I’m at that age. Several of my female friends – ranging from 27 to 45 – are either splitting up from their long-term partners or getting divorced from their husbands or wives. The weddings I attended, at which I wore bridesmaids’ dresses and a huge, soppy grin, where I got drunk on champagne and purest, optimistic love, are, in marriage, falling messily and traumatically apart. Whether splitting from a good person with whom it simply didn’t work out and hoping to remain friends, or from a stone-cold abuser and praying he’ll soon be a stranger, every divorcee-in-waiting I know is scared. She is scared of being alone, of having no money, of being seen as a bad person, of being hated by her kids, of losing her house and of never loving, or being loved, again. I hear it; I’ve lived it as a child of divorced parents and been it as a divorced adult; I’ve felt every horrible moment and felt certain I’d never be happy again. Which is why I want to tape a new divorce survey on every one of my friends' fridges, its findings emphatically circled in Sharpie.
Dear splitters, it ends. It ends and you will be happy. Last weekend, The Sunday Times’ Style supplement published the findings of their recent survey of over 1,000 divorced men and women. It found that women are more likely to be happier after divorce than men, with over half of women (53%) reporting that they are “much happier” post-divorce, while less than a third (32%) of men said the same. The women questioned were much more likely to use positive words about their divorce, like “glad”, “celebration” and “excitement”, while men were more likely to talk of “failure” and “disappointment”. Sad for them, comforting for us, to know that women rebuild, often stronger and sturdier than before. The tears and anguish, terror and mental exhaustion – they are gradually replaced by genuine and increased happiness. You will feel not just OK, as though you can once again place one foot in front of the other, but actually better than before.
It’s good to see it in black and white. But it depends, of course, on what “post divorce” really means. People who’ve completed the legal process (those surveyed) are able to be more reflective. But divorce is a continuum, not an event. And it’s the continuum that’s the hard part. The day you receive your decree absolute is when the horror is largely over, and it can be received with a relieved cry, a solitary drink or full-blown street party. But, during the process itself, the freedom from rowing, financial arguments, daily guilt and fear for the future seem unreachable. To be in the process of a divorce is to be in the eye of the storm.
As with any life trauma or emotional instability, relief from the process comes in small, manageable and cumulative actions. The completion of a complicated form you’ve been putting off, a single happy day with your children or dog on the beach, a well-put-together outfit in which you feel nice, an evening’s unloading on to a compassionate friend, a delicious breakfast for one, a piece of work delivered satisfactorily and uncompromised by internal dialogue around one’s perceived failure as a wife. These are the minor victories that get you through; that, brick by brick, build a bridge to the other side.
My own divorce was hell. Wholly unwanted and badly managed by both parties and, while I feel horribly guilty in saying so, it felt worse and more prolonged than any death I’ve known
In the meantime, I received good, solid advice when divorcing that was undoubtedly useful. Get a good solicitor, not necessarily one you like personally. If your divorce case goes to court, spend every penny you can scrape together on the best barrister available – they will likely pay you back many times over. The list goes on and I’m grateful to all. But, outside of the legal process, it’s just as important to have the right people around you. I can say with certainty that divorce is where you learn who your friends are. The compassionate, kind, sensible and attentive ones are infinitely more valuable than those who enjoy the drama until they’re bored of you taking things at your own pace. Those who are simplistic, perpetually impatient about your complex feelings and see things only through their lens are not helping. Meanwhile, don’t be horrible, critical or mean about your spouse in front of your children – that’s what your supportive friends are for. Try not to care what former in-laws and couple-friends think – this is about surviving, not appeasing. Don’t stick your head in the sand and think there’s a way around the pain. There isn’t – only through it – so rip off the sticking plaster as fast as you can bear. Keep doing your work and earning money where possible – it will structure your days, give you a purpose, safeguard your self-esteem and financial health. Accept that you may never be friends with your ex and don’t push it when someone is too hurt or confused to accept an olive branch. Friendship may be restored after the process, but is unlikely during it. Finally, consider seriously the possibility that, for you, “moving on” is not necessarily straight into another relationship; that clear blue water between relationships can be hugely beneficial to you, your family and your new partner. If you need a shag, for God’s sake, have it with someone who doesn’t matter.
Most of all, allow yourself to feel shit. Divorce is meant to be scary. We are meant to be careful in our choice of spouse and considered in any later decision to leave them. It’s not meant to be a picnic and to breeze through it would be to dishonour an important and undoubtedly meaningful relationship. Like a person who has died, a marriage should be mourned. Besides, nothing much can be learned from finding the whole thing a bit of a doss. My own divorce was hell. Wholly unwanted and badly managed by both parties, and, while I feel horribly guilty in saying so, it felt worse and more prolonged than any death I’ve known. And though I feel terribly guilty and am with infinite regrets about the whole thing, I know I wouldn’t have the happy marriage I have now without the painful lessons learned in divorce. It’s easier to stop talking, sharing, laughing, being honest and having sex when you haven’t yet had to experience the fallout from your mutual neglect. I never want to be there again, but now always think divorce is a possibility, because it literally always is. Nothing is unconditional. That’s what we should all think. It makes us do better, play nicer, be happier. I promise you will be.