FOR THE DATING/ENGAGED
Don’t marry anyone you wouldn’t feel comfortable divorcing. If the love of your life plays the victim, if they hate all of their exes, if they say nasty things about people they used to date, there is a very good chance that person will do the same to you someday, should you find yourselves on the wrong side of some very alarming statistics. As you walk down the aisle, if you can’t count on a romantic future together, you can at least count on a romantic future that doesn’t involve property damage, the spiteful withholding of pets and/or children, and restraining orders filed on behalf of the overdramatic.
Plus, anytime anyone asks about your ex and how it’s going, you can say, “Oh, he/she is great. A++++++++, would divorce again.” Oh, come on, that’s funny.
Because it’s like eBay? Get it? Nevermind.
FOR THE HAPPILY MARRIED
Have your own friends. Have your own bank account. Have your own life. Investing in your marriage does not mean you can’t continue to invest in yourself as well. The people in your own individual social circle, the ones who belong to you as an individual, may very well wind up carrying your couch up three flights of stairs. Couches are heavy, man. Make some friends.
Don’t ditch your family just because you’re working on your own family now. If things don’t work out, your family will assemble a mean kitchen island for you, and your dad will hang your shelves. (If you did ignore them, say you’re sorry and that you’re so thankful they’re here. If you do it sincerely enough, they might buy you something. I’m just saying.)
FOR THE UNHAPPILY MARRIED
Do what you can to fix it, obviously. Obviously.
FYI: Your horror at the idea of “becoming a statistic” reveals your perception that you are somehow better than everyone else—that you assumed yourself immune to the sorts of problems that have plagued half the married population. Your desire to not become THAT PERSON, the person who gets divorced, is revealing an elitism in you that you still don’t see, not yet.
Guess what? Turns out that you are not that special, and neither was your relationship, no matter how much you enjoyed conceptualizing it as a fairy tale (I’m looking at you, psychobrides). Mmmm, humble pie! It’s delicious! When you’re done chewing, decide what you would do if everyone you knew died of the swine flu tomorrow and thus there was no one around to see what happened next. Then do that.
FOR THE DIVORCING
It’s no one’s business; feel free to tell them so. This doesn’t make you rude; they were rude to ask. Well, unless “So, are you guys still sleeping together?” doesn’t count as a rude question in your book even when it comes from your smarmy boss—in which case, I have some likeminded people I’d like to introduce you to. Maybe they’ll start conversing with you instead of me.
Cheesy music can really cheer you up. The cheesier, the better, really. Let Destiny’s Child offer you a strong moral message while also providing a beat to dance to in your new apartment. Note that your pets will not, in fact, throw their hands up at you, even if you entreat them to do so. Technically, they are not independent women, so I suppose this makes sense.
Try to let people help you, if they’re able. You have your pride, yes, but you are only one person, and there is a lot to do. Don’t worry—divorce is really common. Surely you’ll have your chance to pay it back in some way, for someone, later on down the road.
You have to do what’s best for you, as an individual. Nothing I’m about to say trumps that. Don’t lose sight of what you need. Don’t compromise your future out of guilt or a sense of obligation. Your greatest responsibility is to yourself (along with any children you might have). The ability to look out for yourself is not something admirable or special. It is your basic duty and yours alone. There is a difference between caring and vulnerability. Focus on the former.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re weak if you still love your ex. Hate is weak—and, paradoxically, hate is also exhausting and consuming. If you choose to do it this way, if you choose to love, be aware that some activities, like yelling your heart out to fuck-you anthems on the radio, will lose their fun. But the ability to give your ex a heartfelt hug the next time you see them will be worth it. No one is suggesting that the two of you become golf partners, but any civility you can manage is only going to help you in the future.
Don’t let anyone shame you for maintaining a friendship with your ex. If people handled rejection better and learned to stop butthurt in its tracks before they slashed anyone’s tires, maybe they would grasp that it’s a little absurd to become mortal enemies with someone you once called your best friend. This is your life; this person was once your most important thing; the two of you are adults and may do as you please. Don’t follow social protocol just because the inability to fit the two of you into a box makes everyone else uncomfortable. They’ll get over it. Upon saying hello to the two of you at a party, they’ll also get a sort of deer-in-the-headlights look as they mentally review how the extent to which they trashed your ex to everyone you know. It’s probably a little wrong to visibly savor this, so at least try to feign ignorance.
If you left them, have some patience. That probably hurt. A lot. No one in that kind of pain can be expected to behave well all the time. Maintain your boundaries, but do it as gently as you’re able.
If they left you, think about whether you really would have wanted them to continue the relationship out of guilt or obligation. Contemplate the far-out notion that they are rejecting what happens when the two of you combine your strengths and weaknesses, not rejecting you in your entirety as a human being. Blasphemy, I know.
It takes two, of course. Be the bigger person, but grasp that you can’t keep this situation friendly by yourself. Practice due diligence, turn the other cheek, and then drag the asshole to court if that’s what you have to do. (I hope for your sake that it isn’t; I have worked at a law firm, and I can tell you with certainty that no one will win.) If your ex is hateful toward you, do your best not to escalate the situation. You would be surprised how often, if you offer the benefit of the doubt, the other person will say, “I’m sorry. I’m just feeling hurt and upset right now, and I’m not thinking clearly.” If they don’t, perhaps you failed to follow the first piece of advice in this post. Ah well. Just do what you can.
No matter how you play it, the two of you will have bad days. You had bad days when you were together, too. It happens.
Even if you wish no further contact with your ex, treating them maliciously is a waste of everyone’s time. You won’t feel better, and they won’t miraculously develop an appreciation for your side of the story. That whole maxim about the flies and the honey? Remember it. Even if you’re motivated entirely by your own self-interests, cruelty is a poor choice; it’s honestly just lousy strategy.
