I was just beginning to forgive Gwyneth Paltrow of all the eye-rolling, privileged things she's written on GOOP about $300 cashmere sweaters being a mom-wardrobe essential, for the name-dropping and unrelateable minglings with Madge and Mario. I was almost ready to let go of all the far-away judgments I've made of the (I readily admit it) progressive, pulled-together, intellectual, stunning celebrity.
I wanted to relate to her when the 2013 Most Beautiful Woman honoree said it is her family that makes her feel the most beautiful. And I was so close when she admitted, "It's hard being married. You go through great times, you go through terrible times. We're the same as any couple." So, so close.
Until she went on: "And we're still married. We worked through it. I think it's easier to get divorced. But I think the more you can keep at it, the more you end up seeing the value in it. But man, sometimes it is not easy."
If I could have wished upon that weeks-old People mag I was flipping through at my grandmother's house a few days ago, my whisper would have been that Gwyneth Paltrow's determination that "it's easier to get divorced" had not ever passed my ears before. I would have crossed my fingers and squeezed my eyes shut and wished to all of the fairies of divorce and separation and single parenthood that no mom on the playground or stranger who has read something I have read or friend of a friend of a lady I have seen a couple of times at church would have ever said those same words directly to me. Then maybe with a wave of those fairies' wands, years' worth of attorneys fees, a file box full of legal parenting agreements and child support pay stubs and too many therapy co-pays to count would poof! disappear into a brilliant cloud of magical, twinkling starlight.
But I didn't make that wish. And as much as I'd never like to pay my lawyer $300 an hour again, I would never wish away my divorce. I would never wave away the hours I've spent negotiating parenting agreement details that I thought (and still think) are in the very best interest of my boy. I wouldn't take any of it back. Even though it was (and still is) very, very hard.
No, Gwyneth, divorce is not easier.
It is expensive and painful and at times, felt to me like my limbs were being torn from my body. And as a divorced parent, it is a process of negotiating and renegotiating and giving energy to someone I would have very much liked to have walked away from for good. It is worrying about the health and happiness of two houses, not one. It is creating normalcy around split-time holidays and jammed-up calendars and cramming one celebration into a few hours and then tending to the ache of having an absent child during other big moments. It is having an attorney on speed-dial and hearing too many people's advice and criticism about how you handle divorce/dating/money/your feelings about your ex. None of that falls in the category of "easier" to me, even five years out of a marriage.
I will give you this, Gwyneth: I am not sure it would have been less costly to stay in my marriage, a good and solid and very happy relationship where a fissure of infidelity caused our whole family to fall apart. In no way would it have been easy to stay in a home where someone was yelling, coming undone, lying and spending money that wasn't there. It would have been awful, which is why, after just more than a month of the height of "terrible times," the best way to protect my son and myself was to leave. The next best thing was to file for divorce.
Easy? Absolutely not. Necessary? Yes. It took 18 months to finalize my divorce, twice as long as it took to grow the small human being in my care. It took money I didn't have and it took strength I had to dig very deep every day to muster.
I wouldn't take any of it back. I wouldn't cast a spell on myself to forget the heartache and in and out of courtrooms and times I sat on my front steps sobbing so my son could sleep in peace, because all of that was me fighting for us. I think it could be the hardest fight of my life, Gwyneth. And also the most important.
My experience is not everyone's, this I know. My own boyfriend's divorce was tied up within a few months. Other friends have shared with me their awe at how quickly they were able to legally and emotionally undo a relationship that lasted for decades. But no one I know who has kids has experienced the drive-by divorce that people love to refer to when they need to feel valiant about the fight for their marriage.
I do believe in marriage. And I do commend people who duke it out with each other and self-care and faith and all that it takes to keep a partnership going, particularly through those toughest of times. In fact, my journey through divorce is startlingly similar to one of my good friend's journey to forgive her husband's unfaithfulness. She stayed married while I signed dissolution papers, but we felt and said and argued and battled with many of the same issues. I think it is pretty amazing that she is still married to the love of her life, especially after all of that. And I feel pretty blessed that I chose differently, and that she and I relate even more now.
She has not had it easier, and I am quite sure she'd say the same about me. So why is this point made so often, and most often by people who are married in this moment?
I wish Gwyneth a long and happy and healthy and fulfilling marriage, I really do. I wouldn't wish divorce upon anyone, a celebrity or a friend or even an ex of mine. But having been in, fought for and then fought my way out of both a marriage and a divorce, I'm never going to point a finger at one as being easier than the other.
I might not get GOOP and I may have been the only person in America who thought her pale pink ballet Oscars dress needed a good hike up on her chest and I definitely will not nod in agreement with her proclamation about divorce, but there is something Gwyneth and I do agree on: We both think our families make us beautiful.
Her family's London home is lined with awards and luxe decor, they have access to pretty much anything and their time together is full of Coldplay dedications and barbecues with Jay-Z and Bey and Baby Blue. They are two kids with a mom and dad who, aside from filming and touring and red-carpeting, are all in the same house. My family is one boy and a mama, in an apartment down the street from grandparents and a few minutes away from a boyfriend. Is one easier than the other? Maybe not. But it's all beautiful.
Jessica Ashley is author of the single-mom-in-the-city blog, Sassafrass.