I haven’t written in here in a while. My intentions have been good; I simply have not had the time. I have three jobs, and up until a few days ago I was racing around town like a crazy person, making an early Christmas for Laurel, finishing out the semester, and trying to satisfy a bunch of demanding freelance clients.
I overdid it. As I write this, I am simultaneously Google-searching gastroenterological conditions. I am convinced that I have stomach cancer but hoping it is “just” an ulcer. My doctor thinks it’s stress, but with her usual matter-of-factness, she told me about a woman she knew who passed out from pernicious anemia because she had advanced stomach cancer and was ignoring the symptoms, and then she scheduled me for tests.
Thanks for fueling the intestinal fires, doc.
The bottom line is I hit a wall this year with everything about my single and supposedly independent life that is out of my control. This too will pass. It’s all just part of the fabulous adjustment to post-divorce life.
Meanwhile, I’ve been watching A Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, which on the whole is fairly unrealistic — that much money just from writing books? — but hits one true note.
Divorce consumes women.
The admirably coiffed gals on the show, Abby in particular, are consumed by it. Consigned to write about menopause after ruining her wholesome homemaker brand, she spends an evening scouting down a duplicate poster of her ex’s girlfriend, Becca, because, in a moment of dope-inspired rebellion, she defaced the poster on her daughter’s wall to make the girlfriend look ugly.
It was a stupid moment of rebellion, but who can really blame her?
Abby is beautiful and looks great, but when she finds her daughter rolling up the new poster because she now has a photo of herself with Becca to replace it, the girl tells Abby she is old and ugly and jealous.
I don’t think Abby is jealous of Becca. Or at least, I think that’s a gross oversimplification of what the character must be feeling. I think she is infuriated by the fact that she has been objectified not just by her ex but by society as a whole. You are old. You are bitter. You have problems.
We women objectify ourselves. I see it all the time. We applaud women for making sacrifices, for smiling through the pain, for using humor to cope, for moving on, for co-parenting gracefully. Unless a woman is being beaten — in which case we are stunned into an embarrassed silence — we discount her reasons for wanting to keep a distance from her ex. We blame her, and we don’t want to hear her truth, even when it is the truth.
The minute she veers from the upbeat divorce script that we’ve written for her, we act like the problem is not the situation, but the woman herself.
And yet divorce, and our attitude toward divorce, is society’s problem. I have to insist on this. Behind our enlightened “no fault” attitude lie some deeply engrained Victorian myths about womanhood, mostly having to do with our being good and self-sacrificing.
No portrayal of a ruthless psychopathic workaholic like Lyla, who does all the bad guy things to stick it to her ex, is going to even the score, I’m afraid.
The worst part is, while we tell women to behave, we are changing divorce laws so that men can profit from them when women have yet to attain economic parity in the workforce and still do the brunt of the child-rearing.
And then there are the kids.
I teach, and I ask my students to tell their stories during the narrative essay writing section of the class. I set no limits on what they can or should say. The only thing I tell them is to write about a formative experience from which they’ve learned.
Their stories are about being unwanted by stepparents, partying with their Disneyland dads, being booted out of the home because their mothers could not afford to keep them, and being accepted by single moms who helped them get through teenage pregnancies.
I’m not making that shit up. It’s for real.
Granted, these are working class stories told by working class people. Abby’s kids go to a fancy private school. My own daughter has private lessons and has been to Europe six times.
But divorce is hard on kids. States that do away with alimony, cap child support payments, and mandate equal custody shares are making things harder by giving kids less stability, economic security, and time with the parent who primarily raised them. Society’s attitude of moral equivalence and let’s pretend stigmatizes any mention of the real emotional and economic hardships women experience, and that is hard on kids as well.
Divorce has hurt me personally. I am in the process of recovering from that. But divorce is hurting women and children everywhere, and rather than pushing back against systemic changes that are making things worse, we seem to be asking women to buck up.
What am I missing? Let’s talk about this.