Saturday, April 6, 2019

Oh, you're getting divorced?

This is a post I've been thinking about for a long time.

Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, but I'm Catholic in origin and so at Leo's school, I'm the only divorced mom in his class. At the girls' school there is more variety (it's a Catholic high school but not everyone who goes there is Catholic). I still find that I do not have many models and I have no divorced friends.

I had a lot of weird responses to my disclosure that I was getting divorced. Few of them were hurtful but many were puzzling. At this point, I've been official for 14 months, and separated for 4 more than that. I am happy, and although it has made many things very hard, I do not regret the process or decision we came to.

I am not an expert on the subject, having only done it once after all, but when I ruminate on the last year and a half, here are some things I've considered.

At the beginning:

1. When someone, a friend, relative, acquaintance, work friend, whoever, discloses an upcoming divorce or recent decision made to separate, don't ask them if they have tried marriage counseling. Marriage counseling is not like some pyramid scheme multi level marketing product that no one has ever heard of. People getting divorced know about marriage counseling. Perhaps they have gone. Perhaps not. But it's no great secret that it exists.

2. In the same situation, don't tell the person that they owe it to their kids to stay together.

3. Don't tell them they owe it to each other.

4. Don't tell them to pray over it. Again, likely already happened, or if it didn't, they aren't the sort to start now.

5. Telling the person that you will pray is fine, if that's your thing. But don't give that a destination. Do not say "I will pray you two can work this out" or "I will pray for the sanctity of your vows." Please just don't.

6. Don't ask for details. People asking me, "why?" was one of the weirdest things to handle. I would simply answer, "It was a long time coming" and leave it at that.

In the middle:

1. I had one friend who was close enough to me that I opened up to about this and I knew I could go to her anytime with this stuff. Added to that, my (twice divorced) uncle texted me and asked me to go out to a bar and just talk. He scheduled the time and just listened. You might not have that time or headspace to allow for a conversation, but I was so lonely when I was going through the divorce. I think a lot of people didn't know what to do. I lost a lot of friends to my ex, and the ones I still had kept their distance. I didn't necessarily have to talk about the divorce. I just needed a friend.

2. If you are a bridge between the couple (like, you have kids the same age as they do and you are on the same youth hockey team or whatnot), it is fine to talk about logistics ("when your son is at your house, can we carpool since we live so close?") and it is fine to text and see when kids are where. Don't apologize. You don't know all the details and they should understand that.

3. One parent from Leo's volleyball team told me how nice it was that I could sit on the bleachers at the same games as my ex and nobody felt weird about it. This was actually a nice compliment, because I was working hard at that very thing.

When it's done:

My definition of done, here, is a year after the ink has dried. It feels very much like part of my past. Things are less awkward now. People have figured out how to interact with me and the only thing that really makes me cringe is at work, where my married last name is my email address but the name on my door is my birth name.

So I get a lot of "Ms....." and a cringey gap before they decide which last name to add. But I help them as much as I can. The funny thing is, amongst equals (teacher level staff), my school's employees use last names as first names. Like, "Go ask Smith what she wants to do with 8th block." Since I started the year with my married name, I still go by that at this level, and that's fine. Next year I'll move up with my kids and be on a different floor and start fresh.

1. I am sometimes acutely lonely. Not for my ex, but for the social connections I used to have. Divorcing and losing my job in the same year ripped a lot of things away from me. My church friends dropped away shockingly fast. The women who lived on my block almost immediately lost touch with me when I moved (and my first move was literally one block away to my parents' house). My ex was still living there; he was invited to the things now, not me. Leo's school's parents are friendly with me, but we aren't close.

I have my sisters and, like, three good friends...and one of them just moved to Maryland. I know I need to help myself, but my advice would be, don't assume that your newly divorced friend has a full brand new life. She may be walking very much alone for a very long time.

2. Don't ask when dating will commence. Don't assume it will, and don't assume it will be what you think it will be or should be. Don't tell the person that it's time to "put yourself out there." Don't set them up without permission, or frankly, maybe don't interfere at all.

Just be a friend.


  1. This is such good advice. You should see if a magazine/wider site will pick it up. Basically, you're telling people to be a friend, and listen. Which is good advice in so many situations.

    I'm really sorry you lost your friends on the street. I know that sense of community had been important to you. It's disappointing that they, and your church friends, didn't stand by you. I'm not religious, but for those who are, it doesn't sound very "Christian" to me.

    I had to laugh at your first point. Substitute "marriage counselling" with "adoption" and you have the childless community! I can so relate to this. I'm always tempted to say, "oh my god, what is that? I've never heard of it, and would never have thought of it if you hadn't suggested it!"

    1. EXACTLY! I think people can sometimes be naive about the availability of basic information...

    2. You inspired me to write this -

    3. Oh, what Mali said. This is a great piece. I have to admit, there's a part of me that I have to say "down, girl!" to, because I had such an image of who you and your husband were that I was really shocked to hear you had broken up (and inquiring minds...). But how could I know who you were together? Much is said, and much isn't said, and OF COURSE much isn't said when it's so private.

  2. Good advice (for many situations).