It seems that being “divorced” has a whole lot of meanings in our society beyond the status of no longer being married. People are quick to judge us on everything from our moral beliefs to our finances. I was once told by a very unhappily married woman (emotionally abused and battered is more like it), that she could never leave her husband because she couldn’t “do that” to the kids. She also said, “and I could never be away from my kids for a holiday.”
Without saying it, and most likely without even meaning it, she was judging my own mothering. Was I a bad mother because I was able to spend, let alone enjoy, a holiday without my children? No, but for a moment, I actually explored the question. I suppose I could have told her that I would never want to set an example for my children that it is okay to be verbally abused, but what purpose would that serve? We all know that when people think it is okay to say insensitive or ignorant things, it is too late to try and enlighten them.
Divorce is often equated with failure, and with failure comes a whole host of ripple effects and assumptions. People will often immediately wonder what happened. They will want to know why you got divorced. They won’t ask you of course, but they will definitely wonder. People will assume that you struggle financially, and for the most part, that very well may be true. It is no secret that a household now divided in two will feel the financial effects of the divorce. However, it may be that you have less but are not “struggling.” It may be that you have more now than you did when you were married! Whatever it is, it is, but how or why do you need to get into all this with a stranger?
They will assume that your children are messed up in one way or another. They will quickly ask you if you have met anyone, and strangely enough, even ask about your ex’s love life. Before you know it, you may find yourself telling this stranger all of your success stories just to avoid being judged, criticized or labeled. You may find that people even start wondering (aloud) who they know that is single and might be a good fit for you! If your mother is anything like mine, upon your announcement of the divorce, she will go to bed every night praying that the “right one” will come along and save you.
The choice we make to be divorced or the decision we live with when our spouse makes that choice for us does not define us, and yet often, within a few minutes of introducing ourselves, we declare our marital status as if part of who we are. I am not suggesting that we should hide it of course, but rather, be aware of how quickly we share this information, and the response it generates. You will find that the only enthusiastic response will come from another divorced person who will quickly say, “Me too!” Most non-divorced people may simply say “oh” with a sympathetic smile or nothing at all, leaving you both with that awkward moment of silence. Perhaps you never noticed this before, or perhaps it’s something you encounter so frequently that you have already learned how to navigate your way through these weird waters.
We are too quick to volunteer our non-marital status along with our name and occupation. Next time you meet someone, see if you can introduce yourself and talk about who you are instead of what you are. I guarantee there will be a lot more listening than assuming.