I remember it well: the gnawing, gut-wrenching pain. The waking up every night at the same time — 2:43 a.m. for me — because apparently the universe likes to remind you of your hauntingly empty bed. The bursting into the most ugly of ugly tears in the Jack in the Box drive-thru due to an ill-timed realization that it is, indeed, over.
And yes, I’d like the seasoned curly fries with that, thank you kindly.
For those of us who’ve been through the pain of an unexpected separation or divorce, there are certain aspects of the process by which you can practically set your watch. And one of them is this:
More people than you can possibly imagine will offer up the most trite of expressions and seemingly hollow words of encouragement.
Here’s something you may not want to hear, but you need to hear: You need to hear these trite expressions and seemingly hollow words of encouragement. And you need to believe them, too.
Well, some of them.
I was the girl who rolled my eyes as they were offered up, only to sink down and resume the familiar fetal position on the kitchen floor next to the dishwasher. I was the so-called bitter chick who glared and balked at the mere suggestion of a “better” tomorrow. I was the inconsolable, jilted ex who lost 30 pounds in 30 days because I did nothing during that first month except take care of my children and cry.
But guess where I am now? It's six years later and I am married again with a brand new surprise baby. I am older and wiser, I am less trusting and naïve but still fundamentally me, I am healthy and strong and hopeful yet again for my happy ending.
So yeah, most of these sayings indeed held true.
I’m not such a Pollyanna that I believe that every single one of these expressions holds true for every single one of us. Quite the contrary, in fact. Since my own divorce, the crazy has sometimes reached fever pitch.
But overall, these eight trite expressions do have merit.
1. “It can only get better.” Ah yes, this one. It’s a hum-dinger, because there are times when it actually does get worse. Especially at the beginning. But you know what? In reality, it eventually is the worst it will be. And then it gets better. Presumably, at least. Sharing children with a contentious ex is a special kind of hell that invites the ex into your life over and over again, so beware of this one in those cases (because I’m guessing, personally at least, it might only get better for me when my youngest is 18. But hey, there’s always that.)
2. “Time heals all wounds.” I will never forget my immediate reaction to this one, uttered by an older (and wiser) friend: I scoffed. Audibly. “This is the kind of pain you don’t ever get over,” I said to her. But just like a mom can “forget” the depth of pain involved in childbirth, so an ex won’t always feel the stabbing, searing pain of the knife of betrayal. It becomes more of a dull ache, a latent throb that needs an occasional massage. But the pain of the ripping flesh of your heart being torn from stem to stern? Not even a conscious memory, given a healthy dose of time.
3. “Someday, you’ll appreciate this.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I do not appreciate the way my marriage ended, but I do appreciate the fact that it did, indeed, end. Because now I know who this man really is, not the man he pretended to be for years. So yes, I am very appreciative. And you will be, too. Promise.
4. "You’re better off.” Guess what? I am SO MUCH better off now than I was then. I had a husband who betrayed our vows, who wasn’t the person he pretended to be, who didn’t appreciate me for who I truly was. Now? I have a husband who says he won’t betray our vows (fingers crossed!), a man who doesn’t pretend, a man who appreciates me. And even before meeting my now-husband, I had learned a very difficult lesson: I didn’t need anyone to appreciate me as much as I needed to appreciate me. And I kinda rocked. So there.
5. “You’ll be OK.” Sure, “OK” is relative. And the kind of “OK” you’ll be tomorrow is different than your pre-separation “OK.” But there will come a day when waking up won’t be painful, when you won’t feel like acid is being poured into your eyes when you see your ex and when hearing his or her name won’t knock the wind out of you.
6. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” And yes, I can hear the addendum now: “Too bad it’s an oncoming train.” Not true, I say. You do have to keep focused on the fact that the dark days of the here and now eventually will go away, and that you’ll one day feel whole and complete and happy again. Focus on the prospect of a happier tomorrow, and that day will be here before you know it.
7. “I’m here if you need to talk.” Sometimes in the wake of a bitter separation, the last thing you think you need is to talk. But trust me, it helps. And also trust me when I say that you’ll feel like a total friendship parasite for a while, because you’ll be the one needing the sustenance of support while your friend is the constant giver. But there will be a time when your symbiotic friendship will return, and you’ll no longer be the only one calling for help. Friendships ebb and flow, so feel free to take advantage of the flow of love and support coming your way during this awful time.
8. “I’m sorry.” You’ll hear this from your mail carrier. You’ll hear this from the clerk at the law office. You’ll hear this from your children’s teachers, your clergyman, your dearest friends and your Facebook connections. People don’t know what to say to make it “better,” but they’re doing their best. You need to surround yourself with support right now, so take every single one of those “I’m sorrys" and place it in your personal emotional reserve.
There you go -- my personal top eight list of expressions you’ll hear that you don’t want to hear — but you just have to hear. Any additions or feedback? I’d love to see how you handled these and more, so feel free to share in the comments.