As I alluded to in earlier posts, my hiatus from blogging life was due to a little wittle meltdown. Like many of life’s misfortunes, the instigating event was nothing unusual but searing nonetheless. (Hint: it starts with ‘d’ and rhymes with schmizorce.)
I’ve been wrestling with this for a while – if and how and when to write about it. I genuinely feel more comfortable calling it “schmizorce” than its real name because the word still makes my heart curl up into a tiny ball of sad. So why do I feel the compulsion to write about it at all? Would it not be safer, saner, wiser to avoid it altogether? Stick with less messy topics such as How to Make the Perfect Salami Platter or 9 Steps to Sculpting Sexy Armpits. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know how to do either of those things.
Although terrifying, there’s something liberating about sharing what a mess you’ve made of things – admissions of failures, weaknesses, and insecurities. I recently came across Lea Thau’s podcast, Strangers, in which she gives a raw account of her own excruciating experiences with breakups and dating in a series called Love Hurts. Listening to it you think, “Holy moly Lea, I don’t even know you, and you’re getting all emotionally naked for me!” But this is the exact reason her stories are so engaging and endearing. Listening to them made me just want to track her down, give her a big hug, and braid her hair while I shared my own tales of woe. Her show proves that the more intimate and personal a story is, the more relatable it is. I know that some people find these public confessions cringe-worthy or maybe crass. To them I recommend the fairytale pretend-land that is Pinterest. But to me there’s nothing more depressing than seeing a perfectly executed and photographed brioche made from scratch.
This line of thinking makes me want to write about my schmizorce in an open and honest way. (First baby step would probably be: spell out the d-word). There’s one thing holding me back, however – the fact that it’s not just my story to tell but also that of my ex, Schmitchell (not his real name). Because I do not have the luxury of hating him, I would like to protect his privacy and feelings. This is a good thing for both of us. So instead of giving you a sincere account of my heartache, I’m going to cop out and give you only vague details of my thoughts and feelings on the subject. I’ll be heavy-handed with the jokes, so we don’t veer too far into train wreck territory. You won’t learn much but nobody gets hurt. When I get better at this writing business, I might find a more graceful way of navigating the art of confessional writing. Until then, here we go…
D…D…Divorce was not exactly a milestone I hoped to accomplish by age 30, so needless to say, it was quite the err…curveball. “Curveball?” you ask before lecturing me about the predictability of my situation due to the ever-rising divorce rates and how we Millennials are doing it wrong because we’re all spoiled idiots. But like everyone who gets married, I thought we were an exception. What could possibly be so hard about fusing yourself to another human being for a lifetime? [Note: People do tell you all the time that it’s “hard work,” but they never quite elaborate. Methinks conspiracy.]
I had another reason besides hubris for thinking I might be on the winning side of the marital coin toss. Prior to Mitchell, I never had dreams of getting married, good little feminist that I am. That meant I wasn’t doing it for the “wrong” reasons. I did not have a general desire to just get married already, nor was I marrying into money, nor did I have a uterus screaming, “Me hungry for BABY!” No, I was doing it for the “right” reason, love. Mad love. The kind of love where people get irritated at the sight of you and your pretend fights over who loves the other one more (No, I love YOU more…No that is metaphysically impossible because I have just invented a new kind of love for you that’s never existed, and it’s way bigger than any love this planet has ever known…No, I love you more than that even…yeah we were gross).
For the first time, I was swept away by the romanticism of marriage. The idea that I may still remain lovable ‘til the end of my days, even as my flesh balloons and I begin flinging crazed rants at “young people” and their stupid trendy pants. The only differences between marriage and shacking up in my mind are the societal approval and the commitment to try one’s damndest to make it work. No fleeing allowed at the first signs of weakness. No BS lines about how “it’s not you, it’s me. Thy light shines too bright for mine eyes.” No dummy, you’re gonna have to elaborate, self-reflect, and get your ass to counseling. Grow the hell up already. There’s something very comforting in that.
But in our case, when the first signs of marital discord arose, we didn’t follow those rules so closely. I won’t elaborate on Mitchell’s behavior, but for my part, I chose instead to: a) flee the country I was living in, b) throw tantrums and whine at friends for hours months, c) wallow in a well of self-pity, and d) compose psychotic letters that I thankfully never mailed. Just kidding! I did yoga. Lots and lots of yoga [cough]. In my defense, the whole divorce thing wasn’t my idea. When Mitchell first uttered the D-word in an argument, my world collapsed. This was probably our fifth argument ever, and the D-bomb made an appearance?! I was stunned. We had planned a trip to Malaysia the next morning, and against all reason, I decided to go alone. I spent the week wandering through the country in a weepy stupor, feigning interest in the sites around me as my emotions did somersaults. One minute depressed, the next elated and self-righteous, the next in denial. Total crazypants.
