Photo by Eva Blue
I try really hard to avoid becoming categorized as a writer. I don’t want to be just the “Mommy Blogger,” the “Liberal Christian Writer,” or the “Divorce Expert.”
That last one happens to be the box I least want to be packed into, but I realize it’s also the one I’m most likely to gravitate toward. Once you’ve had your defining moment—the life experience that most shapes you, teaching you about yourself and the world, and informing every step you take forward—it’s hard to shake it. If you’re a writer, it’s almost impossible to not write about it. And if you’re a reader who has been through a divorce (or is going through one or worrying that you might have one in your future), it’s hard not to crave words from people who have been there and emerged whole on the other side.
You have to write what you know
I guess that’s at the heart of why I end up writing about divorce and remarriage and blended families as much as I do. A couple of years ago I published an essay in the anthology Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On. More recently, I began writing for the divorce section of the Huffington Post. And the “divorce” tag here on my blog looks like it’s the second biggest word in my tag cloud. I’m clearly not going to avoid being identified with this topic.
But it’s such a depressing one! There’s so much destruction that has to happen before any reconstruction can take place. As Big Life Experiences go, sometimes I wish I could have chosen another. I wouldn’t want to actually go through another, of course, but to be on the other side and to be able to encourage and help people stop drinking, or lose 80 pounds, or make it through chemotherapy—that would somehow feel more life affirming than the topic people get in touch with me about almost every week: divorce.
And they do get in touch: real life friends, strangers, people who read my blog, people from Twitter, people who say “my cousin is friends with a friend of yours who told me I should get in touch with you about my divorce.” In many ways, I love hearing from these hurting people. Let me be clear: There is nothing more gratifying, as a writer, than having someone tell you that your writing makes them feel less alone, and gives them hope.
Reliving the sad stories, each one its own particular mess
But I can’t help feeling a sinking sadness in the pit of my stomach every time someone writes and says “I think my husband and I are headed toward a divorce.” Part of me wants to say “Maybe not! Maybe this is a phase! All marriages go through them. It’s possible to work it out.”
And then I feel annoyed at myself for even thinking that—those are the very well-meaning-yet-meaningless words so many people said to me. They were meaningless because the people who spoke the words weren’t in my marriage, and didn’t know how it felt, day after day. And the words weren’t just meaningless, they were hurtful, because they suggested that I somehow was being lazy—too quick to give up, not willing enough to do the hard work. I say a decade in a really unhappy marriage, and three years of counseling, doesn’t fit the label “lazy.”
Ultimately, I’m a believer in divorce and a skeptic, all at once. I’m a fan of it and I want to boo it off the stage. I want to hug it and say it saved my life, and I want to flip it off.
So what do I say to the people who get in touch with me? I don’t know much of anything about their marriages (if anything at all); I just know mine. I don’t know how things will turn out for them—if they’ll have a healthy working relationship with their ex, and maybe meet a wonderful new partner down the road; I just know it worked out that way for me. I don’t want to be the one who says “I think you should get a divorce” or “I don’t think you should get a divorce”—either way, my advice could be misguided and devastating.
All I can do is share my story, ask good questions, and listen. I can encourage them to take their time, face their fears, believe in their ability to get through this, and have hope that a better future lies ahead. That’s all I have to offer in this unhappy side job of mine. I hope it’s enough.