An Open Letter to Divorced Women,
I’m hoping you can give me some answers. I have so many questions. Even after nearly 5 years in this fellowship in which I didn’t ask to be a part, I find myself wondering if you struggle with the same questions, wrestle with similar matters of the heart.
Granted, our stories are distinct but we may have a shared experience with one another: your husband cheated, or drank too much, or one day he up and left with no explanation. Maybe he decided he never really loved you, or he liked men more than women; maybe he was more married to his job than he ever was to you. No one but you and your husband, and maybe some trusted friends and therapists, truly know what went on inside the crumbling marriage that wore you down, broke your heart, and shattered your dreams. No one on the outside really understands what it’s really like to step through the wreckage of the tornado that swept through your life, as you tiptoed through the pieces of what was left of it and reconstructed a new you.
After all hell broke loose in my marriage, and I started to emerge from the utter depression and pain, my sister-in-law said with worry in her voice, “It seems like you are reinventing yourself.” Damn right I was. I couldn’t stay the same. The circumstances of my life would not allow for it. Since she’s a therapist, I thought she of all people would understand how a woman enters a metamorphosis when the framework of her life shifts and the faults become visible.
That may have been the first time I felt like my relationships were like the blocks in a game of Jenga. When a key piece is removed, the entire structure starts to sway and eventually crashes all around. So I ask, were any of you fortunate enough to stay in relationship with your in-laws? Or maybe “fortunate” is something you feel now that you don’t have to deal with them. For me… I still feel the pain when my ex-husband and children go to his family get-togethers. I ache when I see photos of the nieces and nephews who no longer know me because they were so little when we divorced. I cry when something reminds me of the inside jokes I shared with my sisters-in-law, because now it feels as if it were from another time, another dimension – so out of grasp.
I also wonder if you ache every time your ex-husband has a new girlfriend. Or maybe you cringe every time he mentions his new wife. It’s silly, really. I have been dating a wonderful man for three years. Yet, every time my ex-husband breaks up with one of his girlfriends, there’s a part of me that wonders if he is going to come back for me. He doesn’t usually leave me wondering long as he has another girlfriend pretty quickly, which of course jolts me back to reality.
My boyfriend once said the only person he worries losing me to is my ex-husband. As hard as it was, and as much as I didn’t want to hurt my boyfriend, I wanted to be completely honest with him. I told him he had every right to be worried because there have been times that it’s crossed my mind. Times when I wonder what it would be like to reconcile and have all of us living under one roof again.
My friends are quick to remind me what it was like. How depressed and oppressed I was. They remind me of the details of my marriage when it was at its worst, the details I often gloss over because the memories are too painful. But I took my marriage vows seriously, and while I was not perfect, I never wished for the divorce. I wanted to stay married to the man I said “I do” to when I was 24. I wanted to stay married to the man with whom I had four children. I wanted to repair the damage that was done, to start fresh and live a long, happy life together despite the bumps and bruises. Do you ever wish for a reunion, even if it is rooted in magical thinking rather than the truth of what really happened?
When I go there in my mind, it is quickly followed by the gut-wrenching thought that I would have to give up my boyfriend, whom I love deeply. I have no doubt God brought him in to my life for a reason, and to think of giving up that relationship makes me want to vomit. It wouldn’t make sense to go back to something so unhealthy when I now live within a healthy, loving relationship. It’s not easy, this relationship with my boyfriend. We are very different, and both stubborn, but we fight for each other. We fight to understand one another, to work through miscommunication and treat each other with respect and honor. So how do you reconcile all of these conflicting thoughts and feelings? Tell me, my divorced friends. I’d like to hear your stories.
There’s one last thing I want to ask, although it’s more of a series of questions. Do you ever feel like people view you as someone with a huge fault? Someone who wasn’t lovable enough or who was too much of a bitch to stay married even when you know you don’t have a bitchy bone in your body? (Not that I don’t… because I do… have bitchy bones, I mean… but never enough to cause a divorce.) Do you feel like you wear the Scarlet A or that people think you carry some sort of disease that may be contagious? Do you feel lonely when you go to dinner parties with couples? Or maybe you don’t even get asked to dinner parties any longer. What do you do with that, dear friends? Most of the time I don’t concern myself with what others think of me when it comes to my marital status. Other times, my self-esteem is rocked. I’ll admit, it helps having a long-term boyfriend, but there are often times I feel shame when I utter the words, “ex-husband” or “divorced.” I suppose it’s part of the imperfect world we live in. But I’d sure like to know how you handle these feelings and insecurities.
My friend Jenni and I have had many conversations as it pertains to the life of the divorced woman and I know we are not alone. I’m thankful for her kindred spirit and journey. I pray that if you’ve gone through a divorce, you’ll read this knowing that yes, it hurts like hell to feel rejected, but you are worthy! You are loved! God has you! He hears you when you exclaim the words: “I can’t believe this is my life.” Jenni and I still say these words from time to time.
So know that I wrestle with you, Friend. Five years later, I hurt. But I also feel joy. Gratitude helps. I give thanks that my boys are happy and healthy, that I have a great job and a beautiful home. I have a family and a boyfriend who love me and a God I trust despite the times I called out to him to bring my husband back to me.
I encourage you to call out to God, even if it’s ugly and seems irreverent. It’s not. He knows your thoughts already. Also, I encourage you to let the tears come. I am often surprised by my tears which is what motivated me to write this. I was folding clothes watching Parenthood and Sarah hugs Seth as he’s exiting their lives once again. Suddenly tears filled my eyes as I was transported to the last time I hugged my ex-husband on the porch as he was moving out. I could have wiped them away and shunned the pain that accompanied them, but I let them come because I know they serve a healing purpose in my life, as they will in yours.
And by all means, I encourage you to ask questions so we can relate to one another. We may never find the answers. I’ve accepted that I may never know the full answer to my divorce. Nonetheless, I’ll keep asking because as Poet Rainer Maria Rilke said: “Be patient with all that’s unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms or like books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers which cannot be given to you for you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the question now and perhaps then, gradually, without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into the answer.”