I learned fairly young that women do not need men to flourish, shine or succeed. (Political pause: I’m also aware that in this free country where education is promoted, these are truths I’m able to take for granted.) This was drilled into me by all three of my parents but especially my mother. She has been divorced twice. And she is happy.
Which brings me to Angelina Jolie. I’m wary to call her a role model; celebrity does not automatically invite that responsibility. (Another article.) However, America is obsessed. Our eyes are already set on news that she is divorcing Brad Pitt. To call it the biggest celebrity news story of the year would not be an overstatement. Which means that this separation has the capacity to set an important precedent. Already, the media is reporting the divorce as Angelina Jolie’s decision. He did not break up with her. She is no one’s victim.
Divorce is painful, deeply sad, complicated and a lot of paperwork, but it is not a death sentence. For the women I know who have gone through divorce, it has, instead, been a rebirth.
A discussion as to whether or not my mother is “fine” or “okay,” as people sometimes ask, implies that without a man she is expected to wait out life in a purgatory of flatline emotion — that she’s merely supposed to exist as opposed to thrive. But my mother thrives. She is strong, happy and successful. I joke about this, but the sentiment stands: She is dedicated first and foremost to her journey. (That includes me, if you were worried.) I, meanwhile, as the Child of Divorce, am used to the occasional uncomfortable look. Even in 2016, not everyone knows how to react when I say that I grew up between my mom and my dad’s homes on separate coasts, or that mom and stepdad ended their long marriage years later. But kids are resilient. So are memories. So are hearts.
Following the release of By the Sea, a movie that Jolie wrote and directed, her already impressive career will continue. She has raised six children — she will continue to raise them. Her life will not go up in flames. She does not need Brad for the sake of future movies, her image or her bank account. Once the shock dissipates, those fans whose perfect-couple dreams have been crushed will hopefully be able to see that.
We can’t blame fairy tales for every antiquated thought seared into the soft parts of our brains, but it’s hard to shake what those of us raised on pre-Pixar Disney were taught from a very young age: that the end goal is a happily-ever-after marriage. Wanting that is not a bad thing. Believing in that doesn’t make you a stupid little girl. But it’s important to be a realist. It’s good to know that life doesn’t start with a wedding and the world doesn’t end when a marriage does. It is great to know — as I do through a multitude of strong women in my life — that worlds can get so much better.
Angelina let her kids draw all over her wedding dress, the one she wore to marry Brad in 2014. It made for cute photos that I’m sure gossip magazines appreciated and painted a sweet picture of their family dynamic. It symbolized all that motherhood and marriage probably is (profound beauty, imperfection) and told anyone who hadn’t already guessed that Angelina and Brad’s relationship with their children was just as important as their romantic one. But ink and white silk handed over to the fate of reckless toddlers also told another story that focused on Angelina Jolie: as a woman very much in control of her entire life, this dress was not the most important one she had ever worn. Nor will it be.
Photographed by Eamonn M. McCormack via Getty Images.