Twelve years ago, following my husband's surprise announcement that he was leaving our 22-year marriage to move across the country with a former stripper, I had to learn to navigate a strange new world. A world where I checked the "divorced" box on medical forms and attended school events as a single parent. My new world definitely got a little stranger the day I overheard a prospective buyer for my house referring to me as a divorcee.
A divorcee? I glanced at the wall calendar to see if I'd somehow been transported back to 1950. Nope, it was still 2002. How absurd it seemed to hear such an outmoded term -- with all its wink-wink implications -- being used in the 21st century. If I hadn't needed to sell my house so badly then, I would have informed the guy that not only was that word dated, but it also bordered on the truly offensive. I really don't think he knew that.
When I recently relayed this incident to a group of other divorcees/wanton women, we all had a good, eye-rolling laugh, which led to a more serious discussion of the lingering misconceptions about divorced women. We came up with a few things we wanted the new men in our lives to know about us that we hadn't clearly articulated before.
1. We know we made mistakes in our marriage and we don't want to repeat them -- and I'm not just talking about what turned out to be our unfortunate choice in partners, ha, ha. I mean real mistakes we made in our relationship -- words spoken or left unspoken, actions taken or not taken -- that contributed to the deterioration of our marriage. Even if we were married to Godzilla himself and the fault was 99 percent his, we know we still need to own our 1 percent. Just because our ex may have committed more grievous sins than we did doesn't mean we think our shortcomings don't bear examining. We want to learn, change and grow. We can never be perfect, but we want to take our best selves into our future relationships.
2. We are necessarily cautious, but we are not cynical, bitter or anti-men. We would be foolish to jump into another relationship with blinders on or to ignore obvious red flags, but we are not purposely looking for excuses to avoid love. We have not given up on the dream of "happily ever after," but we now understand more clearly that the reality is closer to "happily working on it ever after." And for us that necessarily means working on it together, so we have our antennae up for someone who wants the same thing and, similarly, we are trying to filter out the ones who don't.
3. We are not holding you accountable for any hurt or damage caused by our exes. You have a clean slate with us. You have nothing to make up for, nothing to "fix" and you are not responsible for redeeming the good name of all men. If a woman displays the attitude that "there is hell to pay, and somebody is going to pay it," either her wounds are still very raw or she might not really want to heal. Either way, she's not ready for a relationship, so keep moving. You don't need to be anybody's emotional whipping post.
4. Failed, broken, unsuccessful -- those are some of the negative terms often used to characterize a marriage that ends, and often by extension, the former marriage partners as well. Even when we know in our own minds that we tried our best, those words can cling to us as unspoken accusations. We want you to know that we are not quitters. Our marriages did not end because we are people who can't stick it out through the hard times. Marriages end for a million different reasons, but please believe that we take commitment seriously. We know how to "stay in the room" and we hope to have a chance to prove that with you.
5. Just as there are all kinds of marriage relationships, there are all kinds of divorce relationships. It is quite possible that our ex will remain in our lives to some degree long after the divorce papers have been filed away, particularly if we had children together. That does not mean that we haven't let go or are holding out hope for reconciliation. And, just FYI, if some time or other we accidentally call you by our ex's name, please believe it was merely a slip of the tongue, a reflex, and not a sign that we secretly dream of getting back together with him, really.
I stop here because shortly after we committed number five to paper, someone ordered a second bottle of wine. I cannot share any discussion that followed for fear of giving you a totally wrong impression about us divorcees, wink-wink. I hope these insights open a discussion or help you build a stronger relationship with your partner. After a particularly brutal divorce, I was eventually lucky enough to find out that "love is lovelier the second time around" is more than just a song lyric. I wish you the same good fortune and happiness!