Thanks to the Huffington Post for publishing this piece!
When I found myself divorced before thirty, I assumed that my family and friends — many of whom are, shall we say, experienced divorcees — would offer wisdom and insight into managing this life-altering event. I was wrong. Their hearts may have been in the right place, but what came out of their mouths? Oye, it left me reeling sometimes. Do yourself and your newly divorced friend a favor — swallow your tongue and resist the urge to spout off any of these placating phrases:
“At least you don’t have children.” Gosh, Pollyanna, that does make me feel better, thanks! You see, since I don’t have any, this doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s pulled from your list of “what to tell your divorcing friend” before you stop to think. Is the pain for me supposed to be any less because I don’t have kids?
“That is just like what (insert name of your ex here) did to me!” Empathizing is a great strength — and a weakness. Folks, reign it in when I start talking about my divorce. This is not a chance for you to tell your story; it’s a chance for me to talk about myself, to process out loud, for you to nod and offer uh-huhs and mmms and the occasional interjection of a female power phrase perhaps. But I do not want to hear and I do not care one iota about your divorce story, unless I’ve asked you to tell me something specific. In which case I’ve only asked so I can further talk about me.
“You’re young and pretty; you won’t have any trouble finding someone.”
Hot damn! Well I best go find me a man right now then! That will fix everything.
“Everything happens for a reason.” So does going to the bathroom but no one seems to think about the meaning of that too deeply. I am not going to be the cancer patient who says, “I am so grateful I got cancer since it really changed my life.” Really? You think I should be accepting this with peace and grace? Get over your new age fake Zen and feel the hurt with me. I will choose to learn from this rather than be conquered by it, but it’s not because the Almighty is teaching me a lesson. P.S. I don’t have to be chipper.
“Good riddance to that (insert derogatory adjective of choice).” That description may be true, but psst… I married him. I chose him. I loved him. You may be able to shake him off like a piece of lint, but I have the wedding albums and the rings, the photos and the china. He will not disappear with the insertion of your insult, and neither will my heartache.
“Take him for all he’s got!” or “Don’t get mad, get everything!” This plot line is best reserved for movies. I don’t need his money, and I don’t want to beg him or communicate with him any longer than necessary. Why would I want to be tied to someone who clearly wants to be far, far away from me? This doesn’t make me less of a feminist or more of a doormat. I’m capable on my own.
“You’re better off without him” or “You don’t want to be with someone like that.”
In time I will feel this way too. But right now you have the luxury of being on that side of the chasm and seeing me in a rose-tinted glow of future empowerment. On this side where I live, however, I feel lost and rejected and dumped. Don’t add to my misery by making me feel bad about missing my ex-husband.
“Good thing you didn’t buy a house yet.” Because that was really my first concern. Why was it yours? Honestly, I’d love to have a house right about now, so no, it is not necessarily a good thing.
“Was the sex good? I mean, you weren’t having any problems in that area were you?” WTF?! I wish I could say someone didn’t actually ask me this question. As if the embarrassment isn’t enough, you’re insinuating that somehow our sex life is part of our marriage dissolution. So you’re saying that a man’ s sexual dissatisfaction is justifiable reason for breaking a lifetime promise? Ugh. This is an archaic and patriarchal comment intended to fault women and excuse men’s bad behavior.
“He’ll regret this someday.” Maybe. Maybe not. He should, but he probably won’t. I wouldn’t know about it if he does anyway, so this entire statement is obsolete.
“What do you think would have happened if … (insert alternate life choice here)?”
I have no crystal ball, no telepathy, no time machine, just me and my ability to act on what I know. Nothing useful comes of asking this question. Ponder privately if you must, but since neither of us can change the past, we’re just going to have to look forward. I need you to look forward with me.
“It’s such a shame; just when your life was getting started, it all crumbles.”
It’s not a shame, it’s a shitfest. And my life was well underway before this mess, thankyouverymuch. I am still a functioning adult with friends and a job and car, and a (sort of) sweet cat and pretty apartment. My life is not over. By the way, the phrase “It’s a shame” applies to flat cakes, overdone turkeys, a smudged manicure, or a run in your pantyhose. “It’s a shame” does not apply to my divorce.
“Have you heard from him? What happens next?” My divorce may be a delectable rumor morsel, but this question is like asking an unemployed friend if she’s found a job yet. If she has a new job, you’ll know — because she’ll tell you. If she hasn’t found a job, she doesn’t want to talk about it. Your probing questions are salt in a wound we never expected to have nor know how to heal.
“What’s (ex’s name) up to these days?” This is breaking the rules. I am allowed to talk about him. You are not. I can ask questions aloud about his whereabouts and lovers, tell you the same sob story multiple times and psychoanalyze his family. You do not get that right, because asking about his status means that you care or are interested, both of which I’m working quite hard not to be. Go Facebook stalk him yourself.
“So how are you, really?” (Accompanied by a probing gaze and furrowed brow) This question catches me off guard, usually because it’s asked at inappropriate moments like in the office hallway, during a quiet moment in book club, or when I bump into you riding the Metro. Yes, I know what you’re asking but I do not know why you expect me to suddenly open up — right here, right now. I cannot wear my emotions on my sleeve and blabber every time I’m asked, or I would never survive. Let me keep my defenses up in public, please. If you really want to know, ask me out to dinner or coffee; show me you care about me.
When I shared an early draft of this list with my family – both chosen and given – they felt ashamed and insufficient, horrified by their insensitivity. They apologized and backpedaled, and I realized an important point: they were doing their best, muddling through just like me. If you’re not sure what to say, just remember Thumper’s quote, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”