21, divorced, single mom; reflections on divorce and judgment

Nobody likes the idea of divorce. It’s what kills the institution. (Marriage, that is.) It signifies that ever uncomfortable mistress – change. You are admitting failure. You acknowledge you made the wrong decision. You feel like you’re being watched even more closely than the day you were married, laid open to all of the judgments, accusations, and sympathies of the onlooking.

It’s not easy – but it’s better than the alternative of staying with someone you probably shouldn’t have committed to in the first place. Add children to the mix, and it gets even more interesting. Then, you’re looking at the title “single mother.” It’s like pronouncing socioeconomic judgment on yourself. “Oh great, now my child is allegedly this much more likely to continue the cycle, become a criminal, ‘fill in bad consequence here,’ etc.” Painful. But nothing could cause more pain than not listening to my intuition and my values again.

I’ll never forget my wedding day. After burning myself with the curling iron, realizing the day was nothing like what I wanted or envisioned, we were finally on our way to the church in my best friend’s car. I never wanted to be married in a church. As we drove down the lonely highway on that flawless summer day, the golden fields swayed in the wind, and it felt like they were reaching their arms out to me, sending me a message in a language I didn’t speak. The thought passed through my head. “What am I doing?” Shaking it off as jitters, we pulled into the parking lot, and my stomach fell. I should’ve listened to my intuition.

When I said I wanted a divorce, everyone assumed it was my fault. From the beginning, the words and judgments began to fly at me.

Slut. Whore. Bitch. I even got harlot once. (But I kind of like the ring of that one.)

I was at fault in some respects. It’s never just one person’s fault in a divorce, after all.

For the two years prior, I had spent my life in denial. That much was certainly my fault. But no matter what lie I whispered to myself, it was never enough to stem the greater disillusionment happening with my marriage.

This wasn’t what I wanted at all. I didn’t want to struggle along with someone with no ambition and “lots of potential.” The need for security I had when we decided to marry was like a pothole filled with gravel. Our life together was going nowhere and fast. That wasn’t what I had signed on for. I wanted more, and we both knew that. That should have been the first indicator things weren’t going to work.

A few months after I was married, I had even fallen in love with my (ridiculously charming and handsome) best friend. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell either of them. Fear and shame and inner turmoil had ripped away at my self-confidence till almost nothing remained. My dreams were withered up on the floor, forgotten with stacks of diaries and lost hope. I was a shell of a human being.

But no one asks about those things. They pick a side. A party to blame. Someone must be at fault. It rocked many of our friendships who had always seen the ex and I as the steadfast couple they could look to, in the desperate hope that they would find something like that. When it fell apart, so did many of the things they thought were true about their friends and themselves. It was a reflection of their fears realized. Most of them couldn’t handle that, and thus, sought to blame me.

Everyone had their story of what had led up to this. “Dusti had been cheating on him for months.” (Even though I had just had a baby and was very literally incapable of having sex almost until that April.) “The baby isn’t his.” (Even though we lived in a studio in Texas and worked the same hours at the same place.) There were more variants here, but the common thread was it always ended with me being at fault.

Now, what they didn’t see was the day after I asked for a divorce, he was having sex with “my friend.”

And naturally, he wouldn’t be inclined to tell anyone. He was the victim here. His cruel now ex-wife who he had clung to like a child was leaving him 4 months after they had a baby together.

But what if he had told someone besides me? What would the reaction to that have been? I can only guess, but he likely would have received the approval of his peers.

Talk about double standards.

The second I was seen publicly with my new boyfriend, the assumption turned to fact – I must have been cheating before the divorce.

The judgments around divorce are directed at women in ways that are almost unbelievable. And women are at least as guilty as men for passing these judgments on to others.

I have had a hard time changing my own views from these norms, even after experiencing it. My ex and I get along fine now, but it’s hard not to pass judgments on his girlfriend. She didn’t do anything wrong, and she doesn’t deserve to suffer because the ex’s previous relationship was a supreme failure of youth. She is fantastic with my daughter. That is a person to give thanks for, and yet, I struggled not to think cruel things about her appearance, demeanor, and anything else that would make me feel momentarily better about myself. I knew better. But it didn’t matter. Part of me justified thinking that way, even though it accomplished zero positive results.

It’s a small thing, but I’m making it a mission to look at divorce as an acceptance of change, rather than a pronouncement of failure. If we are mature enough to realize we’re unhappy in a relationship, shouldn’t we be mature enough to acknowledge how fortunate we are divorce even exists? Thank goodness we’re not stuck in a miserable relationship – and thank goodness we have the power to have lived, learned, and prepared for the next stage in our journey.

So let’s prepare without the judgments. For all of our sakes.

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