In 2015, just a few weeks after the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, I married my then-partner of 14 years. The relationship had been rocky for a long time. But, we had always talked about getting married when the federal law finally changed. I buckled under the pressure of obligation and went through with it.
Thirteen months later I filed for divorce.
Some people have this notion that being the one who leaves is somehow easier. I can assure you, there is no part about getting divorced that is easy- for anyone. I was with my ex-wife for a long time. Of course I cared about her a great deal. Deciding to end our relationship was less about hating her or blaming her for how things went wrong, and more about coming to the stinging realization that it did not work, would not work, and that after 15 years, I simply could not afford to spend any more time trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole. I wanted desperately to feel and receive a deep, all encompassing love, but I’d written that off as fairy tale. I had resigned myself to accept good enough.
I met with a lawyer. I hated spitting out the words “I want a divorce” in answer to his friendly “What can I do for you today” question. That first meeting set the tone for what the rest of the legal divorce part would feel like- cold. Dry. Numb. Actual legal divorce proceedings feel like what’s left after you try to wring all of the feelings and emotions out of something that is naturally emotionally charged. I would stare out the window during meetings with my lawyer, like I was trying to disassociate myself from what was happening and the decisions I was making. Fifteen years of my life was reduced to months of fairly petty squabbles over “assets”. Who really owned them and who was going to get what. Houses. Cars. Bank accounts. Even debts.
Custody gets ugly
Of course, what gave us the most trouble was custody of Abby. I am Abby’s birth mother and, despite my occasional urging to over the years, my ex-wife had neglected to initiate a co-parenting agreement or second-parent adoption of her. I’m sure this left her feeling quite vulnerable when it came to her future position as a parent to Abby, and over this, we fought bitterly for months.
Our custody battle included numerous court visits, including mandatory classes for divorcing parents and a trip downtown to meet with a court-appointed counselor. I resented every single second of all of it. I felt it was insulting. Me, the career-educator sit through a class about the do’s and don’ts when it comes to helping your child through a divorce? As if they had something to teach me that I didn’t already know. And then be forced to meet with a court counselor WITH my ex? It was highly annoying to need to bring her up to speed on things like how lesbians have babies and how why yes, us gays have the right to marry now so we actually get to take part in this super fun divorce process too- yippee! I did a lot of teeth clenching those days along with a fair amount of grinning and bearing it because really, I had no other choice. I was stuck in this process and if I ever wanted to be done with it, I had to go along.
It took nearly 2 years, and entirely too much money, to finalize my divorce. Getting divorced absolutely sucks. But being divorced? That’s much better. Having the divorce finalized was a huge weight lifted and allowed me to fully move on with my life emotionally. Plus, there was a bonus, unexpected affect. The relationship between me and my ex-wife improved. Things were frequently pretty tense back when we were only speaking through our lawyers. Once the divorce was over and everything was settled, we could get back to the business of raising our daughter.
In a way, dealing with divorce is a lot like grieving the death of a loved one. There are some universal truths. But mostly, everyone has to do it their own way. Looking back, here is what I wish I’d known.
- This should go without saying maybe, but it was jarring to me how cold, calculating, and sterile the legal aspects of divorcing were. Talking to my lawyer. Signing documents. Court appearances. Getting divorced is highly emotionally charged. It was difficult to stuff all of that way down inside in order to attempt to make rational decisions and appear sane in front of the judge.
- It was very difficult to keep things in perspective and remember what was important when things got mean. And things got mean. Mostly, they got mean because of enormous hurts and our inability to speak directly to each other without lashing out. Speaking through our lawyers helped exactly 0%, since your lawyer will just be looking out for YOUR interests. They’re horrible mediators mostly because that’s not their job or area of expertise.
- Many friends will take sides. In fact, you’ll probably lose some friends. A lot of relationships will change once you “come out” as being someone who is going through a divorce because, well, people have opinions about these sorts of things. Sometimes strong opinions or personal experiences. There might be judging, there might be projecting. Sometimes both. In your divorce’s aftermath, you might be in a position to need to reach out and meet some new people and make new friends.
- It might be hard to find someone that you can talk to about it. Friends don’t understand or feel caught in the middle. Family is upset at you, or, they insist upon vilifying your ex at every opportunity. If you’re seeing someone new, they may be uncomfortable talking about it. If you haven’t already, now is a good time to seek out a good counselor. Preferably one that has experience with divorces or working with couples.
My divorce is a difficult subject to talk about. It’s been getting better with time and I feel that I have something to offer for other people who are experiencing the same. Sometime soon, I’ll be writing a post on helping kids through divorce.