To The Woman Who Called Me Sanctimonious and Lustful: Thank You (Yes, Really)

Last week, I finished a client session, returned to my desk and found this letter waiting in my inbox.

“Dear Kate,

You may love your kids more than you hate your ex, but please, do not allow yourself to be sanctimonious about it. Some people divorce because their spouse becomes physically abusive to them or their children…

If you have the luxury to be on decent speaking terms with your partner, it simply means that you divorced for your own convenience. You decided that your own pursuit of happiness, boredom or lust after someone else was worth shattering the life of your children. You are in no position to dish out patronising advice. 

I know that divorced people always feel the need to justify – to themselves or to others – the incredible hurt they know they’ve inflicted on their children, but pretending that divorcing and remaining on friendly terms is choice #1 and that remaining together when you are no longer in love (which would of course imply that you need to sacrifice your own selfish wishes) is choice #2 is absolutely insane….

…since you are giving out advice on how to raise children, I would add that you cannot raise a child by saying something and doing the opposite. We lead by example. In divorcing, you are ultimately showing your children that it is ok to take a vow and break it…

I know my mail is harsh, and it is because your article…upset me deeply…Loyalty and honesty are values that I do not want to see cheapened and ridiculed. 

It may not look like it, but I do not judge divorced people (and as I mentioned earlier, some people divorce for truly traumatising reasons). I am lucky enough to be happily married and know that other people face difficult circumstances. I can also perfectly understand that people would want to end a miserable marriage. What I judge, however, is divorced people pretending they divorced for their children…

Bragging about getting a divorce situation “right” is not only incredibly tasteless but very misleading. ..please refrain from broadcasting it as an achievement as a divorce is anything but…”

Alice

This isn’t the first email I’ve gotten like this, and it certainly won’t be the last.

It is, however, my favorite.

I am so glad Alice wrote me. I wasn’t at first. Truthfully, my initial reaction was something along the lines of “oh for eff’s sake…” The second time I read it, my feelings were hurt. But as I read her letter a third time, I was overcome by an enormous sense of gratitude.

I am so grateful to see the stigma and judgement I feel every day spelled out in black and white.  

It is refreshingly honest. Alice’s belief that divorce is only acceptable in the case of clear-cut demonstrable abuse is one she shares with many other people.  I encounter these strangers every day in the check out line at the grocery store or waiting in the pediatrician’s office. They aren’t as upfront about their opinions about my private and painful decision about my first marriage as Alice is, but I can feel the judgement just the same.

I’m thankful Alice shared such terrific detail about her assumptions. My marriage ended because I was distracted by my hunky pool boy or inconvenienced by having to constantly check the married box on surveys. My children are irreparably shattered. I am not loyal or honest. I think I am doing this divorced thing right, and belittle others who are doing it differently.

Alice paints such a clear and colorful picture of who I am and what I believe. She is certain she knows my journey based on the 891 words she read.

I am grateful to you, Alice, for reminding me of the dangerous comfort of certainty.

There was a time I was certain about things too.

I knew that marriages could be saved with elbow grease and self-help books and with proper training children would sleep through the night in their own beds and surly teenagers just needed firm boundaries and frank conversations. It is so cozy and comfortable and safe to be certain of one’s right-ness and of others’ wrong-ness.

In my life, I have been absolutely certain about the right way to do something right up until I find myself in the middle of doing that thing. Experience is humbling.

It’s messy out here in the real world. I don’t know what’s purely right or wrong. I don’t know easy or hard, convenient or complicated, black or white. I’m not certain of much anymore.

I don’t know anyone else’s story. I don’t know the pain that doubles them over in the grocery store, the worry keeping them awake as they lay next to a sleeping child, or the swirling tsunami of emotion that rises as they greet their coparent at the door.

Thank you Alice, for reminding me that “we don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” 

Alice, your letter reminded me of Anais Nin’s powerful quote and the idea of meaning making. We are all making sense of this world using the unique combination of what we see and experience and what we think.

I write to hold up my experience for others. Once I finish a piece, it belongs to you, the reader. Your truth doesn’t have to be mine. Your path is and always will be different.

The meaning you made of my piece was so shocking it made me laugh out loud. How you see me couldn’t be farther from how I see myself. I could go sentence by sentence and refute each assumption you make. But the truth is your letter isn’t about me. Your letter is about the meaning you made of my experience. Your letter is about you, Alice.

Thank you, Alice, for reinforcing why I write. 

The only thing I am certain of now is that I am the sum of millions of individual experiences that brought me to this place, and everyone else here with me is too.

Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, and many of these involve children. Those moms and dads and sweet babies likely feel the same isolating, painful stigma I do. I imagine those parents feel the hot sharp shame of knowing the “right” path and having life serve up something different. Those brave people face Alices every single day in the pews at church and around the water cooler at work. Those warriors pick up the pieces of their life and get to work mending the hearts of their children and forgiving themselves and their exes and forging something beautiful from the brokenness.

I write because I want families of all shapes and sizes and prefixes to have an example of what happens when life takes a left turn and you keep on going. I want people in a similar space to know they are not alone. I want us all to think and talk about this journey.

