advice for friends and family

I’ve been reading memoirs of divorce lately, and I am starting to recognize common themes.  I’ve grudgingly come to accept that the dividing of friends is perfectly normal.  The reason I was resistant to this is simple: I got none of the friends.

Even a few of my own friends were too uncomfortable with my divorce, or quickly became non-friends for some other reason.  Of course my own family didn’t exactly rush over with chocolate and booze to support me, either.  I’m trying to understand why.

Some of it– okay, a lot of it– is that I don’t have close relationships with my family, and I have about as many friends as I can count on one hand.  Of those, again, I would have called three of those friends good friends.  One turned out to be a hopeless romantic who couldn’t really handle the idea that a happily married friend was actually not so happy.  It was hard for her to see me, shocked and jaded and angry as I was, and she told me that she would be there if I needed to talk, but I could tell she wasn’t up to it. Plus, she knew my ex, and he had charmed her, like he charms everyone.

But in pretty much every memoir I read, there’s the friend or parent who knows that a divorced woman needs someone there to drink with and to keep her from drinking too much.  She needs hugs.  And she especially needs some to say “That fucking bastard.”

What she doesn’t need is for anyone to say “Can’t you go back and try to work it out?” or imply that the end of the marriage was her fault, and that she could fix it if she just tried harder, prayed harder, acted more kind, cooked his favorite suppers.  She doesn’t need you to suggest marriage counseling; she’s not stupid, she’s already thought of it or tried it.  She is desperate– hence the divorce.

And guess what!  Divorce is not the end of the world.  It is not failure.  It is not the irrevocable breaking of something.  It is simply the clear-sighted recognition that the relationship is over.  It’s paperwork.  It’s making it official (or maybe un-official).  It’s finally being able to admit to everyone that the happiness is an illusion; that we are no longer good for each other; that once we finally grew up, we realized what the definition of a good couple is, and that we didn’t fit the requirements.  I’m tired of the fairy princess mentality, the religion-inspired perma-monogamy, the implication that good, moral people just don’t do that.  Why?  They just don’t.  Marriage is forever.  It’s hard to understand the possibility of abuse, or the reality of marrying early and growing up late, or the possibility of one person changing religions eight years in, the bitterness that sets in when you’re getting close to 30 and still dependent on family because very little is going according to plan.

According to my ex, all his friends and family were telling him what an evil bitch I was, how he should get revenge, how he should hurt me.  And as frustrating as it is that he friends would tell him that, I know deep down that that is what they were supposed to do.  (not actually hurt me, but legitimize his anger and situation.)  That is support.  That is what you do when papers have been served, because your friend is losing the one person who was supposed to never leave, would always support you.  The divorcée is losing that.  And you, the friend of divorced person, you have to step in.

I had two wonderful friends do this for me.  They said come over, we’ve got a spare room, don’t worry about anything, just hide in your room and come out when you need hugs, food, or wine.  (They had lots of wine.)  They let me cook my weird Indian food in their kitchen.  When my car windshield was vandalized (golly gee, I wonder who did that), they drove me to the train station so I could get to work, and had the window fixed by the time I got home.  And as I told them more and more about my marriage, my husband, and the divorce, they cursed him and told me I had done the right thing.

I am lucky to have them.  They had only met my ex a few times and were not impressed.  I didn’t have to explain the reality of the last ten years.  They were not like everyone else who knew me, and who saw what looked like a perfect couple having nothing but fun together.  I know that I have tended to be smug about my happy marriage.  That was ignorance, then denial, then silence.

I’ll be visiting my family next week.  I’m trying to prepare myself and piece together some strategies.  I’m not feeling very optimistic.  But at least I’ll be near San Francisco if I need to get away.


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