A scene from a recent episode of Bravo's Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce was my inspiration for addressing the question, "What does the real face of divorce look like?" The scene involves the show's main character, Abby McCarthy (a divorced writer... hmmm sounds familiar) landing a weekly column in a well known women's magazine.
The magazine (which is supposed to be comparable to Vogue or Cosmo, I think) and McCarthy aim to show readers through what she calls a "post-divorce" column the bright side of divorce -- "Getting out there again and the crazy, sexy dating stories..."
While everyone else is gung-ho about the concept, the publication's managing editor gets up and walks out of the room. McCarthy follows her and asks why she doesn't approve. The woman says something like this:
I'm sure everyone is thrilled about your fabulous post divorce life, your Pilates and facials and your new look. Here's what my post divorce looks like: Shit. My husband left me four years ago for my sister. He doesn't give me a dime. He doesn't see his kids because he's too busy banging my younger sister. I have a special needs kid, my mother has Alzheimers, so I have no life. You know the last time I had a night out? Never. You want the column to be all positivity, you want to be the new face of divorce? Knock yourself out. But this is what the real face of divorce looks like. It's stressed out. It's old before its damn time and it's scared to death.
Hearing that woman's tirade got me thinking that maybe some of my divorced readers view me the way that woman viewed McCarthy: sickeningly optimistic, living on a planet, possibly fake and a middle-aged divorce woman completely out of touch with reality. Maybe reading the hundreds of posts on Divorced Girl Smiling that preach about independence, feeling empowered, attaining self-love, not playing the victim, not feeling sorry for yourself and how everything is going to turn out fine are causing some people to want to puke.
I say that jokingly because I truly believe I help people every day, but I can understand how a divorced person could feel like the woman on the show because the true hard fact is, divorce is UGLY. There is no good divorce and there are HARSH realities that come with it. They can include:
• financial issues
• raising children alone
• being the head of your household
• loneliness and fear you will be alone forever
• a heartbreaking loss (the actual breakup with your ex)
• baggage and emotional distress from the past (the bad marriage)
• envy, sadness, anger and possible bitterness of your ex meeting/marrying/leaving you for someone else
• No free time
Divorce is brutal. It is almost always gut-wrenchingly sad, depressing, scary, stressful, maddeningly frustrating and lonely.
Trust me when I tell you I have experienced all of these emotions, even though my writing style can seem like I'm a sheltered, naïve girl who dots her I's with smiley faces and hearts. But the thing is, I've come to realize that the problems associated with being divorced aren't things that are going to magically disappear, so why not accept that they are here and focus on what's left after "the cleanup" is completed, which is a whole new life with new opportunities.
So, McCarthy, with her "getting out there again and crazy, sexy dating stories" isn't really that off base. Is a divorced woman supposed to curl up and die, realize that life has passed her by, that she got dealt shitty cards and throw in the towel? Hell no.
I think that the silver lining of divorce is that it offers a woman an opportunity to reinvent herself, mainly because if you think about it, she is forced to. Maybe she has to go back to work full time or move into a smaller house. Just becoming a single mom changes your life dramatically. Whether it's physical appearance, career, social life or the way a person chooses to parent, divorce does force change, and that could be a good thing. The hard part is, we sometimes don't see that for a long time. It's only after time has gone by that a divorced woman might say, "Wow, I'm so much happier now. I didn't want the divorce, but look at me today." Or "I did the right thing getting divorced. It was the hardest decision of my life, and the road was beyond tough, but it got me to such a better place."
If I was Abby McCarthy, I would get a sitter for that woman's kids and take her out for dinner and drinks. I would talk to her and tell her that millions of single moms make time for dating and enjoying life that includes time to themselves. It's extremely important in letting go of the past and of bitterness, and embracing a new and hopefully in time, better life.
The thing is, there really is no one face of divorce. Every face is unique. There are divorced people of every age (over 18), race, ethnic background, religion, culture and economic background. And, every one of those people has a different marriage and divorce story. No divorce is good, some are worse than others, and everyone's problems are entirely different.
One divorced woman could be madly in love with a man but struggling to put food on the table. So, she has love but financial problems. Another woman could have all the money she could ever want but feel devastatingly lonely and can't find love. A woman could be heartbroken that the love of her life left her for his now wife, but she has this amazing career that she is passionate about. Which of these three would you rather be? I bet you'd pick your own situation over any of these.
The bottom line is, the real face of divorce is who you see when you look in the mirror. Do you like her? Do you love her? Do you see her beauty? Is her heart open and kind? Is she strong and resilient? Has she made mistakes but learned? Does she strive to be better? Does she deserve to be happy?
Versus playing the victim, dwelling on the past and worrying about your problems, grab life because that's really the only thing we can control. In other words, YOU get to decide what the real face of divorce looks like. So, why not make it the best it can be?
Jackie Pilossoph is the author of her blog, Divorced Girl Smiling, and the comedic divorce novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase. She also writes feature stories, along with the weekly dating and relationships column, Love Essentially" for Chicago Tribune Media Group local publications. Pilossoph lives in Chicago. Oh, and she's divorced.