In a way, everything about divorce is a surprise in the sense that one is not in Kansas anymore. Life after divorce is just different, and I, as a divorced mama, am charting previously uncharted territory–meaning that I, specifically, have not covered that territory yet. Many divorced women before me have sailed off into the wild blue sea and traveled to distant and exotic shores, but I was not with them. I did not feel their feelings or wear their Toms, Clarks or Louboutins–as the case may be. I can only live in my own experience and feel things as I move through each passing moment. So, what may seem like old hat or “to be expected” for some, has been an eye-opening experience for me as I live it.
Off the top of my head, here is a list of some of the things that have been the most surprising or impactful to me:
1. I can do guy stuff. I can do a whole lot more than I ever imagined: clean gutters, cut down small trees, lift heavy things, change light bulbs in high places and deal with any spiders.
2. I am surrounded by forces of good. I learned there are, living all around me, up until the divorce, completely unbeknownst to me, acquaintances and strangers who can and will swoop in like Glenda the Good Witch and save my. Had I not gotten a divorce, I would never know that there are these magical, wonderful people wearing tiaras and doing all manner of good deeds out of the kindness of their hearts—with no expectation of “getting something in return.”
3. Friends are not forever. I had “best friends” who completely walked away and never came back. Oh wait, there is the one who occasionally sends flyers to me from her business. Apparently, I am still welcomed as a customer. Another old, old friend, who I specifically helped through her own painful breakup, was always “busy” and in her own brand of crisis so she was never available for support when I needed it. Finally, it occurred to me that she had no empathy. Most importantly, she just didn’t have it to give. Plain and simple.
4. Good guys have boundaries. The nicest men I’ve met at work or in social settings—the ones who are married—will let me know they are married fairly quickly. The first few times this happened, it threw me a bit because I didn’t know why they were doing it. However, I have come to see that it is always the nicest ones, the good guys of the world. They seem to want things to be clear. I respect and value this. Then, of course, there are the men who avoid mentioning their wives, but this isn’t a surprise so it doesn’t count.
5. Once people heard about the divorce, they felt they could confide in me. I was suddenly privy to the great underbelly of suburbia. I have heard a LOT. Stuff I’d never have known in my little bell tower of marriage.
6. Being a single, working mother was far, far harder than I ever would have thought. I realize how callous I used to be toward the plight of single, working mothers (and I’m a bleeding-heart, softy from way back). This hindsight realization has made it easier to swallow the times when people are callous to me. I realized they “just don’t know.” They have no, as in zero, idea how tough it is and how supremely stacked the deck is against working mothers.
7. No one else will do it. Whatever it is. The sense of personal responsibility has, at times, been almost unbearable when two or three “very important” activities, tasks or needs cropped up at the same time. The surprise lies in the fact that “being pulled in many directions at once” is the rule and not the exception.
8. Lawyers are not a silver bullet. A legally binding contract, as in an agreed and well-established alimony amount, is not a silver bullet. Having the law on your side is not a silver bullet. Nothing, not even a silver bullet, is a silver bullet. I have learned to have very low to non-existent expectations about what my ex might or might not do or about what kind of “help” I can expect from anything related to Family Law.
9. Despite everything, even the bad surprises, life has gotten better and better and I have gotten stronger and stronger.
10. I’ve seen it in my own case and I’ve seen it with my divorced friends. After the emotional and financial Armageddon phase, there is a Renaissance of sorts. If you haven’t experienced it yet, hang in there. It usually arrives just when you think it never will. And, then, life feels pretty darn good. Surprisingly so!