If I had a dollar bill for every time I deflected the truth of my feelings with a trick of language or a put-on smile, I’d be a wealthy woman.
Why did I do it? Why did I pretend?
I’ll tell you. Divorce shaming.
What’s Divorce Shaming?
You know what I mean. Haven’t you ever been on the receiving end of another woman’s judgment of your circumstances? And I say woman, because it’s women who judge each other. Men generally don’t engage in such silly, destructive behavior.
Care for a few examples?
Acquaintances comment that you should have stayed in your marriage, or stayed longer, or left sooner! So they pick at you… subtly of course… and you know they’re judging.
Maybe you have a friend who callously asks why you seem wistful or sad on your anniversary, in front of a photograph, or when you look at your kids and see something that reminds you of their dad. And then she says: “It’s been two years (or three or four); get over it.” So you put on a fake smile, you straighten up your spine, and you change the subject to global warming, shoe shopping, head lice… whatever.
Selective Amnesia Among Remarried Women
The worst, for me?
The case of Selective Amnesia among Once Divorced Women.
You got it. Those are the once divorced friends who find themselves in a second marriage (or a third) to a guy with Big Bucks. Maybe they’re happy, maybe they’re happy enough.
Here’s the bottom line: Suddenly they have no recall of what it’s like to wait for a support check, to worry about paying the dentist, or to know you need to be in three places at the same time as you juggle jobs and kids.
Let’s not even mention exhaustion at the thought of one more Dismal. Online. Encounter.
Why Can’t We Feel What We Feel When We Feel It?
Am I suggesting we walk around with our hearts on our sleeves and a mopey disposition? That would be a resounding NO.
But nor should we have to maintain a mask based on someone else’s assumptions, experience, expectations, or timetable.
So let’s suppose you’ve been deceived, disappointed, or outright betrayed, and when you’re asked how you’re doing, you admit “it still hurts.”
“It” isn’t the issue. We would do better to say: “I still hurt.”
Did you get that? Do you understand the difference? We’re talking about using the pronoun “I” – not “it.” It helps to take ownership of what we’re feeling – to say it directly, clearly, and without pulling punches. Language matters. It can diminish us, embolden us, even liberate us!
Oh, Those Post-Divorce Judgment Calls
We may not live with the sort of divorce stigma that once existed. But there is stigma all the same – along with judgment.
- If you’re still single a certain number of years after divorce, then there must be something wrong with you.
- If you aren’t back on your feet and “successful” financially after a certain number of years, again, there must be something wrong with you.
- If your children haven’t adjusted to the situation, whatever it may be, you must be a lousy mother.
- If you don’t look great (however that’s defined in your circles), again… “no wonder he divorced her” (assumption)… or, “well she’ll be alone forever…”
Must I really go on? So why do we shame each other? Why can’t we recognize that every divorce scenario is a complicated affair, that shit happens in the years that follow, and that no one ever knows the full story? Why do we build ourselves up by taking down other women?
Each divorce is different, remember?
Me, Him, Them, Us
It’s been many years since my divorce, and while some aspects of life have improved (hurray!), there remain a few trailing items that I contend with nearly every day.
Recently, a friend asked about my reaction to a situation with my ex, to which I found myself replying “it still hurts.”
My Adult Inner Voice corrected me: “I” still hurt. There is no “it” in the equation. There is me, there is him, there is them (everyone who would judge), and there is us. My “us” is now who I am with my kids, and who I am with the man in my life.
This “me” is strong, complicated, emotional, steadfast. Like all of us, I have my ups and downs. I know when to keep them to myself. I know when I’m better off letting the feelings out.
Owning Our Feelings
So why are we so afraid to claim our feelings? Why are we afraid to admit we may be a joyful jumble of contradictory selves?
Listen. I enjoyed being married for part of my marriage, and was “okay” with things as they were for most of the rest. But frankly, I enjoy being on my own, especially after so many blur years of caring for two little boys solo.
When my kids finally flew the nest, cue a vast wave of RELIEF… along with many other feelings, naturally. But at last, at least theoretically, I could begin to pay greater attention to myself.
My Personal Evolution
Where am I along the spectrum of starting over, healing from hurt, and in general, personal evolution after divorce?
- I am comfortable in my skin far more than I was when I was married.
- I have come to a place of acceptance (with difficulty) of certain issues that will never change.
- I own the profound pleasure of seeing my children as young adults, and knowing my role in their upbringing.
- I consider myself most fortunate to have met a good man with whom I’m in a relationship.
What hurt 10 years ago still hurts – though less. On certain days, it… make that “I”… hurt more, as is often the case on anniversaries. None of this poses an obstacle in my life, but I do find it more human to express the feelings, which then allows me to let them float away.
Will they return in some form? Possibly, yes. And if they do – I will own them, and then get on with my day.
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Lisa Thomson says
Great post! If you’re too strong or not crying ‘enough ‘ then they think you don’t care. We can’t win that one. Great advice!
Stacey Freeman says
So very true. I have been told to “get over it” on many different occasions. Great piece.
Pamela DeNeuve says
I love this post. Yes what hurt 10 years ago hurts, what hurt 20 years ago still hurts. Although I have forgiven, moved on, and triumphed in many areas of my life, the pain remains. I lived in a town in California near the ocean where I reaised my two school-aged children. Although I live in Florida now, 20 years later I returned to this community. Both of my children have master’s degrees are doing wonderfully. I just published my first book, I recently returned from my dream vacation and I own a beautiful home. However, as I revisited this community, all of my memories of my struggles returned. I found myself sobbing in waves as I remembered the woman I was twenty years ago. My children asked me to take photos of the apartmentts where we lived and their old schools. After a painful and renewing day, it felt very healing. The joy and satisfaction embraced me as I realized how far I had come. Yet, the painful memories disappear? No, they are tucked inside where they make me stronger and stronger each and every day.