I’m 40. It seems like 15 years ago, all of my friends were getting married. 10 years ago everyone was having babies. Now it seems like everyone is getting divorced. Last week, two more couples called it quits. In my immediate circle of friends, it seems like the majority of us are getting divorced – all manners of divorces, from loving and kind to manipulative and destructive.
With that, it seems like we’re all getting out there and dating again. Which is terrifying, and totally hysterical. All these 40 year-olds newly unleashed in the romance-o-sphere with relationship angst, bodies that confuse them, rules they don’t understand and sex drives that seem to demand all manner of stupid behavior. It’s like adolescence all over again, but with better drugs, more drama and the ability to orgasm.
What surprises me is that, even though my friends all seem like very different people to me, the conversations we have are all very much the same. Seriously. They are filled with guilt, fear, anger, resentment, self-doubt and total confusion. Which seems pretty normal to me. In fact, given that everyone is saying it, I’m ready to officially declare it TOTALLY NORMAL.
About half of the time, these conversations go to a place of optimism and excitement. Like packing for a trip to a foreign country you’ve only read about – you don’t know where you’re going or what it will be like, but you can’t wait to find out. This is the part of the process where you are able to admit that you are leaving the guilt, fear, anger and resentment behind and heading, instead, for self-discovery, fulfillment, excitement and hopefully lots of really great fun (and the ability to orgasm.)
But what remains, again, very consistent is that when people talk about the “falling apart” part, it is with shame. “I don’t want people to know about it.” “I don’t want people talking about it.” “This is my dirty laundry, I don’t want it public.” At the same time, when people talk about their excitement about the future, I hear a lot of guilt, as if it is wrong to find joy in the change.
I’m sorry, but what other reason would there be to make a change, if not to find joy? If you’re not willing to find joy, then really, don’t bother with the divorce, because it’s a huge hassle if you’re not going to make a big-ass change in how you live your life as a result. Seriously.
But back to the shame, because this is the part that really gets me.
First of all, unless you are getting divorced because you were, I dunno, fucking horses at children’s birthday parties, there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Are you afraid that people will judge you? Who cares? Your friends, the real ones, will not judge you. The people who will judge you, are not your friends, so it doesn’t matter.
Are you afraid that you are somehow totally abnormal because, as much as you care about your spouse, you are not satisfied? I’ve got news for you, you are not alone. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “I really thought it would be enough.”
Are you afraid that no one will want you if you tell them who you really are and how you really feel? Well, no one will want you for who you really are and what you really feel if you don’t let anyone know who and what that is.
It seems to me that the one thing that all of our divorces have in common is that we were not honest with our partners. We didn’t lie, we just weren’t honest. How could we be? We weren’t honest with ourselves. Whether it was “I really do need sex every day, and lots of variety,” or “I really don’t want to own a home and have the job required to support it,” most of us weren’t honest with ourselves. But we were afraid to disappoint our partners, so we kept the non-lie going. And kept not getting what we wanted, until we just couldn’t not-get-it anymore. And people got hurt.
So it’s interesting to me that so many people continue the not-honest part into the future, and into all of our relationships. To me, the NOT learning our lessons is the only reason to feel shame.
But we are afraid to disappoint everyone in our lives, by being a failure at our marriages.
When my husband and I decided to all it quits, one of the hardest parts was admitting it publicly. I will never forget running into an acquaintance at Trader Joes, and she was so cheerful and happy and huggy. She asked me what was going on these days, and I told her. And she took 3 steps back, as if my impending divorce was contagious. It was the most liberating thing in the world for me. I simply checked her off the list of people who mattered in my world. The smaller that list gets, the more powerful it gets. And the more room I have to grow when I’m not carrying around the weight of other people’s expectations.
But it also gave me this great vision, of how great it would be to be able to answer such silly questions honestly. “Actually, life’s pretty good, but damned I’m afraid I’ll never get laid, I don’t sleep much, I worry about money constantly and sometimes feel totally unlovable.” I’d be willing to bet that a lot of people would, however quietly, say, “me too.”
It began to look like that classic movie, Spartacus, to me. “I am insecure!” “I feel guilty.” “I am resentful.” “I need to be fucked.” “I disappointed people.” Everyone, everywhere, standing up and admitting their flaws, and starting new relationships with those flaws accepted. “I am fucked up!” “ME TOOOO!!!!”
Then, all the energy that is put into hiding our flaws can, instead, be put into finding our joy.
“I want more sex.” “I want to travel.” “I hate football.”
It really is like adolescence. We have to figure out what we want all over again, we fear the judgment of others, we need to find our clicks of people who want what we want, and we have to fucking grow up!
The only real difference here is that we have lived long enough to know that the judgment of others is not a good reason to do, or not to do, anything. In our teens, peer pressure may have led us to drink cheap beer in the backs of station wagons and have sex when we really didn’t want to. In our middle-age, it causes us to get stuck and stay in situations that don’t make us happy, and then feel guilty for wanting to be happy.
(My god, people call this a midlife crisis! What’s a bigger crisis? Claiming your joy and being strong enough to go for it, or living a life of quiet and empty despair so as not to rock other’s boats?)
Whoever you are, you’re not special. Whatever you did, lots of other people did it. Whatever you’re afraid of, someone else is afraid of too. Whatever you secretly want, others want it too. You just aren’t special. Sorry.
And trust me, we would all feel better if we knew that the things we are “ashamed” of are totally normal, but that won’t happen until we are all honest about them – with everyone.
But, if you choose to carry it around and let it stop you from being happy for your own sake, you’re no smarter than a 16 year-old. And that is totally a shame.