I asked one woman to tell me everything about her divorce: what it felt like, what it still feels like, how it changed her. This is what she said.
We got engaged in our sixth year of being together. Married in our seventh. Divorced in our eighth.
I never thought incessantly about marriage, but when my friends started to get engaged and married and pregnant, I felt something that I didn’t expect. A pressure. Suddenly it was constant, from every direction. I went from being in a relationship, whatever, to that relationship being placed under a microscope by everyone in my life.
“You’ve been together so long, when’s he going to propose?”
“What’s wrong with you or him or your relationship that he isn’t proposing?”
“Why isn’t he choosing you?”
Everyone wanted that box checked for me. The concept of an engagement and marriage wasn’t about finding a lifetime partner, it was about social validation. I started thinking: I want that. I was happy in the day-to-day and I knew I loved him and suddenly engagement felt like the right next step. He felt the pressure too. To some people, a guy looks like an asshole if he waits.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t thinking about what I wanted, who I was, where I was going. Instead, I was worried about how to make it work. I was thinking, “What can I do for him, for us?” instead of, “Is this relationship working for me?” I didn’t bother to reflect and take stock of whether I was happy or not. I was just thinking, “Oh my god! I’m getting married! I’m registered for all this stuff! I got a wedding dress! I checked the box! I’m in the club!”
That’s probably why I didn’t see my divorce coming. I assumed it wasn’t in the cards. We’d been together for seven years. We’d weathered some shit. Why would we get divorced? But marriage ended up being a catalyst for our relationship ending, oddly enough. While it didn’t force me to take to stock of the relationship and my life, it certainly did for him.
We were married for 14 months without a peep. And then, within a matter of weeks of him telling me he didn’t want to be with me, we were separated. Month 15, done. It went fast. I chose to accept it versus fight it. I just said, “Okay. What now?”
Maybe that makes me sound like an asshole, but I was devastated. Fighting it sounded worse. I was so hurt, so scared to be alone, which I hadn’t been since my mid-twenties, before we got together. But that was the whole point. My relationship had defined me; I didn’t know who I was without it. A lot of women in their twenties worry about finding a partner, but the focus should be on finding out who the hell you are. At least that’s where my focus should have been.
I was ashamed. Divorce felt like the ultimate failure. I remember thinking, “Who can survive this? I have no idea.” It leveled my life. Telling people was hard. It took me months because I didn’t know how people would react. I was terrified. But everyone was so wonderful. The only thing I didn’t want was other people’s anger — which some people had, on my behalf. It was no good for me, made me feel weak, like a victim. I wanted healing, kindness, compassion.
I don’t think there was anything grossly wrong with our marriage. He realized it wasn’t what he wanted, and I had completely disappeared into the relationship. I think these two roles are common in a troubled relationship. One person doubting, the other in denial and losing themselves in it. Losing yourself is how you lose someone else, too. You stop doing shit you like and you stop liking when your partner does stuff they like. You stop taking care of yourself and you start expecting your partner to make you happy. And as soon as you do that, you’re fucked.
At the time, I felt blindsided by the separation. In hindsight, I kind of knew we were off and wasn’t paying attention. I was aware of our limitations as a couple from the beginning, but I never toiled over whether he was right. I accepted him. I loved him. I was all in. But he wasn’t. There was an imbalance.
Growing is hard. Growth sucks. It’s work. But the outcome? So worth it. In the beginning when everything felt so dark, like a shock, like a failure, I didn’t realize that there was this amazing person inside me waiting to come out. I didn’t realize how much I’d lost myself. I’m barely a year out now and am so much happier. I have all this energy, energy I was putting into the relationship that’s now going into myself, my career, my family, my friendships. I’m like a new person.
I feel the stigma when I tell people, but I actually like it. Because saying I’m divorced lets people know I’ve been through it. Like in my dating profiles? I say it outright. Divorced!!! To me that says, “I understand relationships. I’ve been through a serious one. I’ve been there.” I like having it as part of my story. This evolution has completely informed who I am.
My relationship with divorce has changed a lot. If I get married again and, after ten years, we get divorced? I’ll still view that as a successful marriage. People change. That’s okay. There is more to life than getting married. A spouse is a supplement, a partner, but we’re all responsible for our own happiness. We overemphasize romantic relationships. Our roles as friends, sisters, daughters are equally important. I’ve realized I can accept and give love to so many different people in so many different ways. Turns out I had a lot of other places to put it.
While we’re on the topic of marriage, here’s one woman who thinks they’re overrated.