Sunday, May 27, 2018

The 9 Brutal Truths No One Tells You About Divorce (But I Will)

This post has been about two years in the making.

I keep sitting down to write it, and then just...not hitting publish. I've edited it probably a hundred times, and yet never pulled the trigger until now.

Part of it is that this is such a personal issue for me, sure. But part of why I couldn't ever seem to click 'publish' is that I never really felt like I was done writing it. I felt like there was still more to add.

Today I decided I don't care. This is my blog, after all. I can add to this list later if I want to! But these very personal, sometimes vulnerable, thoughts are something I feel like I really need to share. This post is dedicated to my brother, whose questions, heart-to-heart talks, and friendship mean so much to me. This one's for you, Jon! 

I'm talking about the brutal truths no one tells you about divorce. But I will (you're welcome).

1. It takes a loooooong time (like, years) to feel normal again.

Give yourself a good 12-18 months before you'll feel like your life isn't falling apart around your ears. After that, it gets better. I promise!

A friend of mine recently went through a divorce from his wife of almost a decade. He called and asked "when will it be over?" My answer: A year. Yes, it feels like forever when your life's in flux, but when it's over it'll feel like you blinked and it's done. 

And afterwards, you'll have a whole new sense of perspective. 

2. Everyone takes sides. No really...everyone.

"No one took sides in my divorce!" - Said no one, ever.

This one is the hardest for people to talk about.

I'm in my 30's now, and I've got lots of divorced friends (because hello, statistically about 50% of us are divorced!)

Guess what? Not a single friend or family member got through their own divorce without people choosing sides. Not. A. Single. One. If you're keeping score, that's zero times

Human nature seeks out drama and gossip, and no one is immune to the drama of a divorce.

Don't be surprised if you lose close friends, even family. It will happen. You can be the politest, most amazing exes to each other in public and never say a single negative thing to each other, but it won't stop other people from assuming what they want, or feeling the need to choose. It also won't stop people from being nasty, or even flat-out lying.

I have one friend whose ex torched his support network, destroying his friendships with lies, before she finally admitted to cheating on him - with his best friend. And guess what? His friends stayed friends with her.

I've personally been called a whore, and had people who were dear to me text me on my birthday saying utterly disgusting things. I've had friends who trash talked my ex and encouraged me to leave, switch sides as soon as shit got real.

It's an ugly world out there, and divorce brings jealousy, resentment and ugliness to the surface for many people. And it will for people in your own life, too.

Remember this: It might hurt, but those people are doing you a HUGE favor by weeding themselves out of your life for you. You don't need those people in your life to be happy. In fact, in some cases you'll find yourself taking a deep, relaxed breath when they're gone. For real.

3. You'll see a lot less of your married and couple friends for a while.

No matter how strong the friendships with your married or couple friends are, they're likely to give you a lot of space (sometimes space = straight up ghosting) when you announce you're abandoning the sinking ship of your marriage.

Divorce is scary as hell for married people, and I can totally understand why. You're now a walking, talking (weeping) reminder that marriage isn't bullet-proof, and everyone wants to think divorce can't happen to them.

It's easier for your coupled-up friends to avoid you. And they probably will, at least for a while. Even the ones who stick around will struggle to relate.

Bonus issue? You're now single, and living the dating life, which can spark jealousy for couples who maybe aren't so happily married themselves. 

4. You won't be alone: SO MANY other people are divorced.

No really you guys...everyone. When you're over 30, it's stranger to meet someone who's not divorced than someone who is. You're not alone!

When I got divorced, I was terrified that I'd always be alone and stigmatized, but the opposite is true.

The reality: No one cares. NO. ONE. CARES.

Now when I'm in a room with my peers, the gross number of us are divorced, sometimes twice. Those that aren't, know tons of people who are.

5. Learning to trust your own judgement is empowering af.

The fear of being on your own is real, but being independent is a life-changing learning experience.

My ex and I were together for eleven years, and got together when I was in High School! I'd never been a grown-up on my own, and the freedom/responsibility combo was staggering, and exhilarating.

I learned that making my own mistakes and defining my own life is actually something I can do without the input of another person. I'm not perfect, but damn I'm confidant I can at least take care of myself and my kids, and I really, really like who I am now.

I didn't just gain confidence in myself, I learned to trust my own competence.