Don’t let anyone reduce your marriage to a mistake. People want it to have been a mistake because they have determined their own current marriages to be not-mistakes. The concept of a marriage that was doomed from the start is designed to protect them, not you; in precious few cases is it really that simple. Tell anyone who tries to wave off an entire era of your life with one dismissive gesture that you wouldn’t change a thing. It might help to point out that you used to ride around in first-class suites to places like Bangkok and New Zealand (and, in fact, thanks to a generous ex, still CAN ride around in first-class suites to places like Bangkok and New Zealand). If such privileges were not in your marriage arsenal, I assume you’ll come up with something.
If you can’t say that you wouldn’t change a thing because it’s not really true, try to get to a point where you realize that it actually is true. The past few months or years are a part of who you are. Surely you learned SOMETHING, accomplished SOMETHING, experienced SOMETHING worthwhile during that time. Don’t wish yourself away.
You could always just not say anything, of course. Don’t feel pressured to defend yourself or your marriage. People can think what they want; what you think is more important. If you have a little time, though, it would be nice if you could share some insights, if only for the benefit of the next divorcing person to come along.
Resist the temptation to reduce your own marriage to a mistake. Hindsight is not, in fact, 20/20, and I can cite research to prove it. Your demise as a couple will seem so obvious in retrospect; recognize that this is false, a cognitive trick designed to protect your ego. Celebrate what was good. Don’t cling to it, but celebrate it. Perfection is not a prerequisite for something to be real and true in its own way. Nor is longevity.
While you’re celebrating all that good, don’t forget that it ended for a reason. This stuff generally doesn’t happen on its own. People don’t get into a fight over something inconsequential, like who ate the last bagel, get carried away, and oops, they’re divorced. Rejoice the good parts all you want, but don’t forget why you’re where you are. I mean, you’re going to feel like a total jackass if you have to divorce the same person twice.
Recognize that appreciating the good will make the whole deal a little sadder. Tossing aside your emotional armor can be painful, but some wounds need to hurt longer to heal well. If you wait a little longer to climb back onto your feet, it may save you years of limping around. Hot damn, that’s profound. Write that shit down.
Feel free to claim that you were a victim from the first date onward, as long as you don’t mind having this exact same relationship over again with someone else. If you’re looking for something a little different though, if only for the sake of variety, it might be best to acknowledge your role as a willing participant in the partnership. If you married your father/mother and your father/mother sucked, or if the two of you exhibited codependent behaviors of any kind, now would be a fantastic time to look into that.
Say you’re sorry. Ask to be forgiven. Forgive the other person if you can. Forgive yourself while you’re at it.
You will feel better sooner than you think. I promise.
FOR PEOPLE WHO KNOW A DIVORCING PERSON
Say it with me: “I will not assume.”
Don’t take anything personally, even if “anything” includes nine unanswered e-mails and the forgetting of your birthday. Sorry.
Be supportive. Let them decide whether they want to talk about it. Forgive wild fluctuations in emotion and opinion. One day your divorcing friend will want to be a forest ranger! The next day, a nun! One day, your divorcing friend is totally fine, and over the whole thing! The next day, whoops, still depressed. Nod, smile, and be patient. Let them work it out.
This will probably take longer than you think it should. Don’t make a sad person feel guilty or self-indulgent for being sad after whichever calendar date you have deemed appropriate. Otherwise, remorse will bite you in the ass when it’s your turn. Lo, trust this blogger regarding that of which she speaks, for she has learned the hard way.
FOR COMPLETE STRANGERS WHO MAY BE UNFORTUNATE ENOUGH TO ENCOUNTER A DIVORCING PERSON
Sometimes people kick things in public while cursing under their breath. Try not to judge them.
FOR THE HAPPILY DIVORCED
First of all, congratulations. That certainly wasn’t easy, was it?
Invest in yourself. Think. Read. Learn. You stand at a joint in your trajectory; flex it, experiment. Take advantage; you have little to lose. If you need a little courage or inspiration, read this book. Get excited; you now have the keys to an entire realm of possibility. Who are you? Who do you want to be?
If you want to meet somebody, be somebody worth meeting. Burn that wick at both ends by following your own interests and doing something with yourself: not only will you meet people who share your common traits, but you will also care less about whether you meet someone in the first place … seeing as how you went out and got yourself a fulfilling life and all.
There’s a reason you find a relationship the moment you stop looking for one; being okay on your own is the best way to attract healthy people.
Feel free to have a whore phase. I salute you! Please use a condom, though. You aren’t in Kansas anymore, and some of the flying monkeys, while in possession of an enviable level of energy, flexibility, and skill, also have herpes. Other than that, knock yourself out. You’ll probably learn something, and if you don’t, I assure you that once or twice, something will happen that is hilarious enough to cause at least one of your girlfriends to shoot beer out of her nose.
Speaking of which, be patient with your parents. They’re adjusting too, mostly to the fact that you’re a slut.
When the REAL dating begins, take it slow. You’re in no hurry. Avoid the impatient, the aggressive. Be honest with yourself and with the other person in terms of what you can handle. If they decide they want more than you can offer, don’t take it personally, and resist the urge to make promises you can’t keep.
If you do meet someone special, via sluttery or otherwise, go back to the beginning of this post. I can’t promise it’s going to work out any better this time, but it can still be okay. In fact, it can still be better than okay. No future is certain, but the fact remains that there are still countries you haven’t visited. There is still so much to see. Enjoy your life, and do it with someone you care about, and the regret you’re so afraid of will be impossible, even if you wind up getting divorced nine times. Which … okay, you should probably try not to do that, but, you know, whatever. It’s not a contest, and it’s not the end of the world.
Be brave. Be kind. Take care. Good luck.