Not Your Mother's Divorce : A Practical, Girlfriend-to-Girlfriend Guide to Surviving the End of a Young Marriage
No matter what your age, divorce is one of life's greatest challenges. But while your parents, friends, and lawyers may be chock-full of advice, the truth is that young women who divorce today face a brand-new set of issues and possibilities far removed from those of women a generation before. If you're looking for a fresh, empowering, and thoroughly modern guide to starting this new chapter of your life, Not Your Mother's Divorce offers the ultimate roadmap--from wading through legal jargon to getting back into society--as told by your best girlfriends who've been there.
Based on the experiences of more than thirty women who divorced in their twenties and thirties without children, Not Your Mother's Divorce offers camaraderie and practical counsel on:
Breaking the news to family and friends
Coping with sudden singledom--from living arrangements to changing your name
Protecting yourself financially and dividing your assets
Legalese 101--making the legal process work for you
Reentering the dating scene
How to handle encounters with your ex
Warm and insightful, Not Your Mother's Divorce gives you the tools to find your way through this difficult time--and emerge a stronger, wiser, happier you.
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December 30, 2003
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Excerpt from Not Your Mother's Divorce by Kay Moffett
Where Did Our Love Go?
There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.
--Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
Where did our love go? This is the million-dollar question. The question you ask yourself over and over again. The question others want to ask you when they hear the news, even if only the bold ones actually blurt it out. It's the black box at the wreckage site that no one can find and everyone's hunting for. We dedicate this first chapter to this question because it's the first one on everyone's minds, including yours. If you want to get straight to the nitty-gritty of the practical steps you can take to move on, feel free to skip ahead to chapter 2. But for those of you who want to take a closer look at why a marriage can end or what forces may have been at work in your own situation, this chapter is designed to give you some preliminary insight.
There are many ways that your marriage may have ended. Countless ways. There might be Another Man or Another Woman. There may have been an infidelity of a different sort, say concerning finances. Maybe one of you began to question your sexuality. Perhaps somebody had substance abuse issues. Or maybe it was less dramatic: you just outgrew each other over time, having met when you were younger and changed significantly, for example, in a so-called quarter-life crisis. One of you may have recognized the shift in your marriage first, or maybe it dawned on both of you around the same time in a moment of truth. It may have slapped you in the face or it may have crept up on you slowly like a dull ache.
Let's be realistic: getting married is always about taking a leap of faith, acting on a well-informed hunch, and like any other choice in life, the decision may not work out the way you had hoped. The statistics are there for all to see: approximately half of the married world (at least in this country, and Great Britain is close behind) gets divorced. Consider the many peers you have in Hollywood: Drew Barrymore, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan--the list goes on.
What's more, divorce is occurring earlier and earlier in marriage, with 25 percent of divorces taking place after only two years, according to Pamela Paul, author of The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. Paul also found that in 2000, over four million twenty- to thirty-four-year-olds reported their status as "divorced." The trend is being documented everywhere. In April 2001, Jane published an article entitled "Young, Hot, Divorced"; on July 12, 2001, the New York Times Home section ran an article called "Just Divorced, Gone Shopping," about the joys of retail therapy for the newly divorced at places like IKEA; and Paul published The Starter Marriage in 2002, about the growing trend of young, childless divorces. The point being you are not alone, and you are not a bad or freakish person. In fact, you are in excellent company.
Until now, divorce was most likely something that happened to other people, people like your parents' friends or your friends' parents. But this is not your mother's (or mother's generation's) divorce. Partly because that older generation paved the way, there is much more acceptance and far less stigma than there ever has been toward divorce. In our postfeminist era, women have much greater social, economic, and political freedom, and this means that, despite the difficulty of the situation, you have many more choices and opportunities than your sisters of yesteryear.