Alice did exactly what I wanted. She read and thought about my journey. She was deeply affected by my story. She was moved enough to find my email address and share her own detailed account of her history and experience.

I am wildly grateful for the letter she wrote me, and this is the meaning I have made of it.

Note: I’ve quoted Alice’s email directly, but deleted any potentially identifying information and edited it for length. Alice’s passion for this topic extended to nearly twice the length of the excerpt above. Deleted portions are marked by ellipses.
By | 2017-06-04T12:30:09+00:00 June 2nd, 2017|Other Musings|

11 Comments

  1. Kasey Gennett June 2, 2017 at 9:02 am

    Talk about sanctimonious… if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being divorced (when my son was 1.5 years old) and getting remarried to a divorced man, is that you never, ever know what goes on in someone else’s marriage, and you never know what you will do/put up with when there are kids involved. Thank you for writing…I enjoy your blog so much! Alice needs to get off her high horse.

  2. Lizzy June 2, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Oh my gosh! The generalizing in Alice’s email is staggering and the choice shaming is unbelievable. Sure, some people divorce for seemingly selfish reasons, but that doesn’t mean the choice isn’t still painstaking and gruesome. Most divorced people do it, however, because they see the heartbreaking and soul crushing option of divorce as a better choice for them and their children. Someone like Alice, and her tunnel vision, makes me really sad, but thank you for addressing it Kate! This article made me realize one more blessing of divorce today– the eye opening experience of divorce often makes it easier to not judge others’ lives. We are all going through different things and different versions of reality, but you can’t know another’s life or struggles without actually being them. So why judge something you don’t know? Thank you for writing Kate! Your audience appreciates you.

  3. Tonja Gemmer June 2, 2017 at 9:13 am

    This may be my most favorite post yet. I wish I could hug you right now!!! Thanks for sharing.

    • Kate Chapman June 4, 2017 at 11:53 am

      Tonja, I’m hugging you right back!

  4. Pam June 2, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you for writing Kate Chapman you write about me, my kids and our left turn and I am grateful

    • Kate Chapman June 4, 2017 at 11:53 am

      Pam, thank you so much for reading and commenting. It’s my privilege to be on this journey with warrior mamas like you.

  5. Ashley June 4, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Your words get me through! Thank you for writing!

  6. Lisa@HersHisandOurs June 4, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    I find it interesting when “happily” married folks are reading articles about divorce and then commenting with a thick layer of judgement. If that’s their version of happy I’m thankful not to be apart of the club. Thanks for sharing Alice’s email. I have to admit that I felt all of the emotions you shared when I read it as well. When I calmed down, I realized I agree with Alice on one point, children learn from their parents example. Her example of bitterness, anger and judgement is one I’m thankful that I am not sharing with my own children. Thanks Kate for sharing your experiences in a way that feels like we are just sitting down over a cup of coffee having a conversation.

  7. Dana June 4, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    Kate-
    Your blog, your words, your passion for inclusion of us ‘divorce misfits’ amidst yor writing is so appreciated and I cannot thank you enough for having the courage to face the world on behalf of us. Since stumbling across your writing (on Pinterest, as I was editing my ‘pins’ knowing a bitter and toxic ex-wife was parousing with her girlfriends and mocking me, wondering how the heck my life had come to justifying my truth on social media), really opened my eyes. I cannot tell you how much it means to know I am not alone, and there is a community out there who gets this red-hot stigma and judgement and understands the challenging left turn we had to take to save ourselves. Heaven forbid a man who turned left finds us or we find them…in that case the persecution is relentless. Words like Alice’s cut deep…at the first take. I agree, rereads or replays or harsh words and judgements can bring both us introspection, validation and eventually, gratitude. Your words help us, your people, directly or indirectly, allowing us to tolerate sitting with the pain, holding space for ourselves as we process others’ truths, knowing they are not ours, and prove that while we are a harshly judged majority, our voice and empathy as we face these challenges, gives another of us fighting for our identity, courage. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your writing. Thank you for listening.

    Dana

  8. Jesse June 5, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I am the woman Alice uses to justify divorce. I left an abusive husband. I am the “okay” reason to leave. And I still feel scrutinized by family, non-divorced friends and strangers. I am strong enough to realize I do not need to justify my decisions to anyone; but the urge is there when I see their faces and uncertainty as to how to classify me in their neat little boxes. Also; Alice’s logic is flawed. Though incredibly challenging you can have an amicable coparenting relationship with a former abuser. I am a living testimony of such. And it can be so very rewarding for the children involved to put the effort in making it happen. Positive co-parenting should be celebrated and it should be talked about on all platforms. Until this becomes the standard for all families and children those who are paving the way and setting good examples for others need to share their stories. Until society is at a place of acceptance these stories give hope and a compass for navigating our own personal situations.

    • Kate Chapman June 5, 2017 at 9:22 am

      Jesse, thank you so much for sharing your story. What a brave and compassionate warrior you are. I’m so honored to read about your journey.

      To all the other parents who’ve written, thank you for sharing. It’s my great privilege to bear witness to your history.

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