This month marks the six-year anniversary of my divorce. A lot has changed since then. I’ve lived on my own (no parents, roommates, boyfriend, or husband). I dated again for the first time in a long time (how long? there was no internet the last time I dated). I changed jobs, got another degree, changed careers, moved across the country. Fell in love again.
I’m happy, extremely so. So why do people still act sorry for me when they hear I’m no longer married and the reason why?
Case in point. Someone was talking about his upcoming wedding. I advised him: “Paying for it yourselves is definitely better. That way no one else has any say.”
The groom-to-be nodded. I knew what he was wondering. How did I know? No ring. No mention of a husband, only a boyfriend.
“I was married once before,” I told him.
“You’re not anymore?”
“Nope, I’m divorced. Going on six years now.”
“Oh, my ex cheated.”
“Oh no. I’m so sorry.”
“It was a long time ago.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“That’s okay,” I said, but what I really wanted to say was: Get over it.
I know, I know: he was just being sympathetic. It was the first he heard of it and so to him, it was brand new.
When Joe first had his affair, I told just a few people. Because those few knew what was going on from the beginning, it was like they lived through that last miserable year of my marriage with me. They lived through my sadness and rage, my indecision about leaving, and my relief when I finally left. But for those I told afterward, it was as though it had just happened.
“I’m such a jerk, I’m so sorry,” my friend Beth said after gossiping to me about her neighbor who was cheating on his wife.
“It’s not my husband you’re talking about,” I explained to her.
My parents were even worse. When I proudly told my mother I had drilled in my window blinds all by myself, she only said, “Why didn’t you ask Daddy to help you?” When I mentioned a visit home, she asked tearfully, “You don’t have anything else to do?” While I was there, no matter how chipper I was, an air of sadness hung around her and my father.
I knew that they were only hurt for me, that they wished I had told them about Joe’s affair right away so that they could have rescued me, that even as they blamed me for not being aware enough, they blamed themselves for not asking when they suspected something was wrong. But
Guys I dated also didn’t understand this. At first, Tobey was sweet. “Aww,” he said, hugging me after I told him, then giving me a fabulous kiss. That didn’t last. A week later, he was saying stuff like, “Divorced people always have this cloud hanging over them,” not long after we ran into a friend of mine, who later told me I was “glowing.”
Graham was sympathetic, perhaps overly so. He knew from my dating profile that I was divorced and on an early date, asked what happened. I told him, plainly and straightforward, but afterward he crushed me against his chest. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured, his voice trembling, “I’m so sorry.”
I wanted to shrug; not that it wasn’t a big deal. It was — years ago. Turned out Graham was projecting: he still wasn’t over the ex-girlfriend who left him earlier that year.
Alex was different. He knew I was divorced but never asked about it. At first I worried that he was like Tommy, who also didn’t ask because, it turned out, his feelings for me were tepid at best. Finally, one warm Indian summer night, a couple of weeks after we started seeing each other, I said to Alex, “Tell me about your last girlfriend.”
So he did. For 10 tumultuous years, he dated the same woman, for better or worse, till finally he realized he didn’t love her anymore.
Now it was my turn. “Is there anything you want to ask me?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said. “I don’t care about your past. I just want to get to know you.”
I blinked. Not care about my past? But our pasts explained who we were, didn’t they? I’m insecure because of how my mother raised me. I’m jealous because my ex cheated. I’m stronger because I left him. But then I thought, What if none of that mattered? What if what only mattered was who we were now, at this moment? Not who we once were or who we might be.
It turned out Alex was talking about himself too. With his chaotic upbringing, he didn’t want to be thought of as irreparable, to be blamed for his parents’ troubles and mistakes. He was giving the benefit of the doubt to others, and hoped that others would do the same for him.
Eventually I told him what happened, because I wanted to, and he never felt sorry for me. He was only angry with my ex for hurting me. “I want to punch him,” he said.
I know I can’t control how people are going to react to my divorced status. Some people will continue to feel sorry for me. Some will project their own s**t. Some will tell me I’m better off without that jerk anyway, which is true but simplistic (he wasn’t always a jerk). Some won’t believe me when I say in the end, it was a good thing, that if I hadn’t gone through it, I might not be the person I am today.
All I can do is remind myself that while going through my divorce has a lot to do with whom I am, it’s not all I am. It’s not my past that defines me, but what I’ve done about it. I can continue to be angry and bitter, or I can appreciate all I’ve learned and who I’ve become. I can tell myself, You’re divorced, get over it.