Living Post-Divorce Life To The Fullest

Ladies, the end of your marriage doesn’t have to mean the end of your love life. Read on for advice from author Candace Walsh, editor of Ask Me About My Divorce.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

oes divorce have to mean the end of love, happiness and personal fulfillment? Writer and editor Candace Walsh doesn’t think so. Walsh is the editor of Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On (Seal Press, 2009), a collection of essays by women who found a new life — and often love — after divorce. We interviewed Walsh about the anthology and here’s what she had to say.

What was the inspiration for putting together Ask Me About My Divorce?

When your marriage ends, you have to do a lot of telling about it, to lots and lots of people who don’t know the monumental change your life has undergone. Sometimes I felt like it and sometimes I didn’t, especially because the overwhelming majority
I did have my low moments (and crying jags) like anyone.
of people assumed that I was bereft, miserable, shell-shocked and a somewhat tragic figure... all because I happened to be engaging with the word “divorce.” I did have my low moments (and crying jags) like anyone. It was the end of something.

But every end is also a beginning, and I thought we as a culture were giving way too much weight to the “end” part and not giving any sunlight and water to the “beginning” part. I started to feel that divorce needed a makeover. It occurred to me that there must be other women out there like me, with the same stories and the same need to feel validated.

When you were reading through the submissions, what common trends did you find?

There were a few trends. Instead of sticking with the dialogue we all know, “But what about the children?” “Yes, the children — divorce is bad for children.” The mothers who sent me essays refused to let it rest there. They thought, and processed, and discussed, and set up resources, stayed friendly with exes, and embarked on brave new co-parenting plans to lessen the fallout for their kids.

Another trend was how often women found amazing new partners through online dating. Several women in my book found enduring, captivating love through signing up online and sifting through hundreds of possible prospects. You just aren’t going to encounter that many people in real life, even if you go out four nights a week (and who wants to do that — it’s expensive, tiring, and starts to feel like an extreme sport). I thought back to my mother’s generation and wondered how they actually found anyone when their choices were limited to being set up on dates, going to bars (my mom just would never do that, at least back then), or happening upon someone at church or while bowling or on an airplane. I think that led to a lot more women in the seventies and eighties who got divorced and just didn’t meet anyone significant after that... which would make divorce a much more fraught thing. It could be the end of not just a marriage, but the end of the intimate component of one’s existence. But that isn’t true anymore.

I think my favorite commonality, though, is how women discovered themselves, what they truly liked, who they truly were, alone, adult, far from adolescence, college life, or the hurly-burly early twenties time periods. Many of us go from being daughters to girlfriends and then wives and mothers. These are all labels and roles that can overshadow the delicate processes of self-discovery and self-knowledge that are so key to being a strong, happy person.

In the introduction, you talk about how before you were divorced you feared the stigma of divorce and of taking that on as part of your identity. Did editing this book and writing your own essay for it help you to forge a new identity as a “divorced person”?

I think the book is really about being identified as a person first, with the “divorced” element having much less weight — maybe being somewhere behind the relevance of being a person who drives a Volkswagen or a Toyota. At one of the readings a young woman, who was in the throes of an early marital breakup, said, “I’ve been in long relationships that ended, and nobody had much to say about it except, ‘I’m sorry, let’s go out and find you someone new.’ But now, because I happened to get married, the conversations are completely different. People treat me like I failed at something huge.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. When marriages work out, that’s a wonderful thing. When your car is totaled, nobody give you a hard time for getting a new car. They don’t expect you to sit in your old dead car on the side of the road until you die or the car disintegrates. But we load so much onto marriage — a union people enter into with the best of intentions. When two people can look at an institution and say, “The best is behind us; we deserve to be happier, let’s end this,” that’s something wise and brave and strong that I believe should be celebrated as well.

The stories in this collection represent a divergent group of women with varied backgrounds and experiences. Did you notice, though, any commonalities in what these women expressed about getting back into dating after divorce? Are there any milestones the newly divorced can expect as they start to date?

Going out on dates is fun, exciting, suspenseful, and filled with opportunities and potential. It can also be at the same time anxiety-producing, a letdown, awkward and draining.

I think that when you go out there and have your first post-marriage dating experience, you’re going to feel like an awkward adolescent again. Your game is going to be rusty just because you haven’t been doing a lot
A big milestone I’ve seen a lot is the first breakup after a divorce.
of flirting with strangers, exchanging witty repartée, or dressing up to captivate and seduce people. At the same time that you’re putting on your cute outfit and shoes and getting your hair done — all with a new mission — and wondering how you’re coming across to dates, you are also simultaneously figuring out if you even want to get to know this person better. Who is worth a second date or a third? It’s easy to think that you should keep on going on dates with quasi-duds because maybe the energy will shift, or isn’t it nice to just feel wanted and pursued at such an insecure time in your life, but in my opinion, follow your instincts if you feel blah about seeing someone again... don’t do it.

There are lucky people out there who meet The One on the first or second date after a divorce, but most of us really do have to grit our teeth through numerous completely chemistry-free dates, or dates where the person likes you and you don’t like them or vice versa.

A big milestone I’ve seen a lot (and experienced) is the first breakup after a divorce. I found that I was devastated, not so much because of the person who had dumped me, but because it stirred up deep sadness associated with my recent divorce. I wondered if I was lovable. If I’d be alone for the rest of my life. If I had made a mistake. If I couldn’t “do” relationships after all and should just give up. That kind of stuff. It’s an outsized reaction, because you’re in such a tender place at that time. But, it totally gets better. I am so glad I got dumped by that person now! We were really incompatible and I didn’t have the eyes to see it at the time. Let it be a relationship, not the be-all and end-all. Don’t give it too much power to affect your self-image.

In your introduction, you talk about how you were surprised to find that divorce turned out not to be as dreadful as you’d expected and that in fact it felt like “moving off campus all over again, but without the long-haired roommate guy walking around in his towel.” What were some of the aspects of divorce you enjoyed right away?

I had a certain feeling of being let out of jail for free. Not that my marriage was jail, but there were certain expectations and patterns, like meals and housework and the necessities of compromises, that became a dull film over my consciousness. I’d spent years sitting white-knuckled in the car while my ex drove us places about 10 minutes late while driving himself nuts with anxiety about it. I could now make sure I gave myself plenty of time to get places, and then enjoy the ride while singing along to my favorite music. I only listened to music that I loved. I only ate food that I loved — when I felt like it. I had quiet time when I felt like being still, and called friends or went out when I felt like being social. I could nurture myself, without having to navigate someone else’s needs and desires. And I was living my truth. My ex and I both spent a long time pretending we were happy together when we really weren’t. When that lifted, I felt so much lighter. I wasn’t pretending. I felt an avalanche of strong emotions, but they were the truth, not a facade.

Theo Pauline Nestor is a regular contributor to Happen magazine and the author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over.
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