Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ten things I've learned about divorce

I don't often talk about deeply personal things on a very public platform, but bear with me.

The papers are signed and I am 'consciously uncoupled' from my former spouse of 3.5 years. Here's some of what I've learned about divorce, relationships and moving on with someone else.

1.) Talk to someone, even when you're not sure you should. Even though more than half of all marriages end in divorce, people still see it as some terrible failure. Happily engaged and soon-to-be-married women will cringe and give you the side eye when you mention that things aren't working out between you and your spouse. You might not want to tell your boss at work, but I wish I would have told mine as soon as something was wrong. Just reaching out to people and letting them know things aren't quite right will save you a lot of trouble. Don't blast it all over Facebook, but discreetly mention it to people who matter.

2.) Don't tolerate bullshit. I let my ex sit around in my apartment for a month and a half while he decided whether or not he actually wanted to continue being married. Things were tense and uncomfortable the entire time. I tried to be as supportive as possible, but in hindsight, I shouldn't have held out hope things would work out for as long as I did. Sure, I wasn't a saint. I said and did my fair share of terrible things. Living with me isn't a beach vacation. But I've long concluded that even if I were a perfect wife and said and did all of the right things, he still would have left because that's the type of person he is. To him, I was an opportunity to be able to flop around and share the rent until he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. When I asked him, he said he "didn't know why we got married" and "it seemed like what [he] wanted at the time." Buyer's remorse, I guess? Since him, I've been a little more aggressive about what I want from life and what I expect from the people who share life with me. You don't deserve someone with no goals in life. You don't have to tolerate a mediocre relationship.

3.) Make sure your core values align perfectly with your partner's or it's not going to work out. No exceptions. Children, politics, religion, standards for mutual respect and life philosophies must be very close to identical or your relationship isn't going to work. My ex was an atheist and extremely disrespectful of those who had some sort of religious faith. I don't go to church every Sunday, but I was raised a Christian. This, and other discrepancies in our life philosophies probably led to the hasty demise of our relationship. In addition, we didn't fundamentally agree on what marriage meant to both of us. The easiest analogy is this: I see marriage as a tattoo. Something for long and careful consideration, and when the decision is made, it is permanent. I don't agree with Matt Walsh on a lot of things, but he has a very clear way of explaining how I feel about marriage here. For my ex, marriage was temporary. He saw his mother get married and divorced time after time, so it was really no big deal for him to do it too.

4.) Don't waste your (or someone else's) time. If you think marriage is forever, you should probably be with someone who feels the same way. It seems like a simple assertion, but it can actually be really complicated, especially if you're not certain what you want out of life, or if your partner is unsure about his future as well. Don't skate through life with a partner you're unsure about. If you even have the slightest bit of uncertainty, just don't get married. Just. Don't. You'll save yourself a lot of heartache and paperwork. There's someone out there for you, and if you know it's not the person you're with, what are you doing? If you think you can do better, why don't you?

5.) Decide what you want. If you can't live without pizza, you wouldn't think to date a guy who hated pizza. However, there's more to life than pizza. Know what you like and what you can tolerate and what you can't, but be open-minded to the possibility that the people you meet and grow to care for aren't going to have everything in common with you. My boyfriend LOVES sports, and I have no idea what he's talking about sometimes. And he just smiles and nods when I go off on a diatribe about my knitting. But that doesn't get in the way of the fact that we have so many other things in common. We have similar values, similar goals and we laugh at the same things. Decide what's a deal-breaker. Know what you want and stick to it. But don't be like this guy. Moderation is key.

6.) Figure out who you are after s/he leaves. When my ex first left, I bought a bunch of bananas at the store. I ate a few, but after a week or so, I had to throw some of them away. I bought another bunch of bananas the following week and the same thing happened. You know what? I really don't like bananas, I said to myself. I had purchased them automatically, and my ex liked them, but I didn't. Not really. I had lost sight of what made me myself because I had been in a relationship with someone else for so long. I took some time after my marriage was over to step back and determine who I was. When your identity is linked with someone else's, you might find that you have to take a really hard look at what truly interests you when the relationship is over. Reassess what's really important to you and be honest with yourself and others.

7.) I believe in a thing called love. Really. You can't let divorce, or the end of any relationship taint your view on all future relationships. It might sound like I'm endorsing that stupid "not all men" catchphrase that's making the round on the Internets, but not all men are jerks. Not all men are fickle. Not all men are going to wake up one morning and decide they're not attracted to you anymore or cheat on you or dump you for someone else (pick your poison.) I have a fair number of male friends and I've dated many different people. While some guys have their moments (because everyone does), they're not scum of the earth. Every man is different. You just have to find the one whose views and values align with your own.

8.) Just jump in. There's no easy way to go about getting over a marriage. I talked a lot to my parents and a couple trusted coworkers (one of whom was going through a divorce herself.) I joined an online dating service a month and a half after my ex moved out. That lasted all of four days. There's no set grieving period after the demise of a relationship, but there's a lot of fear about getting into a new one. You just have to do it, even if you're afraid. Even now, almost a year after my ex left, I still remember something dumb his mother would do or something fun we did together. It's either painful, or it is a relief that I never have to put up with it again.

9.) Marriage isn't 50/50. It's a collaboration, not a competition. You should definitely feel like you're going above and beyond for the one you love, giving 110 percent and all that. You love them. Why wouldn't you aim to make them as happy as possible every single day? If you feel like you're running yourself into the ground for your spouse, you should probably have a chat about how you can be more equal. But other than that, no keeping score over who washed the dishes and ran the vacuum last. Is the sink full of dirty dishes? Just do them. And don't keep score or harbor resentment or hold it over your spouse's head. You're just wasting your time and energy being angry and resentful while your spouse is busy thinking fondly of you and doing things that are equally important to the success of your relationship.

10.) Your marriage is going to be fine. If you bicker at your spouse and they bicker back, you're doing something right. Feel like you do nothing but argue? Good. Both of you still care and have opinions about what you want to happen in your relationship. The whole thing is over when apathy sets in. Don't care if you don't see them for days at a time? Don't want to come home to them every night or wake up next to them every morning? Pack your things. It's time to go.

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