer, while the fourth is a new college graduate and not yet a wife, a mom, or experienced with the challenges of marriage, working with a family, and so many things yet to come.
We commiserate about teenage attitude from our children, childcare over the summer, frustrations with our spouses, and the usual work-related topics. Occasionally we joke that all of our bitching about kids, husbands, and other more mature subjects has surely turned our younger friend against ever getting married or having a family.
I hope not because these are worthwhile experiences; but, hopefully, we have at least prepared her just a little for what is yet to come. Of our foursome, I am the only one who has been divorced. I’m sure that those who have never divorced can only imagine it to be similar to a bad break-up. We talk about every other life challenge, so why not divorce?
What could I say to educate my un-divorced friends about what it really feels like to go through it?
Every one of us divorcees was once an excited bride, planning a wedding and imagining a life with the man we agreed to marry. In those days of choosing just the right invitation and menu for the reception, who of us didn’t also imagine passing down our cherished wedding dress to a future daughter or dancing to the same first dance song many years later with our spouse at a special anniversary party?
We’ve all heard the grim statistics about divorce rates; still, how many of us thought we were smarter in the selection of our partner, better-prepared than the average couple, or so much in love that the glow of mutual admiration could never dim? I had every intention of keeping my vow to love my husband “‘til death do us part”. We bought a home together, had two beautiful babies, and we created a life together. It was never disposable or temporary in my mind.
So what does it feel like when you make the heart-wrenching realization that you’re not going to make it?
It feels like death.
It feels like someone smashed you in the gut with a sledge-hammer.
To say it’s a disappointment or a shame is a gross understatement.
I contend that a divorce is most similar to a funeral because there is raw grief and emotion at every turn. Every one of those beautiful fantasies you had about still being in love as a cute little old couple or beating the odds to be one of the ones who does make it shatters into dust right before your helpless eyes. Just like a death, you have to lay to rest every dream and every memory of the relationship and grieve as each one is put into a coffin for your hopes, then buried. Each spouse in the relationship begins the grieving process and the funeral for the relationship on his or her own timetable, depending on the events of the marriage and how ready each party was to lay the marriage to rest.
The next sensation of divorce is suffocation from shame and guilt.
Imagine how it feels to look every friend, relative or guest at your wedding, social media contact, co-worker, and everyone else you somehow know in the face to have to acknowledge that you failed at one of the most important things ever?
Many will offer pity, but you won’t be able to avoid feeling like a tremendous loser every time you hear of another couple’s 20th anniversary or have to try to explain icky subjects like visitation with your grandmother, boss, pastor, or another mother who obviously has a perfect marriage and no idea what you’re talking about.
You were better than all of this, so how did you end up in a situation where your children will suffer from their parents no longer being together?
How did you end up drawing the short straw and get assigned to the relationship everyone in town will be gossiping about?
You will ask what you ever did to deserve the life perfectly-suited to an episode of daytime dysfunction TV?
You will probably cry at your desk at work. You will probably cuss out the “Patty Perfect” Girl Scout leader under your breath when she makes you feel like shit for not having your own children under your roof every night. You will probably watch the news reports about car accidents and wish just a little too hard that your spouse was involved. Then, you will wonder how the hell your life ever ended up in this dumpster and what it’s going to take to get you back out?
Eventually, you will get tired of feeling mad and sad and crappy about your life.
When this happens, you may almost feel like you can fly again. Your beautiful new phoenix wings might be missing a few feathers here or there because – damn! - you are a badass warrior! Those wounds you never thought you would recover from, evolve into badges of honor for every battle you fought against yourself, against your former spouse, and against everyone who ever made you second guess or feel like shit about your life!
You didn’t ask to go to war; but, now you know there’s almost nothing you can’t do! Divorce will make you have to be tougher than you ever knew how, make you a master problem solver, and you will have a deeper appreciation for the people and things that really matter. Divorce will force you to get to know yourself better: your needs, your faults, and how amazing you are. Divorce will push you to the edge of reason, but also offer you opportunities you would never otherwise have to test your mettle and organize your priorities.
I wouldn’t wish a divorce on my worst enemy, yet I am the gladiator before you because of my divorce experience. I would tell my non-divorced friends to fight hard to protect their marriages because a marriage is a precious thing; but, if you are to divorce, prepare for the ride of your life through high’s and low’s you can’t imagine, and an experience like no other with the opportunity to really get to know and re-invent yourself!