It used to piss me off. Big time. Those doctor’s office forms that gave you options of single, married, divorced, widowed.
When I was in my twenties, I blithely checked off single. Never gave it a thought. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to question it or be bothered. Then again, that’s a few decades ago. Plenty of things didn’t bother me.
But the checkbox on marital status? The hierarchy of marital status “approvals” that remains intact in our society?
Can’t say I like the assumptions on medical forms; can’t say I like them in life much either.
But that’s skirting the issue that I want to bring to the fore: For those of us who don’t remarry – do we every shed the stigma of the “divorcée” status?
Marital Status Labels
Listen. I may have seen the Bridget Jones movies about 40 times… yes, really… And I know what it is to be one of the “last singles standing” (or sitting) – not a great feeling at those couples-heavy gatherings… But I always had enough single women friends around that my status as an unmarried woman was, before marriage, irrelevant.
I was a woman, a professional, a friend.
I was me. And that was that.
But following divorce? Despite all the years that have passed?
I’m still the “divorced woman” or the “single mom.” It’s both accurate in creating a certain picture, and annoying as a marital status label that is all too laden with irritating stereotypes. So shouldn’t there be an expiration date? Shouldn’t I get to return to “me?”
But here’s the thing. Is that even possible? Are some of the stereotypes true?
Life After Divorce – Forever Changed?
So tonight I was having dinner with my “gentleman friend.” It was another long week, and we were both tired. I was cranky, short-tempered, and food we cooked together helped – as did a martini. An then I looked at him and realize: he never thinks of himself as “divorced.”
The fact that he is divorced after 20-some years of marriage is just that. A fact. But little more. His life went on, with regrets and compromises. But I’m not sure he sees himself as anything or anyone that is labeled for any reason.
Is this a “guy thing?” A “him” thing? A matter of his particular circumstances?
For many of us, life after divorce truly is forever changed – logistically, financially, in terms of our health, in terms of our attitudes, in terms of what shapes and defines our children. Try as we might to return things to a different sort of normal, in our heads, in our guts, the “divorced” label sticks – for better or for worse.
The “Fully Owned” Woman
None of this is to say that I don’t see myself or feel myself a fully owned woman. If anything, I’m more “myself” in a single status – before or after my one marriage.
I love loving, but I love my freedom. I love being with a man in a committed relationship, but I cherish what little time I have to myself – as most of my time has been spent parenting and working.
My kids are raised now (to a large degree), and theoretically, I can get back to “being” myself.
I can give back in ways that matter to me – or give outward – without needing to “consult”a spouse and get him to agree. And I believe in positive change. I believe in changing the world!
And yet I carry the scars and repercussions of a nasty divorce and its nastier aftermath.
When the Label Sticks Because…
Where am I going with this? Why a concern over labels at all?
Let’s be real. We’re a “labeling” society. And divorce altered my personal and professional landscape – irrevocably.
For some of us, the career setbacks after divorce are major. That doesn’t mean we don’t make our way to other options and opportunities – we can and we do. But life changes – significantly. And without the bucks to manage (and the self-sufficiency and identity that some of us take from our careers), we’re changed irrevocably – not to mention the future for our kids.
So like I said – where am I going with this?
Nowhere in particular except chasing my tail. Nowhere in particular, except being honest with myself. I’m fine with where I am, I learned from where I’ve been. and I recognize the ambiguity of the “divorced” label.
Does Divorce Change Us Forever?
I remember reading about starter marriages years ago, and looking more deeply into the issue following my divorce. I tend to believe that while these marriages may mark us – technically they’re short-lived, entered into while young, and with no children – I imagine the starter marriage is more easily put behind us.
It’s only logical, right?
How do you put a man (or woman) behind you when you look (lovingly) into the face of your children and see your ex’s crooked smile, his especially distinctive shrug, or his mother’s sloping brows that have skipped a generation?
If we’re single parents, if we’ve navigated divorce, if we’ve confronted lasting effects – financial or otherwise – I imagine we have changed in fundamental ways. Some for the worse, and I believe – some for the better.
And yet I wonder, were I to remarry, would I feel as if I’d shed the stigma? Or instead, as if I were donning a sort of disguise?