Everyone feels lucky when they compare their divorce to mine
While at a party for an acquaintance, I struck up a conversation with another woman. We quickly discovered we were in the same unofficial club: the Divorce Club. It’s one of those clubs in life that can instantly bond strangers because of a shared understanding of the price paid for membership. There might simply be a knowing nod implying, Yes, I see you there, fellow member, and then everyone moves on with the conversation. But often, depending on how soon the divorce has taken place, you talk shop. The first question is always, “So, how long have you been divorced?” Because that matters a whole heck of a lot in the club. Newbies get consoled, charter members get congratulated, and tenured members rarely speak of it at all but gladly impart a collective divorce wisdom of the ages.
That collective wisdom says that divorce charter membership starts around a year and a half to two years after your divorce is final. That is when you’re over the consolation hump and onto the congratulatory “You made it!” ground. That sweet spot is when you’ve spent enough time apart from your ex, and each of you is fairly well adjusted to your new reality. You’ve carved out a new life and stopped dwelling on all the gory details. People have had time to heal and moved on.
I should be a charter member, but I’m not. I’m a fringe divorce freak. While I’ve surpassed the two-year mark since filing for divorce, my ex harbors the same amount of anger and resentment (if not more) than the day I filed. There is very little communication, and we have a court-appointed parenting coach to help make even the most minor decisions on behalf of our two young children. The list of anomalies to the “normal divorce” is endless, and when I tell my divorce story, I get looks of horror. No divorce story is a good story, but there is a spectrum of tragedy, and mine ranks at the top echelon of the tragic scale. “Trial?” Really!?” “Parenting coach?” “No communication?” “What’s ‘parallel parenting’?” Everyone feels “lucky” compared to me.
The other day, while talking to my court-appointed parenting coach, she remarked on how well adjusted I seem considering the circumstances. She said, “You’ve maintained a sense of humor; you can see things from all sides; you are reasonable.” It was a sentiment echoed by the fellow Divorce Club member at the party. Her divorce was a simpler affair that didn’t involve children (which is still so, so painful), but she remarked on my resiliency and positive attitude in the face of the unimaginable. And she’s right. I have fared rather well mentally and emotionally.
And there is only one reason: I chose connection.
After divorce, there is a lot of shame. People feel like failures, misfits . . . like their world is torn apart, and they are probably missing a lot of old friends. Through this hard time, I chose to stay connected to the world through my willingness to tell my story, and to tell my story, I had to be vulnerable. Telling my story to other members of this Divorce Club has helped me to feel accepted because that’s all we want anyway, right? Even though I am a freak among the divorced, I do not shy away from my story. It’s mine. It’s real. It’s me. The connections I have built from this frightening dance of exposing myself and hearing the cacophony of “YES!” from kindred souls has torn down walls that might otherwise have kept me a prisoner in my freak house. Not being afraid to tell my truth and accept the truth of others has brought about tremendous catharsis in my life—a joy that not only has healed the old wounds but also allowed me to rise above. I have learned that being loved is healing, but being understood is transcendent.
I know that feeling different makes you want to shut down and hide. We all believe that no one will understand what we’re going through. I am forever second-guessing how much I share and with whom because I have faced all measure of judgment in this process, and, sadly, I’ve lost dear friends over it. I’ve learned who I can trust and who must earn that trust before I lay bare my insides. But ultimately, my hiding has helped no one, whereas my talking has helped at least one . . . me. And so I write and I share and I try really, really hard to balance salaciousness against honesty. And then I fight back the fear of judgment so that I am able to free myself from the box I find myself in when I’m feeling like a freak among freaks.
It helps when I imagine myself as this jack-in-the-box clown: all brightly colored, a little morbid and scary, but still smiling and happy. And when I think of all the people who have judged or might judge me—all the friends and acquaintances whom I’ve lost because something about my reflection shines a little too brightly on their own dark boxes—I imagine them trying to stuff me back inside and close the lid. And then I imagine sitting in front of my computer or trudging to writing class in the rain or taking a red pencil to a short story or daydreaming about an essay, and each of those acts is a tick on the crank.
These acts are the music to my life, and believe me, when the music starts playing, there is no stopping me from bursting out of my box again. Because boxes are for my Amazon packages—not my spirit—and the only way for me to break free is to be brave enough to be my freakishly freak self and then invite all other manner of freaks to join me. It is an unofficial club that, one day, I’m sure I’ll be a tenured professor of—full of wisdom to pass on to those who need it most.
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