What I Wish I'd Known Before Getting Divorced
Grief happens where you least expect it. For me, it was over grapefruit. We had mutually agreed to divorce. I thought I was prepared, even liberated, by the time my ex moved out of our house. Yet the first time I was at Ralphs wheeling my cart into the produce section, my throat constricted. The sight of the fruit I didn't eat but bought for him felled me. Not one for public tears, I was leaking all over the place, wishing I'd taken my mother's "carry a hankie" advice I'd scoffed at. I had no idea how to shop for just me after more than a decade of buying for him.
2. You will go to Armageddon.
Nobody points to a divorce that went nuclear and says that will be you. Or tells you that friends and family will be egging you on to fight like you're Mel Gibson in Braveheart. In my case, after going to Armageddon over the house, the only winners were the people who bought it in a short sale. Take it from me: The things you are fighting for aren't worth it.
3. Final doesn't mean final (at least not in California).
In the years after your divorce, you will find yourself a victim of the universe: Somebody will get sick, have to move out of state, lose their job. Every new life decision can lead to court; "change of circumstance" pries open what was nailed down. Everything—again—will be subject to argument. An unanticipated event will hold you both in its maw, leaving you shaking your fist at the heavens. If you didn't learn the lesson the first time, you will learn it now: You have no control over your ex or the vagaries of the family court system. If I could have one thing back from my divorce process, it would be all the energy I spent thinking I could change anything other than my own reactions and expectations.
(*Divorces can also be reopened in other states, such as Colorado, Ohio and Florida for related support and custody issues.)
4. It may never be over, but you have to stop talking about it.
You may want to tell anyone within whispering distance, including the UPS guy, "Can you believe he did (blank)?" Go ahead...but know that you get a grace period of only about six months. If you continue to complain past that mark, you risk exhausting everyone around you. They'll nod their heads sympathetically but be thinking, "Actually, yes, I can believe he did that because that's why you're not with him." A true friend will be honest enough to tell you it's too painful to hear again, or, as one of mine said to me, "It's BORING."
5. You will shed.
Like hair loss, some of the things you lose will be involuntary and painful. Friends and family take sides, and some will take his. Yet divorce gives you the opportunity to divorce some extra people too: those who don't show up for you now or, you realize, never did. The mom you were only friends with because of your kids, and who makes digs because she's in a marriage as shaky as yours was. The naysayer who doesn't believe you'll ever finish the projects you've taken on. You can only afford to spend your time with supportive, loving people. There's never been a better time to re-evaluate friendships on your own terms.
6. Ashes don't have to go to ashes.
We all fall down. Patches of earth where your relationship resided will be uninhabitable. You can't imagine it now, but there will be a time when something will grow back—it might even be something that connected you in the first place. Last year, for the first time since our divorce, I had lunch with my ex-husband. Our daughter was about to go off to college, a vulnerable time for me. As I sat looking at his familiar yet now unfamiliar face I saw understanding, the kind that comes from knowing someone at their best and worst. "I know you like to be prepared," he said, "but some things you have to experience as they come, and trust." He'd always had the ability to provide the wider view, especially if it wasn't about our relationship. And there we were, two friends, walking out of the restaurant.
Tracy Barone is the author of Happy Family.