All My Single Ladies
It could be my personal world view (thirty-something, married with kids, residing in Los Angeles...) or this age of female empowerment that is shifting our society in such a major way, but I am noticing an increase of divorce around me. The word "Divorce" used to conjure up imagery of fighting, arguing, court battles and mud-slinging; the aftermath resulting in two lonely and miserable people exchanging their children and avoiding eye contact. Today, in a society that values independence, self-respect and happiness above all else, it seems the tide is changing and the institute of marriage is no longer a locked one in which people have to endure their fate despite their own needs and wants. After spending some time with a few really incredible women who have been through or are going through the process of divorce, I gained enlightenment on the subject.
I am blessed with some pretty remarkable friends. A handful of whom have ventured into the brave new world of singlehood after their marriages were no longer working for them. They are all mothers- damn good mothers- and career professionals. They were so kind to offer their testimonies of the fascinating (to us boring and monotonous married folk) and frustrating world of life after marriage.
Dissolution of Marriage
Marriages fall apart for all kinds of reasons. During certain times of the month, my husband knows to stay far away or else we could become part of the statistic. In the case of the three women I interviewed, they gave what they could to their respective marriages and it was a slow, steady untethering. According to Maude*, she had a bit of an awakening that forced some clarity upon her:
"It was a slow burn really. As I reflect, in one way or another, I always knew. I had a ton of expectations that were never met and that was on me... I read this poignant article in Health Magazine that said something like 'if your daughter was in a marriage like the one you are in now, would you encourage her to stay or leave?' That kind of clinched it for me. If either of my daughters were this unhappy and dealing with the likes of somone like my husband, I would be dragging her out of the house with my bare teeth if I had to... Sometimes you can't see clearly when there is thick mud everywhere."
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of these amazing women who helped me write this piece.
How could Maude have "saved" her marriage after coming to this conclusion? "I would have had to stop evolving" she answers. When you are on a path of spiritual and maturational growth, and your partner stays way behind seemingly stuck, do you stop and wait indefinitely or do you keep moving ahead?
Melanie, another friend I interviewed, was married to someone who mistreated her for years; "...When my oldest son started to treat me poorly and with disrespect, just like his dad did, i knew it was time to part ways...it was my job as a responsible mother to make a really hard decision and break up the family. I did it first for the kids but now that it’s over I guess I also did it for myself."
Making the decision to leave is a brave and difficult one. Coming to the edge of the precipice, one either turns around and retraces her same steps or she jumps. She jumps into an abyss of uncertainty, not knowing what the future holds yet having faith that it will be brighter than the past.
What about the Kids?
Why do most marriages go on far longer than they need to? Most likely, there are children involved. We worry about their well-being and how they will recover from breaking up the family. Parents are now choosing to divide custody more equally than in the past. This allows the child or children to spend consecutive days with each parent (less moving around) and provides them that valuable time with each parent. After my parents split when I was 6, I remember missing my dad so much in between weekends. It felt really difficult and forced to squeeze all of our catching up into 2 days. Stella, my third interviewee and friend, had this to say about it "Sharing custody is both the light and dark of divorce - dark because it's incredibly difficult to be without your child for any given number of days (I can't go more than three), but also light because the time I do get with her now is extra meaningful."
Modern technology makes sharing custody and other court ordered mandates easier to manage. There is an app called "Parent Talk" that facilitates communication between divorced couples. It organizes receipts, contacts, schedules, etc that the courts have access to in order to ensure fairness and keep all interactions clean and civil.
Civility is another breakthrough in this modern age. Divorced parents are co-parenting as friends rather than people with separate agendas. Maude remarks "It's been relatively amicable in that regard. We both love and want to be near the kids as much as possible, we are both very hands on parents so it's incredibly lucky for both of us". If the children are seeing their parents happier apart than together, and the parents are able to maintain cordiality, it's a step in the right direction toward their well-being and resiliency post-divorce.
Consequently, there are situations in which the father is incapable or unable to share 50% custody over the kids. In Melanie's case, the father is dealing with substance abuse issues and has monitored visitation with his children. While this court mandated set-up is in her family's best interest, it leaves Melanie bearing the load of caring for three children on her own. "...I have hit some pretty low places mentally just from fatigue and exhaustion" she admits.
The heavy stress of being a single parent is one of the greatest hardships of divorce. Some parents bring in au pairs or nannies to live with them as an extra set of hands if they have the financial ability and space in their home. This is a time to exhaust all your resources, be it day care, school, friends or family, to keep your sanity and make sure the kids feel supported and cared for.
