The Ugly “D” Word.
Every time I tell someone that I am divorced, they immediately reply with, “I’m sorry.” They instantly assume that I must be unhappy, that I must hate my ex, and that surely there must be some kind of ongoing nasty legal battle.
It catches me by surprise every single time. I’ve pondered this for some time now. Why are they sorry? Why are their expressions full of pity and sadness? Why does everyone assume the worst?
We have been taught that divorce is bad. Divorce is failure. Divorce is the ugly “D” word. Society has taught us that marriage is forever. For better and for worse, in sickness and in health. Why, then, are we taught to change or leave any other situation that doesn’t serve us or bring us joy? If we don’t like our job, we should quit. If we don’t like our friends, we should get new ones. If we don’t like our house, we should move. If we don’t like any of our circumstances, with the exception of marriage, we should change them. Why is marriage the exception to this rule? We’ll be congratulated for almost any other life change we make in the pursuit of happiness, but not leaving a marriage. In this case, we’ll be met with “I’m sorry.”
Hundred of years ago, someone came up with the idea of marriage as a means of organizing society. As Mervyn Cadwallader writes in The Atlantic:
“Marriage was not designed to bear the burdens now being asked of it by the urban American middle class. It is an institution that evolved over centuries to meet some very specific functional needs of a nonindustrial society. Romantic love was viewed as tragic, or merely irrelevant…Marriage was not designed as a mechanism for providing friendship, erotic experience, romantic love, personal fulfillment, continuous lay psychotherapy, or recreation.”
But these are the things we think of when we imaging our “happily ever after.” What if it is simply naive to think that we can be with the same person for the rest of our lives? What if we’re miserable? How can we expect the same person that met our needs when we were in our 20s to continue to meet our needs in our 30s, 40s, 50s?
People grow. We change. With that, our needs change. Why do we judge people who realize that their needs have changed and that perhaps they would be happier now with someone who can better meet their needs? Why is this a bad thing? Why don’t we celebrate the people who are brave enough to believe they deserve to have their needs met? I think it takes a strong person, not a weak one, to leave a marriage.
My experience with divorce has not been a negative one. It has not been ugly. I know I’m in the minority here. While we are not officially divorced, my husband and I have been separated for over two years. In those two years, we have become closer than we ever were in our marriage. Our kids have always remained our first priority, and their happiness is our constant motivation. We have both grown tremendously and, in the process, we have learned so much more about each other. We have had and continue to have lengthy discussions about how we each contributed to the demise of our romantic relationship. We continue to learn from each other every single day. We are gaining new tools and new perspectives that we will take into future relationships.
My husband and I loved each other so much that we knew we had to let each other go. Our individual needs had changed over our 12-year relationship, and we were no longer able to meet these needs for each other. I was not the wife he needed, and he was not the husband that I needed. I believe that when you truly love someone, their happiness matters to you. And when you love someone so much that you let them go so that they can find what they need, how can that possibly be called failure?
I would be lying if I told you that splitting up our family has been easy. Emotionally, these have been the hardest two years of my life. But sometimes, the hardest thing to do and the right thing to do are one and the same.
While I am not naive enough to believe that every situation is like mine—in fact, I know the opposite to be true—I do believe that our perceptions about divorce need to shift. We need to stop apologizing to people who left a situation that no longer served them, whatever their reasons.
Divorce is not always an ugly word. It does not always mean failure. I would argue that in some cases, it is success.
Author: Kim Olowa
Image: San Sebastián/Unsplash
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina