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