It’s been 13 years since my divorce was final, but gender-based assumptions about reasons and outcomes still make me furious.
Now, relatively speaking, my personal storm has subsided. I no longer live with constant reminders of broken agreements, children put in the middle, and nor am I looking over my shoulder for the next drama. In fact, I have “shifted” to a mindset wherein I view our faulty patchwork of family laws and adversarial attorneys as sharing the blame for instigating irresponsible actions during and after divorce.
In other words, while I will never forget the pervasive impacts that high conflict divorce has inflicted on my life (and my children’s lives), I am no longer living in a war zone, and nor are they. When they see their dad, I ask after his second family, and I’m genuinely pleased to know that everyone is well.
Still, I see certain topics online, and I find that the subject matter can make my blood boil, my fists clench, and some of my worst recollections bubble up even after so many years… and I have to take slow, deep breaths to calm myself again.
Gender Reality, Not Gender Mythology
The assumptions that leave me livid are those that would have us believe in divorce à la Debbie Reynolds and Dick Van Dyke in 1967’s Divorce, American-Style in which the well-heeled wife continues her country club lifestyle while her beleaguered ex barely has a buck to keep a roof over his head. Last I heard, it’s the 21st century…
Try these on for size, specifically:
Assumption Number 1:
- More women file for divorce, therefore more women must want divorce, therefore they are choosing to leave behind their (victimized) husbands.
Assumption Number 2:
- Following divorce, women always wind up better off financially than the men, any press to the contrary is exaggerated, and therefore men are in great need of being “saved” from the system.
Assumption Number 3:
- Once you are through the proceedings, and possibly a year or so of adjustment, life will be great! Kids are resilient! You’ll find the ideal job, the love of your life, and oh by the way, you’ll drop 20 pounds!
Statistics on the numbers of women who file for divorce do not reflect the reasons why they are filing. Nor do they reflect how many years may have passed trying to keep a marriage together. We don’t seem to have stats on these factors, and I daresay that when a woman files after years of struggling or some terrible event that has pushed her over the edge, assumptions are ill-advised when it comes to who sits down at the attorney’s table first. Shouldn’t we consider all the reasons people ultimately choose divorce?
- What if she has been living with her spouse’s serial infidelities, substance abuse, physical or verbal abuse, or emotional distance?
- Shall we add rampant narcissism, a sexless marriage, or the last straw when it comes to protecting children from all sorts of harm?
- What about years of loneliness or living with little to no communication, and a spouse who refuses to do anything about it?
Now, I believe that it takes two for a marriage to crumble, just as it takes two for a marriage to work. And of course men can find themselves to be on the receiving end of the emotional cold shoulder, bedroom banishment, or straining to keep a marriage intact when a spouse is hooked on drugs or alcohol. My only point in the above is to recognize that either spouse may be backed into a corner before finally filing for separation or divorce, and what leads up to filing should not be assumed.
Most of us underestimate the expense of raising children these days. And if you’re a parent who stays home to do the work of parenting — male or female — it would be foolish to think that you won’t face challenges in trying to return to the workforce. This is why I believe it’s important to maintain a toe in the professional waters if you can, even while you’re raising kids. Or, to keep up and acquire new skills during that time.
Besides — Should your spouse suddenly become unable to carry the breadwinner load, or in the case of widowhood or divorce, you may find yourself looking for a job after many years of being at home. How easily you find work depends on a variety of factors including:
- Where you live; local job market and cost of living
- Your support system (family and friends)
- Other sources of income (spousal or child support)
- Your field, qualifications and experience
- Your age and health
That last? It’s important.
Gray divorce, whether still raising children or not, can be a nightmare for women, especially financially. Getting back into the workforce quickly cannot be presumed when you’re competing against a younger crowd with “fresher” skills and the appearance of no baggage. And clearly, the better your health, the easier it will be to pursue anything to do with starting over in midlife.
Whatever your age, let’s consider FACTS rather than fancy. On average, women still earn less than men, and median income for single mother households is considerably lower than their single father counterparts.
“2012 census data shows median income for single mother households was $25,493. That’s right. Just over $25,000/year. From this same report, for purposes of comparison, median income for single father families was $36,471…”
That’s nearly 50% higher!
Sexy, Social (and Skinny?)
Some of us lose weight when we’re stressed. (I do.) Some of us know we need to amp up our game if we want to start socializing. (I did.)
But I remind you: A man is not a plan!
If you imagine that a White Knight is going to gallop in and make everything alright, don’t be a child!
- The more civil your divorce, the better.
- The more respectful and responsible both parties can be, the better.
- The more you can take care of yourself physically, emotionally and financially during a challenging time — eating well, sleeping, getting fit, managing your money, allowing yourself to heal — the better.
- The more you understand that all of the above is good for your children — great!
There can indeed be a very good life after divorce, but it isn’t a given.
So what set my blood to boiling today?
Comments on columns I’ve read where men use “women file more often” as some (clueless) rallying cry, and an article touching on ways men can get around certain shared parental expenses.
Look. No two divorces are alike, and in the years following divorce, needs and circumstances change. That respect and civility? Essential! And likewise, can the assumptions, educate yourself, do expect to rebuild a good life, but don’t compare yourself to someone else’s experience or timeline. And hope for the good luck to have once married a man who wishes for all of you to thrive as you move forward.
- The Question of Who Files for Divorce
- It’s Not Me, It’s You! Reasons People Leave Relationships
- When the Person You Love Is Emotionally Unavailable
- Money, Midlife and Marital Status (Gray Divorce)