I realize that under some circumstances, divorce is a welcomed occurrence, making one’s heart erupt into an impromptu Turkish dance party. Or as Louis CK put it, “Marriage is just like a larvae stage for true happiness, which is divorce.” And perhaps I’m overdramatizing it by making it seem worse than a breakup sans court orders. Clearly, I can only speak for myself. This heartbreak was my most crushing.
Although my marriage was short-lived, I believe its end has been more difficult than past breakups because it represented the death of something greater than a relationship. Ok stop that – I can feel your eyes rolling and hear you saying, “It’s just a piece of paper, man.” Is marriage more significant than other relationships, and if so, why? My answers are: yes maybe, and I have a few ideas.
Marriage shapes your identity in a way that other relationships do not. Although subtle, I remember feeling a sort of shift in my status as a married person. Level up. I would have never guessed that would happen until it did. People view you and interact with you differently. They seem to honor your relationship more. Men leave you alone. Women seem more comfortable around you, or at least coupled women do. I can’t explain exactly how this is felt, but you feel like you have a more solid standing in the world. Perhaps you internalize the message that people are sending you, the message that at least you got one thing in life right, marriage. Lea Thau talks about this in the final episode of Love Hurts. I can’t say it better, so I’ll quote her:
Married people have this clear place to stand in the world…and the rest of us are just getting bumped along by the masses on the sidewalk trying not to get swallowed up or crushed…Outwardly, married people can seem sort of untouchable. Like who can question you when you have a husband? And I know because I used to have one. And you know what, I’m sorry to say this, but I did have a slightly smug sense of superiority that I was never aware of until I didn’t have it anymore, when I was suddenly single.
Smugness – a side effect of getting that societal pat on the head. Yes, although I wouldn’t have recognized it at the time, I felt a bit smug too if I’m honest. So when divorce happens, not only are you dealing with the loss of a partner, you’re also struggling with the shame and humiliation of losing that status. You’ve been demoted. Booted from the golden club of marrieds. Worse, you can’t even claim to be single anymore. No no, there’s a whole separate category for the likes of you. A new box to check:
Jeez, even single folks these days have to identify as “never married.” I’m especially neurotic, so I experience a sort of meta version of shame around this – I’m ashamed of failing at marriage, yes, but I’m also ashamed of being ashamed about it. Double shame pancake, no good. Divorce is a lot less stigmatized than it used to be, and I know logically there’s no shame in it but still, there it is.
To me, the other reason divorce feels traumatic is that marriage is fraught with the future. It’s the structure which you build your future hopes and expectations around, so when it collapses, those fall with it. They were never real to begin with, only in your head, but you miss them all the same. All long term relationships have this to a degree, but it’s the promise of forever that sets marriage apart.
It’s not all sad bananas, though. Silver linings abound. The experience helped me appreciate that hey, I have friends, and hey, they’re AMAZING. Oh love! This was true not just for my inner circle of friends, but also those I hadn’t felt so close to. People who had never opened up to me before started sharing their own stories of heartbreak. Their kindness and honesty helped me feel less frightened and alone. And they seriously stroked my ego, lavishing me with compliments and praise (Sarah, it can’t be! You are gorgeous and perfect and very much non-divorceable!!) I’m ever so grateful. In particular, I’d like to thank Jeannette, Lucey, Kelly, and Aaron for the depth of patience, love, and generosity they showed me during this time. Thanks also to Mitchell – while we both had our less than shiny moments, he was very kind and compassionate to me the whole way through. That’s just his way .
Another silver lining to having your life go off track is that it forces you to reevaluate yourself and your priorities. It’s helped me recognize some of the obstacles that have been holding me back, and I feel more motivated now to actually get to work tackling them. It is the beginning of something new, and that something is still open and full of possibility. More and more often, it’s starting to feel exciting, this potential for a fresh start. I’ve always been a fan of fresh starts, although I concede that having an emotional breakdown may not be the best strategy for accomplishing it. [Note to self: when you feel the need to spice up your life, try traveling].
This is a bit of a heavy subject for one of my early posts, but I can’t help myself. In the works: relationship tips from a recent divorcée (i.e., how not to do relationships). Look forward to that.
Featured image is my own.