Swipe Right: Love life after Marriage
How does one move on from "single parent" to "in a relationship" status once she is ready? This brings us to the juicy part of this article and one of the main reasons I chose to write it: what is it like to get out there and date as a mature woman with children in this tech-savvy? I find it absolutely fascinating because 1: I love sex and all the stories about sex, especially first-time sex! (I realize this makes me sound like a horny nut, but 50 Shades of Grey is successful for a reason so don't deny your own propensity for voyuerism) and 2: I am 30-something and these apps weren't around before I met my husband at 23, so it's like a whole new art of swiping, messaging and posting the proper picture... I am fulfilling all of my anthropological dreams of studying new cultures without having to go further than my local bar.
Again, there has been a generational shift with this wave of 30-40 something single, independent, self-respecting women. They are not sitting at home with their cats listening to Sinead O'Connor and wallowing over their lost marriages (cue Renee Zellweger in the opening scene of "Bridget Jones's Diary"). Nope. They are getting out there and reclaiming themselves. The women I talked to have all used dating apps to varying degrees. They are also getting set up and meeting people at functions. "It’s giving me hope that even in my late 30s, with three kids and some baggage, others can see and want a new future with me" Melanie states.
The consensus among these women is that it would be ideal to find a partner who is also divorced with a child or children. Stella found a relationship with a divorced dad refreshing as he was "Someone I could talk to about separation and divorce and sharing custody as he was going through it as well." It makes sense that someone going through a similar ordeal can be an empathetic partner who understands certain complications such as less free time and the ex still being in the picture as a co-parent. Additionally, these women are getting a second chance to design their next partnership based on who they are today. As Maude explains "I feel like I have a new lease on life and have been given a second chance. So I know 100 percent that I will never, ever settle again, I will always listen to my instincts and that when I do meet that person, I will know intuitively if they are good for me or not." A new marriage may not even be part of the future plan. A partnership has more to offer than a legal binding. Melanie quips "When there is money and kids and so many moving parts involved I’m really unsure if I would actually get married again but we’ll see. I also really miss someone to take out the trash and change lightbulbs and mow the lawn." So do I and I'm still married. (Hint)
OK, so what about the sex? Even in happy marriages, the sex can get boring and old. It's not THE most important factor in keeping a marriage together, but something that should be paid attention to. Nonetheless, after having the same sexual partner for years, post-divorce sex may either be a source of excitement or fear. In Melanie's case, she's a little apprehensive about the prospect at this point in her life's story "I am not emotionally or physically available yet". Imagine the vulnerability of opening yourself up (literally) to someone new, after the body shifts from pregnancy and childbirth as well as the emotional impact that being intimate with someone has, especially for women. Once you get past that though, perhaps it can be exhilarating to explore a new person's body as he devours yours appreciatively. (I can only give vicarious testimony, but I can IMAGINE it's quite exciting!). These experiences don't necessarily have to lead to a relationship. Maude had a sexual relation that was simply that "I also had a tantric experience with an attorney who was getting certified in tantric massage. Best couple of hours of my life pretty much....ever." Hmmm. I'll take his card please. Asking for a friend.
The Future is Female and Unclear
Ultimately, it seems none of these women have had any trouble meeting people despite having a failed marriage and precious cargo in tow "I am always pleasantly surprised by how each guy...seems to look at me as empowered through motherhood. Which I am. Just didn't think they were smart enough to catch on to that" says Stella. For the enlightened male, motherhood is revered and respected. Through their experiences of love and loss, these females are even more empowered than before to live their best lives. Today's society is supporting and upholding women who take control of their own well-being and speak up for themselves. Melanie states "At least I have the current social climate to support me versus a more dated stigmatized society".
Planning ahead romantically or otherwise might mean checking back in with oneself in a week or a month or 6 months. Melanie relents "I have to be OK with having no plan at all and just embracing my future." As mothers, we do our best to raise our children to meet their highest potential. As women, we continue with our self work each day, developing our higher mind and body. We have career goals to aim toward and friendships to nurture. Beyond that, it's wide open spaces for any of us. "Sometimes it's good to just have some hopes and dreams but still stay grounded in the here and now" Maude concludes.
Life after marriage is seemingly not an easy road at first. There will be bumps and potholes, court proceedings and lonely nights. There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel that promises a life of wiser decision-making and the freedom of autonomy. Cheers to the three admirable women who guided me through their personal process of love, loss and recovery. They are strong, brave and bold. I hope they may pose as an inspiration of strength to any woman who needs to leave a marriage that is holding her back, or any woman who has left and feels alone in her struggle. May she own her life as Stella has "In five years I expect I'll have the home and family and career I've always dreamt of, running like a well-oiled machine. Though I'd love to do this with a partner, whether or not there is a man in my life is neither her nor there. I've got this, all on my own."