Last night, after a Thanksgiving brunch that left FedBooHusband and me feeling like we could never eat again, we got a call from some friends, a couple FBH has known for years. They invited us to come over and “Come hungry!” The idea of any more food made us weak, but we enjoy hanging out with this couple, so we went. I am especially thankful for their invitations because even though they were friends with FBH and his ex-wife, they have always been warm and welcoming toward me.
After catching up with K, the woman half of the couple, on her pregnancy (she’s due next month), the conversation turned to someone we both know who has been spiraling down over the last few years. “What happened to her?” K asked, somewhat rhetorically. While there are many issues at play, this person’s divorce seems to have been the beginning of the downward spiral in which she’s made a series of ill-advised choices, including another problematic marriage, and her children are suffering. K, who has never been divorced, asked me what made the difference for me, how was I able to pick myself up after divorce. I told her that while I’d certainly had my less-than-stellar, “What the hell was I thinking?” moments in the fallout, two things I can say for sure: I never put my children in jeopardy or neglected them, and eventually, I bounced back.
But “bouncing back” makes it sound like it was easy. It wasn’t. But I’m fairly certain my behavior didn’t have people wondering, “What happened to her?” The difference, I believe, is being honest about the divorce. Divorce hurt. It was embarrassing. And because my kids were impacted, it was frightening. I worried what divorce would mean for them. This fear and my commitment as a mother propelled me forward: I wanted to do everything I could to help my kids not only survive but thrive despite that fact that our family, as we had known it, was no longer in tact. My devotion to my kids created a wall of protection, around all of us. My stupid mistakes post-separation/divorce didn’t ruin us because while I didn’t always make the best decisions for myself, my kids were spared the consequences of my stumbles.
“I was honest,” I told K. “Even when the truth didn’t paint me in the best light, I was honest about my pain, my mistakes, and my fears, with a small group of people I trusted. I didn’t walk around pretending like the divorce matter or didn’t hurt.” If I didn’t acknowledge the hurt, I could never have moved past it. I refused to flail around or posture at my kids’ expense. I didn’t broadcast my troubles to the world, but neither did I feel the need to lie about my well-being to people who cared about me. So I had to be honest and ask for the help I needed–from friends, family, and kindly therapists. I wish I could say that I was motivated to do this for myself but truly, at my lowest points, my kids were my primary motivation.
“The other thing,” I said to K, “was that I didn’t need marriage in order to feel worthy.” I am remarried, but I had also been open to the possibility of never marrying again. I didn’t need marriage to make me feel whole or respectable. Divorce was embarrassing to me for a time, but not shameful. Shame lingers and keeps healing from happening. The shame of divorce or feeling of loneliness can push people into rebound or reckless dating–or worse, rebound marriage. In the case of Ms. “What happened to her?”, her rush into a rebound marriage has brought with it many problems and obligations, compounding already rough post-divorce circumstances,. I’ve always believed that there are far worse things in life than being alone. Loneliness drove me to some “What the hell was I thinking?” dating situations that served to confirm this belief, ultimately. These situations also helped me to clarify my values and priorities. They were mistakes that I learned from.
In the end, K and I couldn’t say with certainty “what happened to her.” We can only make some guesses from the outside looking in. But the conversation led me to look inward. I was reminded of a conversation I had recently with Talibah Mbonisi, my sister-friend, and “Co-Parenting Matters” co-host. We were talking about parenting and how it’s not our job as parents to spare our children all of life’s bumps, bruises, and disappointments. It’s our job to model for them that it’s possible to navigate the inevitable responsibly, with grace and maturity.
So if my children or anyone else looks at me and wonders “What happened to her?”, I want them to see that life happened, divorce happened…and I picked myself up and kept going. I want them to see that I pulled on my Big Girl Panties and set my life’s Plan B into motion. I want them to see that despite our break-up, I honor my children’s relationships with their dad. I want them to see that instead of throwing pity parties, I move forward and try to handle stress and change and disappointment like a grown-up. This is what I want to my children to see: that divorce was not the end of me.
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