Nothing makes you ponder your place in society more than a conversation with a stranger. Lately, I’ve been trying to get my single mom butt in gear and catch up on my kid’s doctor appointments, paperwork, and such. You know, “New Year, New Me,” and that whole mentality.
Upon calling my son’s dentist, the receptionist asked me for insurance information. She stopped in her tracks when I said the words “ex-husband.”
“I’m sorry that you’re divorced,” she said with distinct sadness in her voice, as if divorce was the worst fate imaginable for a young woman. I replied, “Thanks, but it’s for the best,” and then stammered something about it having been three years since we separated so there was no need for consolation. (Cue awkward laughter.)
Surprisingly, this wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this remark. It’s often the first thing out of someone’s mouth when they hear the dreaded D-word. And it’s also usually followed by a look of pity and forced compliment like, “Don’t worry, you’re so young/pretty/awesome!”
These encounters make me feel very uncomfortable. In fact, they rank right up there with people pointing out that there are still photos of my ex-husband on my Facebook and that one time a bathroom attendant congratulated me on my pregnancy when I was not, in fact, pregnant.
Here’s the thing, I am not embarrassed of my divorce and I won’t allow people to make me feel that way. I will always correct those who apologize to me for my marital status, and I will never delete those social media photos. (I’ll also never, ever wear a baby doll style dress again.)
My marriage was a huge part of my life — a relationship that spanned the course of 12 years and resulted in my two amazing children. Accepting an apology for its occurrence or erasing evidence that it ever existed would suggest that I was ashamed, which I am not.
Even though I “failed” at something in society’s eyes, it doesn’t mean that part of my life didn’t exist or that you should feel sorry for me. Imagine apologizing to other groups for the cards they’ve been dealt. Saying “I’m sorry you’re poor” to someone with money troubles wouldn’t go over so well, would it?
What people fail to consider when doling out condolences, is that divorce is often the better choice, particularly in high conflict marriages or abusive pairings.
In my case, the conflict that ensued after finding out about my ex’s affair created an environment for my children that was different from the one that existed when I brought them into the world. Consequently, I chose to end my marriage, rather than have my boys view this discord as a byproduct of true love and continue to repeat the cycle throughout their adult lives.
Researcher Constance Gager of Montclair State University would likely agree. Gager and her colleagues conducted a national survey involving nearly 7,000 couples and their children, focusing on how harmonious their homes were and whether or not they stayed married. The result? Children who grew up in high conflict families fared better in their own adult relationships when their parents divorced.
I am not the same person I was when I met my ex-husband at 21 years old. I have different goals, hopes, and dreams. The sum of my life experiences is nearly double what it was back then. With information comes knowledge, and perhaps even wisdom, so instead of beleaguering the decision to divorce, I choose to focus on the positives — and there are so many. Divorce, after all, is not a death sentence.
I’ve learned more from my divorce than almost any other experience in my adult life. And I’ll take those lessons with me to improve the quality of my relationships for years to come.
For those reasons and so many more, I don’t want or need your pity.