What they don’t tell you about divorce is how liberating it can be. You’re finally free from haggling over every dollar spent, or blaming the other person for spending too much on a new motorcycle jacket, or getting glared at while rubbing on your hundred dollar face cream in perfect, upward circles. You now manage your own budget and you actually take pride in stretching out your dollars so you can splurge on some fancy new date jeans that make your ass look awesome.
Suddenly, you can do things on your own time and you’re not organizing somebody else’s time, except your daughter’s, but you were doing that anyway. Now you have every other weekend free and you can go out late, or lounge around and read and write. And cook. Yes, cooking what you want when you want it, or even more exciting, cooking for that new man in your life.
What they don’t tell you is that now you can hear your own voice again. Suddenly, you remember the person you were, the person you felt happiest being. No more taking on the characteristics of the nagging, controlling wife, which is ever so sexy.
Speaking of, no more initiating sex or else you won’t get it, and no more obligatory birthday blowjobs. That was an unspoken; no matter how you felt or what day of the week the special day fell on -- "it’s my birthday, goddamit!" And if you swallow, well, that ends up being a birthday bonus; you might even get away with only spending $50 on a gift rather than $200, because anything less than $200 means you don’t really love him. During the lean years, I swallowed a lot.
What they don’t tell you about living alone is that it’s not so lonely. You still have the same friends, well, almost all of the same friends. You don’t have his low-life cohorts anymore and you don’t have to make up excuses about why you can’t join them that evening, or why they can’t come hang out at your house to drink till 3am ... on your birthday.
The alone time is surprising in its ease and fluidity. You become a much better masturbator. You finally dig out that Magic Bullet vibrator, or splurge on the Lelo Mona 2 G-spot massager, and dang, you never had orgasms like this when you were married. Okay, maybe the first year you were together, but you weren’t married then. And how lovely it is to take as long as you want to linger yourself into climax and then start all over again. And your hand is not jealous of your vibrator.
Another thing they don’t tell you is that when it first happens, it’s like a curse has been cast on you and certain people flee from the scene of the crime to avoid being dragged in as a witness. People you least expect. It’s a kind of death, death of a family, the end of a long-term dream, like retiring on a goat farm in Northern California and making chevre and Grenache Blanc just for fun. The demise of couples’ dinners and the sudden halt of family playdates with groups of kids running around unsupervised. Most of your friends stay loyal and connected, but there are a few who disappear.
When someone loses a spouse to death, you are not blamed for this; you are, in fact, a sympathetic victim, and justly so. Everyone comes together on your behalf. Meal calendars are set up, carpool pickups are arranged for you, your child has endless play date options and the network of friends form an unspoken bond to buoy the grieving spouse and keep her supported no matter how big the sacrifice.
When you lose a spouse to divorce, you’re obviously partially to blame. To the outside world, it’s a sign of failure or giving up, and it threatens those whose marriages are failing, and those who would secretly love to call it quits. But they don’t because of the kids or they’d prefer not to pay alimony or fear leaving their kids alone with the ex, worried that they’ll be saddled in front of the TV watching endless episodes of "My Little Pony" while eating Ramen.
No, there are no calendars or email chains vying for your child to do a play date -– instead, you have to arrange your own carpool pickups and aftercare. So you’d better have a damned good therapist in place.
Your dearest friends come to your side willingly, knowing you well enough to believe that you did everything you could to make it work, everything including three and half years of therapy and then some. You’re allowed to be bitter and angry with these friends, they don’t judge you for it.
But divorce is a great time to shed other people, like the negative friends who have always made you feel like shit because they were either jealous of you or had so much baggage of their own that they refused to deal with and instead, like the ex, would project it on to you. Goodbye, “friends,” I no longer have room for you in my life. I can only afford to spend my time with loving, supportive people who accept me for who I am.
And your back feels better, and you sleep better because you’re not constantly being woken by his cheap Cabernet Sauvignon induced snoring or his many trips to the bathroom or his anxious tossing and turning. Anxious because he was having an affair with his best friend's ex-wife.
Sure, the duties and the finances are not split anymore, and you shoulder the burden as primary caretaker, but they don’t tell you how wonderful this actually is. You have no idea that you’re going to become even closer with your daughter because the time you spend with her is so much more intimate and honest. Or that you’re going to do all sorts of fun crafts or outings or science experiments in the kitchen with flour and water and white chocolate chips.
You can’t believe that you almost lost this time with her, and you wonder why you couldn’t achieve this kind of quality time with her when you were married. It’s because you were always undermined, belittled and betrayed. You were the bad cop to his good cop, you kept the social calendar, did the dishes, the list of chores, made all the travel plans, managed the finances, hiked the dogs and picked up their raw kibble from the out-of-the-way pet store.
Instead, everyone tells you that it will be devastating for your child, regardless of age, and that there are studies that show children of divorce stand to experiment with drugs and sex sooner and lose interest in school. How can this be universally true? The home is so much lighter, cleaner and the tension has evaporated. Kids are so sensitive to emotions and vibrations that surely they can feel the lift and the newfound joy. Even the dogs seem happier. Their hot spots are gone, they sleep at your feet and they don’t seem to miss him one bit.
Here’s another thing they don’t tell you. When I was married, I would throw my husband under the bus all the time to my daughter. Not on purpose, just as a matter of habit. “He’s such a jerk,” or “You know Dad, his work is very important and he’s too busy for us.” But as a divorced parent I would never say anything bad about my ex to my daughter. In fact, I go out of my way to compliment him and frame him as the greatest dad in the world. “How lucky you are to have a dad that takes you to Disneyland –- oh, how he loves you!” And when my daughter questions his forgetfulness, (I nicknamed him “Alzy” – short for Alzheimer’s) I just blow it off with, “Well, you know dad, he’s got a lot on his mind and sometimes he forgets things, but that’s just him. We love him anyway and he adores you no matter what.” This should be the golden nugget that divorced couples insist on espousing to their married friends. It’s truly a gift to the child, and a wonderful healing tool for the ex. Say nice things enough times and you might even believe them!
But the biggest thing they don’t tell you about divorce is that you have an incredible opportunity to reinvent yourself. To luxuriate in self-care and rebuild your self-worth. It’s exciting to read about what makes marriages successful and it feels good to make quiet commitments to yourself about “the next time around.” More acceptance, more personal time, more affirmations, more coming clean with what you need and allowing yourself to fully receive the gifts of having your needs met.
Daydreaming about a new partner who meets your level of generosity is so satisfying. And you get to date all sorts of men from all walks of life at all different stages of age and parenthood –- it’s like an anthropological playground. And each date teaches you something about yourself, mostly, "I could live with his sci-fi toy collection," or "golf games every weekend is a dealbreaker, so see ya." How nice it is to feel pretty and sensual again in the presence of hopeful, eligible men.
What they don’t tell you about divorce is what a gift it is to be able to go deep into yourself and mine the scary, sad, difficult truths that are you, and to practice loving yourself for them. They don’t tell you that being single can be the single greatest thing that ever happened in your adult life –- even better than planning your wedding and up there with holding your daughter in your arms for the first time. What they don’t tell you is how fucking great divorce can be.