A few weeks ago I was in the car with both of my children as well as a couple of close friends. I don’t remember exactly what my daughter was discussing, but she ended the sentence with the words “because my parents are divorced now.” That familiar knot immediately appeared in my stomach and I quickly tried to make things better by pointing out that the friend sitting next to me in the passenger seat, a 30-year-old man, also had divorced parents and he was REALLY cool. My six-year-old daughter silently leaned forward, held out her fist to him for a fist bump and then patted him on the back and whispered: “everything is still awesome.”
There are many instances in parenthood when you simultaneously feel joy and pain, but this was, and I am pretty sure always will be, one of my most memorable. I felt joy in knowing that I played a key role in raising this intelligent, insightful, strong, resilient and compassionate child. And pain in knowing that this divorce is something that we can’t take away. It is something that she will carry with her for the rest of her life.
That interaction, along with many others that I have experienced over the past nine months, has brought me to the realization that when I decided to get divorced I unknowingly became a member of a both little and well known club, the Divorcee Club.
Divorce is one of those topics that no one really likes to talk about. It is typically messy and complicated, as with anything that intertwines love, sex, money and family. So people who are fortunate enough not to experience divorce firsthand, either as a child or a participant, typically don’t know a ton about the intricacies. When you are one of those lucky people you can look at divorce with confusion and curiosity and fear and hopefully empathy, but always from the outside in. For the lucky ones, thinking about what divorcees go through seems unfathomable. And that’s good. That’s a good thing. This is a club that you don’t want to be a member of.
But once you’re in the club, no matter how you got there, you feel lost, so you seek out other members. You want confirmation that you are “normal.” That everything will be ok. That people do survive this. You want to know if everyone else experiences the same flood of emotions. So many emotions…
Loneliness. When the news of the divorce spreads, your troops gather. You are surrounded by loved ones, but you still feel very much alone. I think Amy Poehler did an excellent job of describing the first round of loneliness in her book Yes Please:
“When you are a person going through a divorce you feel incredibly alone, yet you are constantly reminded by society of how frequently divorce happens and how common it has become. You aren’t allowed to feel special, but no one understands the specific ways you are in pain. Imagine spreading everything you care about on a blanket and then tossing the whole thing up in the air. The process of divorce is about loading up that blanket, throwing it up, watching it all spin, and worrying what stuff will break when it lands. It’s no wonder we want to find answers and comfort.”
Guilt & Shame. Did I do everything that I could? Is this my fault? What did I do wrong? Why didn’t I fix it sooner? How do other people make it work? What’s wrong with me? Am I just bad at being married? Will I ever get married again?
Freedom. Wait. I can do what I want? I can leave this bowl in the sink all night. I can sleep in the middle of this bed. I can take up all of the closets. I can squeeze the toothpaste from the middle. I can be late or early or come and go as I please. I can leave my gas light on for two days. (Note: freedom is short-lived and overrated).
Peace & Comfort. I will be ok. I am ok. I am happier now. I made the right decision. I am finding me. I like spending time on myself and with myself.
More Loneliness. Somewhere in between Freedom and Peace & Comfort, the troops disperse. They don’t disappear, but they back off. They stop checking in or offering help or asking if you’re ok. This is not because they are bad people or because they don’t love you, this is because they have their own lives. They have their own problems and their own clubs. And to be honest, most of them feel a little weird. They don’t know what advice to offer or understand the complexity of what you’re going through, so the easiest thing to do, is to step back, to wait for you to ask for help. And to be honest, their advice isn’t that helpful because they’re not a member of the club.
So over the last nine months as I have experienced each of these emotions I have also slowly stumbled upon more members of the divorcee club. Each time I meet a new one my eyes light up in an odd way, happy to have discovered a new member, but then the light quickly fades as I realize that the thing we share, our common bond, is a unique kind of pain. I try to befriend the good ones and humbly hope they join my tribe in one way or another. Hoping that we can pull each other out of the loneliness of divorce and somehow find comfort in our shared pain. Finding members isn’t easy. It’s not obvious in appearance, except for maybe a faded tan line or imprint on a finger where a ring once lived. Divorce is not worn like a badge of honor, nor should it be, but it is something we carry and will always carry and I don’t know what that makes us, except members of this unfortunate club.