People will likely say to you, "Well, at least you didn't have children." And, in many ways, things are simply easier for you than for women who are older and/or have children and are facing the same challenge. There's less to disentangle, and without offspring you really can leave your ex and your relationship with him in the dust if you so choose. The reality is you still have a huge portion of your adult life ahead of you and, as daunting as it may sound, you have a chance to wipe the slate clean and start over.
However, even though you may not have to worry about bambinos, you are likely still undergoing an enormous and painful life change. You are probably trying to make sense of What Went Wrong, and this soul-searching will take a while. Don't worry about trying to solve the riddle right away--you won't be able to figure it out all at once. Some puzzle pieces will come easily, others will fall into place later. But one good place to start is to think about what brought you and your ex to the altar in the first place.
Tying the Knot at Quarter-Life
Despite the fact that there is much more freedom than ever before to marry older, say in your early to mid-thirties, the vast majority of divorcees we spoke with got married in their twenties. They did so despite the fact that dating for long periods of time and extended cohabitation are often precursors to marriage nowadays, and that waiting until your thirties to have children is also common practice, especially among college-educated professional women. So, why did we and the divorcees in this book marry fairly young for our generation? And how does that relate to why we divorced?
Nuptially Obsessed: Marriage As National Pastime
Despite the wave of feminist feeling and progress in the seventies and eighties, we live in a country that is matrimonially obsessed. In The Starter Marriage, Paul suggests that we Gen-Xers, those born between 1965 and 1978, are drawn to marry early because of all the social and personal tumult we saw in our parents' "me" generation. Generally liberal-minded folk, we Gen-Xers seem to have embraced a new kind of traditionalism as a way of finding security in an increasingly uncertain world. These yearnings for stability are bolstered by the bridal mania in pop culture and the seductive commercialization of marital romance and commitment, from charming movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral to Martha Stewart Weddings and InStyle's regular features on the weddings of Hollywood stars. Not to mention Bride's, Bridal Guide, Elegant Bride, Modern Bride, and Wedding Style magazines, which call out to women with the promise of the fantasy long before they actually decide to walk down the aisle.
Not only is it hip and glamorous to get married--not only do you get the ring, the princess gown, and the fabulous parties--it's also supposed to be the path of goodness. We get bombarded with all sorts of lovely moral messages about the institution, perhaps from our families but also from the radical and not-so-radical right in this country, who sponsor publicity campaigns about the virtues of marriage, push promarriage/antidivorce legislation, and want us all betrothed by age twenty. Even liberals such as Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder and chair of the National Parents' Association, encourage us to marry young and put off our career until later. In her recent book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, Hewlett advises young women to give "urgent priority" to finding a marriage partner in their twenties and have their first baby before thirty-five. In addition to the pundits, our national government also makes clear its preference for married people over nonmarrieds by giving the nuptially connected serious tax breaks. We're seeped in the cult of marriage, and we don't even realize it. You get married. That's what you do.
Europe, on the other hand, while being in many ways more old-fashioned, is less fixated on marriage. Many Europeans cohabitate for decades and have several children without getting married. The New York Times ran an article on the topic on March 24, 2002, citing the following figures: in Iceland, 62 percent of all births were to unwed parents in 1999, in Norway the statistic was 49 percent, in France 41 percent, in Britain 38 percent, and in Ireland, where divorce only became legal seven years ago, the number was 31 percent, a figure on a par with the United States. The Europeans quoted in the article maintained that in Europe there's little social distinction made between being married and cohabitating, or between children born out of wedlock and those born within a marriage. The Times attributed this more laissez-faire view of marriage to changing attitudes toward religion and the state and a growing belief that "when--and whether--to marry are increasingly seen as deeply personal choices free from the traditional moral judgments of community, family or church."
In America, however, getting married is still a central part of leading a "good life" and being successful. Even for Americans who are less religious and less typically traditional in their values, it's de rigueur to marry if you want to have "made it" in life. And, for more religious folk, it's also part of being "good" in the eyes of the big man in the sky. But, regardless of who you are, in much of America today you're considered only a partial success if you're a highly accomplished, professional (straight) man or woman but have never married. And couples who stay together a long time but never marry are constantly questioned about why they don't "make it official," as if they are somehow less of a couple or less committed to each other if they don't sign a legal document and throw an extravagant party called a wedding.
