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Picture the typical divorcee -- what age is she? Probably not in her 20s; isn't that when women start marrying? Maybe her 30s, but that's when many married women are starting a family. Which brings us to the 40s.
Can there be anything more cliché than a 40-something divorced woman? Isn't that the age when menopause kicks in, when women start losing their sex appeal and sexual appetite? Isn't that when husbands dump her for a younger blonde?
Like the title of so many pulp fiction books and grade-B movies, I was a 40-something divorcee.
It wasn't what I wanted at all, although, true, the words, "I want a divorce" came out of my mouth. I had already been married -- I wed just a few months shy of my 21st birthday -- and divorced a few years after. Now, I was entering the special category of "multiple divorcee," which immediately made me somehow damaged and suspect: "Wow, there must be something really wrong with her because she 'failed' twice!"
People blew off my first divorce, although I had the burden of guilt because I wanted out. "Oh, that marriage doesn't count," they told me, along with, "It was a starter marriage," "You were too young anyway" and the particularly disturbing, "At least you didn't have kids."
Now, divorced at age 46, I did have kids, then 9 and 12. I was sad for them and sad for me. Stupidly, I thought, why couldn't he have cheated on me 10 years ago, when I was in my 30s and a little cuter?
The news spread quickly: We were whispered about and judged. There was some sympathy, but also fear: Who's next? It was a valid question because suddenly a lot of my gal friends were divorcing. And while we were extremely supportive of each other during the process, we were acutely aware that we were now somewhat competitors in the dating market.
My 14-year marriage exploded right after 9/11. At the same time, my dearest friend moved with her family back East and everyone I wanted to hold close had other ideas. I feared my 40s were going to be the decade of loss.
Instead, it became the decade of discovery. I wanted to know what dysfunction I had brought to the marital table, so I went on a weeklong intensive to understand my family-of origin issues. It was a big "aha."
My divorce unearthed an inner strength I didn't know I had. Yes, now that I was working full time, I was crazy busy. After my first divorce, there was just me. Now I had two boys to care for every other week when they lived with me, and I had to find a way to stay connected with them when they were with their dad. I was navigating a world that felt alien to me. But, having been a part-time employed minivan-driving suburban mom for so many years, I realized I'd been given a chance to get to know who I was irrespective of a partner. I started doing all the things I once enjoyed but had put aside because my then-husband wasn't interested.
Co-parenting gave me something I never gave myself -- time just for me. That made me a better, more present mother when I was with my kids. I felt more confident, self-aware, sexier and alive than I had ever felt. I hadn't counted on that. As a bonus, men noticed. And that stuff about midlife women being disinterested in sex? That's a lie.
Being a 40-something divorcee is a cliché. But as clichés go, it hasn't been all that bad.