I now know I'm 100% capable of taking care of myself, no matter what life throws at me. And I do actually, (sometimes) make good decisions that don't need to be run past another person first. Without a safety net, I'm a lot more sure of myself. And it feels fantastic.

6. You'll see a side of your ex you didn't know existed.

Know how you've been growing and changing, and stretching yourself a bit since your decision to split up? Well your ex is doing the same thing. Your ex is also deciding who they're going to be, post-divorce, and in same ways that won't match up at all with the person you thought you knew. As their choices become independent of yours, they will do things you don't always agree with, and you just have to deal.

Sometimes it's good. Sometimes you get to watch your ex mature, and learn to stand on their own. Sometimes the good is harder to see than the bad, honestly. My ex is now a man I'm proud to say is the father of my children, even if we're not together. I'm consider myself seriously lucky in my experience, though.

In some cases, it's ugly. I have a friend whose wife accused him of abusing their child in order to get full custody, and another who almost got stuck paying child support for kids that weren't even his (you're reading that right, his step-kids. Who already had a father paying support).

I have a friend who fought for years to prove that her ex and his new girlfriend were making her daughter's life a living hell, before she finally won.

The bottom line is that your ex is going to be a new person, almost a stranger to you, the moment you call it quits. Respect that they're now an independent entity, and not obligated to continue being "the person you knew."

7. You get sweet sweet child-free time, and (not so secretly) love it.

50% of your time is now child free (if you split custody). You're welcome. You can now go on dates and weekend road trips again, and you get to come back to your kids a rested, relaxed and excited parent.

Yes, you're also allowed to enjoy this new free time guilt-free.

8. can totally co-parent without hating your ex.

I thought co-parenting would be brutal. Those first months after your split, you can barely hear your ex's name without gritting your teeth. But working hard at co-parenting nicely and kindly together from day D-day on, pays off big time.

It's easy to forget, but that person you're not in love with anymore is actually 50% of your kid's makeup. HALF, folks. And (hopefully) your ex will still want to share all the joys and pains of those kid's lives, despite not loving you anymore (or maybe even hating you).

I do my level best to include my ex in everything I can, from video calls at bedtime to pictures of them sleeping, to trick-or-treating together. Because however I might feel about him, I sure do love our kids and so does he, for which I'm grateful.

And you know what? It's actually not that bad at all.

The payoff is this: We get along pretty damn well for divorced parents, and my kids will hopefully never feel the need to choose sides (unlike everyone else). My ex and I don't always like each other but our son and daughter are #1 for both of us, and it's totally worth it. Mutual respect and consideration goes a long way.

9. You are allowed to actually like your ex's new partner. 

I was scared of this one.

As it turns out, my ex (my kid's dad) dating has been a really really good thing. My kids love their dad's new girlfriend, and she brings experiences into their lives in areas I don't have any expertise (or don't have the patience for! D&D campaigns, I'm looking at YOU.) Plus, she's cool as hell, and gives my young daughter another example of strong, modern femininity to aspire to. It's win/win.

I thought I'd be jealous of another woman "momming" my kids, but surprisingly, I haven't been.

I actually enjoy my kid's stories about spending time with her and their dad together, how well she bakes (dude, apparently she makes a killer blueberry pie...guess who can't bake a pie to save her life? This girl!) and it's really good to hear how happy their dad is. And ultimately, seeing their dad demonstrating good relationship skills only benefits them in the long run. It's great for them to see their dad in a fulfilling relationship with someone, even if it's not me!

It makes me happy that more good, cool people are around to help love and nurture my kids.

Those are my distilled notes, guys! I'm really hoping that reading this, seeing real talk about how things can go down, will help someone else navigate the turbulence of their own divorce. We don't do ourselves any favors by staying quiet, by making these issues something to be ashamed of. Please speak up! In the comments I want to hear YOUR story, and I'll be adding to this post as I get more input from readers. So speak up!

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  2. Jessica, these are spot on. From the first on your list (I didn't even feel normal until 12 months following my divorce!). To your last one... I wanted to resent my ex's girlfriend but she's so good to my children and they love her. I'm grateful for her.
    Thank you for writing this, I wish I would've had something like this to read when I was going thru my divorce! ❤

  3. I was terrified to read this post, but the points you made actually brought me a measure of hope and peace as I navigate this difficult time in our family. Can't thank you enough!!