It makes sense, then, that those of us who are eager to be successful and attain the good life would get married earlier rather than later. The young divorcees in our book, including ourselves, were generally high-achievers, college grads who pursued careers, so it's not surprising we felt drawn to wed when we found someone appropriate and the time felt right. Just like we wanted to get good grades, get a good job, and start building a career we would be proud of, we wanted to attain the traditional markers of success in our personal lives. And while goals are important in life and can help you attain what you want, they can also sometimes become ends unto themselves, driving you into decisions somewhat quickly and perhaps blinding you to what you really need and want.
Broad cultural and generational trends, then, set the backdrop for the individual stories of those of us women who marry--and divorce--relatively young. However, each of us has our own very particular story which encompasses both these subtle internalized societal pressures and a unique personal and familial history that explains why we married when and who we did.
Leaping Before Looking: The Aspirations of a Young Heart
Even with this larger context in mind, young divorcees can often feel that their decision-making around their marriage was somewhat faulty--that they either hadn't thought the choice through very well or used dubious reasons for tying the knot. Often the decision-making involved unconscious desires and needs that only came to the surface after the relationship ended. While some women knew they were making a mistake the day they said their vows, most of the women we spoke with did not have this inkling of doubt. Rather, they thought at the time, as the people they were at the time, that they were making the right choice for themselves. Looking back on the experience, the young divorcees we talked to gave a variety of explanations for why they made the decision to marry.
First and Only Love
Some women marry the first man they have a real relationship with, their first real love. These women are often somewhat late bloomers in the romantic arena, even though they've already achieved success academically and perhaps professionally. Sydney, for instance, hadn't had much experience with guys and met her ex-husband in college. The way she felt with him opened up a whole new way of being to her: "To be so loved and adored by him was, in a way, the attraction." Looking back, she's not sure she was ever deeply in love with him, but she loved being loved and having a steady boyfriend, so when he asked her to marry him a couple of years later, she felt nervous but also felt she "had better say yes."
Mehta, too, had had little experience with men when, at age twenty-one, she met the man who would become her husband in the office where she worked while finishing college. He was somewhat older and worldly wise, and she admired his extensive knowledge and intellect. He made her feel special, which she had never felt before. Because he was all she had ever known romantically and because she wanted to be married by a certain age, largely due to pressure from her parents, they tied the knot.
Tanya remarks about her ex-husband, "He was my first real love, it was the first totally mutual love I'd ever had after casual things and some unrequited things in college, and we had a strong spiritual connection as well." She met him in Ecuador and when they moved to the United States and he needed a green card, she didn't think twice about marrying him.
Some women marry the first man they have a substantial relationship with, the only serious romantic love they have ever known, partly because he is the only thing they can imagine. Divorcees who fit into this category often say that they didn't contemplate the decision much, it just seemed like the next natural thing to do.
Shelter from the Storm
Some young women turn to marriage as source of safety, a harbor from a chaotic upbringing or a confusing adult world. Miranda, for instance, married K. because she felt she could really trust him versus some of the caregivers in her upbringing. She felt he would never leave her and would take care of her. On the flip side, Rachel had a very protected upbringing and was scared of wandering out into the world beyond her hometown. She was also professionally lost and perplexed about her calling in life. When her boyfriend moved to a big city and asked her to marry him, she agreed, partly because he was an anchor to hold on to and a safe way for her to leave her comfort zone and explore new places.
Looking back, these women all felt they made the decision to marry based largely on fear and that, for this reason, the decision came back to haunt them. In Miranda's words, "The truth is, when I got married the first time [she has since remarried], it was from weakness . . . I think I met up with a person whose weaknesses fit like a puzzle piece with mine, so that he propped me up in my weak places. But I don't think that's a way to grow."