My Facebook feed exploded today with news of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s filing for divorce a day after their ten-year anniversary. “Heartbroken!,” many exclaimed. “Will nothing last?,” another lamented. “If they can’t make it work, who can? They seemed so perfect!” seemed to be the underlying sentiment. Well, yeah. Publicists and agents and professional hair and make-up people and disposable income up to here can certainly make life seem perfect when it’s not. Yes, they seemed to have a happier than most marriages, even by Hollywood standards (or in spite of?). But you needn’t be sad for them, because it may be what’s best.
Whenever someone finds out I’m divorced their automatic reaction is “I’m sorry.” It’s come to the point where I now say I’m “happily divorced” just to head them off. And I always clarify that I’m not sorry at all and really am in fact quite thrilled. Hopefully no one gets married thinking they’ll get divorced. I certainly didn’t. And hopefully, they did what they could to save the marriage. I certainly didn’t because I had an unwilling partner and, quite honestly, we were both so over each other and had been for so long that it was beyond help. The end of my marriage was sad for many reasons: We broke up our family. We broke a promise we’d made in front of friends and family. We lost the dreams and plans we’d had, however loosely, for the future. Those were all sad things. I cried. I got upset. My kids cried and got upset. But then we moved on, slowly.
I thought I’d lost my happily ever after with my divorce, even though I’d already had years of wondering “Well, I guess I’m in a loveless and sexless marriage and I’ll just ride it out.” But when my ex left, I actually got my life back. It was a life I didn’t know I’d lost and yet I found it.I found myself. I was no longer a Mrs. or half of a couple or 1/4 of a family. I was all me, on my own and figuring it out. I’d gotten married young and allowed myself to be molded into both his idea of what I should be like and my idea of what he thought I should be.
On my own I figured out who I was. I figured out a lot of things: how to dispose of a dead rat in the house (shovel and a black trash bag), how to negotiate a lease, how to reduce all my bills (hint: you don’t need 1000 cable channels) and reclaim credit in my own name (a first for me ever). I figured out how to sleep through the night alone. I figured out where I wanted to live, a place the polar opposite of where I’d been forever. I figured out how not to depend on anyone else for daily decisions and big life ones.
After figuring all that out I found something besides myself. I also found the actual love of my life. And my ex found his too. Surprise! It wasn’t me, and mine wasn’t him. We’ve both re-established families that look nothing like what we thought we would when we got married. And I think we both couldn’t be happier our marriage ended. My only regret is that I didn’t have the guts to do it sooner but thank God he finally did.
And while I know the mantra is always “Think of the children!,” sometimes when a couple gets divorced they are thinking of the children. Are children best served seeing a loveless marriage? In learning that people change but can do nothing about decisions they made earlier in life? Being around parents who fight or don’t talk or don’t share a bed? How is that in the best interest of the children? And what is that teaching them about marriage? My divorce has led to my children learning more about how to choose a partner and how people change over time. They’ve learned that sometimes people just can’t get along, and that’s OK. Because really, in life, not everyone get along. They’ve learned that being apart from each other can make people happier as individuals. They’ve found that other people like boyfriends and stepmoms can love them too and that they can get their needs met with different people. They’ve become more adaptable by necessity. But they’ve also gained flexibility that will serve them well in life. Our kids are getting a family they didn’t imagine either, families actually. And while it has been very rough it has also taught them valuable lessons and has increased the number of people who love them and who they love, namely a new, younger sibling from their dad.
They’ve learned that being apart from each other can make people happier as individuals. They’ve found that other people like boyfriends and stepmoms can love them too and that they can get their needs met with different people. They’ve become more adaptable by necessity. But they’ve also gained flexibility that will serve them well in life. Our kids are getting a family they didn’t imagine either, families actually. And while it has been very rough it has also taught them valuable lessons and has increased the number of people who love them and who they love, namely a new, younger sibling from their dad.
So don’t mourn the end of the marriage of Ben and Jen. You can be sad that a marriage has ended, that a “traditional family” is disbanding. You can be upset that happily ever after didn’t happen for them. But also keep this in mind: this may be their happily ever after.