It was years after my divorce when I finally got the message that I was supposed to feel ashamed about it.
Feeling ashamed had never crossed my mind before. I thought that any self-respecting woman would have done what I did: Divorce my husband, once I learned he had been lying to me and cheating on me for years.
I was at a black-tie dinner, talking about my divorce recovery coaching practice, and why I was doing this work, when the woman I was conversing with said, "It must be so sad for you to know you failed at something as important as your marriage."
Hearing this, so much began to make sense. Why my parents had advised me to stay with my husband, no matter that I'd never be able to trust him again. Why friends thought it was "so brave" of me to want to help other divorcing women. Why, when on dates, I had learned not to mention the reason for my divorce because I could see it in men's eyes: "She must have done something to make him cheat."
Who's at fault in divorce? It always seems to be the woman.
I noticed that people felt I should be ashamed. That I had failed. Not my ex-husband.
I never felt (and still don't feel) that way. I feel I should never have married him. I feel that I could have seen, years before I married him, that he was an unstable, troubled person.
But. I was uninformed in other ways. I didn't realize, back then, the extent to which lying is a way of life for many men. It's a tool that's recognized as simply practical and smart.
Boys will be boys. For as long as boys are raised to act up with no consequences other than a parent's indulgent smile (isn't he cute?), they learn how easy it is to get away with whatever they want to do. In fact, they learn that there's nothing wrong with it.
As long as girlfriends and wives of men with problems wail, "But I love him!" the men in our lives will apologize with temporary tears, and then turn away from us with a smirk. "Whew! Dodged that bullet!"
But, we're the ones who are supposed to be ashamed.
Being shameless opens up a new sense of freedom.
Since so many people are blaming me (and feeling sorry for me that I didn't have what it took to keep my husband faithful), it really can't get worse, I thought. And, besides, if this is the opinion of the people whom I thought loved me most, there's no reason ever again to care what they think.
I might as well go ahead and do a whole bunch of other "shameless" things! No one will think any worse of me than they already do. What else had I been wanting to do for years, but figured it just wouldn't look right? Which hurtful personal relationships had I wished I could abandon, but felt I just couldn't dare?
"I respectfully do not care." -- Martha Beck
When I decided I should just go ahead and spend the rest of my life being shameless, there weren't too many things of an unhinged, crazy nature that I wanted to try. I had already accomplished most of the things I had wanted to do.
What had always been missing, though, was a cheering section, but [shoulder shrug] most women don't have that. We have to find our own cheering section, and many times, it doesn't include family or the usual cast of characters that have populated our lives so far. Sometimes, after an upheaval like divorce, we have to reconsider who we can number among our dearest friends.
That evening at the banquet, when I was informed that I should feel ashamed, it didn't trigger a desire in me to go wild in the streets. It was more like a change in inner feeling. It was a shedding of the last vestiges of caring what anyone else thought about me. It was a reminder of where I had come from. That there were broad swaths of humankind who would never understand, like, or respect me and my choices.
And, it was this bolt from the blue: I'd spent my whole life waiting for that cheering section. Trying hard to get important people in my life to be proud of me and to show it.
So here's the scandal I started: I have nothing to prove. I have nothing to earn. I am excitedly cheering myself on, and hanging out with the people who "get" me, instead of trying to turn around those who have always thought I should be ashamed of myself.
To everyone else, I say (along with author Martha Beck), "I respectfully do not care!"
Something to try:
Look at a few of the things you feel ashamed of or guilty about. Do you really feel that way, or did someone else teach you that this is how you should feel?
If you decide, "Whoa, these feelings are not really mine," maybe it's time to test your boundaries, and see what other things you've been ashamed of wanting or feeling. Things you haven't even considered acting on.
What have you always wanted to do that might be considered a little scandalous in the opinion of people you care about? The fact that it's been in the back of your mind for years, and it's an innocent desire that wouldn't hurt anyone (except that certain people might not approve) is ample reason to consider doing it.
Draw up a list. Have fun looking at the list. And, do something on the list just to test whether you survive the lightning bolt that might strike.
Do this a few times and folks will get used to it. They might even stop paying attention. And you'll feel like you're winning, at last. Because you've changed the rules of the game.
Rosetta Magdalen coaches divorcing women to feel powerful, lovable, and become the women they always meant to be. She created The Dynamic Divorcee Method™ (a breakthrough system for quick post-divorce emotional healing) and has authored the groundbreaking programs Invisible to Irresistible (a 2-hour jumpstart with strategies to reveal each woman's magnetic presence), and Prepare to Be Loved (a 5-hour intensive that helps divorced women prepare to find the love that has eluded them so far). Find out more about The Dynamic Divorcee at thedynamicdivorcee.com