Divorce changes everything. Once you reach the “other side” you will notice certain behaviors by the people in your life that are just mind-blowing. Sometimes we may just be overly sensitive to things, but most times, it’s the reality of the change. And the fact that we’ve become a divorce outcast.
Some married people tend to be threatened by the divorced people around them. I haven’t done any research and can’t say whether it’s a phenomenon, but based on countless conversations I’ve had with clients, colleagues, friends and my own personal experience, I can tell you it’s true.
Is this a modern-day caste system?
Perhaps, especially given the examples below it would seem that some do become a “divorce outcast.”
1. While having dinner with a colleague the other night we talked about this “phenomena” and how disturbing it is. He shared with me that while close to many of the married guys in his community, once he and his wife announced their split, that they suddenly and mysteriously began to disappear from his life. Ouch. It seems that their wives had either aligned themselves with the former “Mrs.” or that they had been specifically instructed, threatened or warned that they better not hang out with their “newly single” buddy.
My colleague was dumbfounded. Whereas he was once known as a “great guy” in the community, actively involved in school sports and events, looking out for his friends and neighbors, and socializing with their families, was he no longer a good person because he was divorced? While this made no sense to him and evades all logical and rational thinking, this is what the married community concluded. While the married wives may have been the impetus to the exile, the married husbands were equally guilty of carrying out this divorce discrimination.
2. I can recall myself being afraid of how I might be received when I relocated myself and three daughters to our new home as the newly divorced neighbor on the block of nearly all intact families. Upon meeting one neighbor, with whom I have become extremely close and is one of my best friends, and who was at the time also recently separated, jestingly told me to stay away from her boyfriend at the local gym. Nice way to start a relationship!
Since then, like I said, we have become great friends and still laugh about our initial meeting. Fortunately, the neighbors on the block were all very welcoming and caring. We have been through all kinds of changes and losses on the block since my arrival nearly ten (10) years ago, and never once, did my children or I feel different.
3. This was not the case in our bigger world, as we did feel the loss of former neighbors and friends who remained married and no longer chose to socialize with us. The phase-out was gradual and initially was justified by the geographic distance, but after too many empty promises about “getting together soon” and unreturned phone calls, the message was pretty clear.
As adults, we can chalk up these unpleasant and hurtful run-ins to a host of explanations, but when it comes to children, they are not as well equipped as we are to handle these situations.
4. I can recall two of my three daughters having very unpleasant experiences at school. In one case my oldest daughter got into an argument with a girl in her class over who knows what…after going back and forth for a bit the argument ended when this girl said to my daughter, “at least my parents aren’t divorced and they love me!”
Now, where on earth do you suppose this girl got the message that divorced parents don’t love their children?? My second daughter came home crying from school one day after her teacher, for reasons inexplicable, decided to take a “survey” in her classroom and asked the children how many of their parents were divorced. It seems my daughter was the only one who raised her hand and simultaneously her eyes began to well. While I am sure the teacher was “well-meaning” she clearly didn’t calculate the effects this might have on her students. At that very moment, my daughter was isolated and clearly put into the caste of children from divorced homes.
An added level to the stress of “starting over.”
Divorce brings all kinds of changes and losses. While most people focus on the loss of the immediate nuclear family and the finances, we often don’t realize the profound effect of the extended losses which includes our in-law parents, sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, and cousins. Add to that the loss of neighbors and couple friends (including their children who often played with ours) and soon an entire network of our support system has been eradicated, leaving us to begin anew.
Divorce is not a disease. Divorce is not contagious. Divorced moms, dads, and children are like everyone else. We love our family, value our friendships, and give to our community. In a society already divided in so many ways, it is critical that we keep ALL our families strong.