My former wife, Eileen Ansel Wolpe, and I have remained very close. We have had the most amicable of divorces. A friend of her’s recently told her he was contemplating divorce and asked her advice from the other side. Her first, quick answer was simple: Don’t.
When he pressed further, she gave an answer so wise and insightful that I asked her permission to post it for the benefit of others. She agreed; the letter follows.
Divorce is a hard path, a long, circuitous journey that is not something you can control. You open the door and walk through it, thinking you will go to destination ‘x’ only to find out that it was just an illusion, that destination ‘x’ is only visible from inside the marriage and that once you leave, you not only cannot find it, but you start to realize, it probably never existed at all.
I lived alone for 10 years (17-27) before getting married. I thought, OK, I can do this. I’d rather be alone than be in a marriage that isn’t working, that’s irrevocably broken (and I have no regrets over that, for me, it was not a choice).
However, being alone after having been married for so long is not the same. And it’s not the same to be alone at 45 (or 65) as it is to be alone in your early 20s (when everyone is alone). It’s a world of couples at our age. Even the divorcees and the widowers are all looking to recouple. There is an intense emphasis on finding a new mate, as quickly as possible. The pressure can be extreme, and your married friends look at you like you have leprosy. It threatens their world view for you to divorce. It threatens their marriage. What I’m trying to say is that everything changes. In ways you can’t imagine or anticipate. Everything. Everything. Everything. And, there are some nasty little secrets that no one tells you (but I will, right now).
Here’s a doozy: when you leave your marriage, in terms of romantic relationships, you begin to behave as if you were still the age you were when you met your spouse. Not even when you were married, but when you met. You get involved in things you should have outgrown years ago. Decades. And you don’t realize it until it’s too late. I’m not even sure my telling you can save you from this fate. Because the thing is, it’s a little like being an addict. When an addict becomes sober, emotionally, they’re the age they were when they started using. Well marriage is a bit like that; it changes your way of thinking so drastically (without you realizing it) that you truly have nothing else to grasp on to once you walk out that door, and in order to survive, you return to the last thing you knew when you were alone.
Think about it and look around you. How many men do you know who ended up with young women, women more or less the same age as their first wives when they met them? And the same is now true for women (commonly called cougars). The problem, of course, is that sooner or later you wake up and realize you have less in common with these replacements than you thought you did and now (if you were foolish enough to rush into getting remarried, as many do in the first 3 years after a divorce) you are stuck in a worse situation than the first one. Don’t get me wrong. It can work out. And it does. But often times, it’s a painful journey and if you can’t handle being alone for a long time, long enough to figure yourself out, to understand who you are apart from your marital relationship, to find yourself again (which really can, and should, take years), then all you will do is hurt a lot of people, including yourself and the people you love most in the world, change partners and go underground again.
If you can stomach the loneliness (extreme and painful at times), then you have a chance. Only then do you have a real chance to grow, to change, to learn who you are, why you ended up where you did, how you came to be there, where you want to go. All of it. The best of it. The worst of it. And everything in between. You begin to think in a new way, free of the paradigms and mindprisons that had to be created in order to keep a broken marriage functioning. You learn to see with different parts of your brain, of your life, even parts you (arrogantly) thought you were already using. You find them anew and realize they’re dusty and old and in need of polishing and repair. You tucked them away long ago, you had to, there was no room for them in that relationship.On and on it goes. Divorce is a tearing apart of togetherness. It is a rendering of all things built to keep you comfortable and safe. It is the destruction of together-dreams, forever-dreams, family-dreams, love-dreams. You cannot leave a marriage without doing violence to all those things, no matter how amicable the divorce.
Even the word ‘divorce.’ It’s a cleaver. A great big bloody butcher knife that slices through even the most connected hearts. There is no way around that. It’s why all the mythology of divorce is what it is. Because there is truth in those myths. When you walk out the door, which may well be the bravest moment of your life, you are suddenly at sea, not on a path. The earth ceases to be solid beneath your feet and you are drowning in quicksand. You thought you would fly but you sink and the only way you will survive is if you intuit that you must be still until the universe begins to solidify around you once again. Only then can you begin to move. I care too much not to warn you. You cannot see what lies beyond the frame around the door that is the exit. It is not possible. It is a death. And just like life’s death, you are not permitted to see beyond the threshold. But I have been here for the past year and I can tell you it looks nothing like it does from inside the threshold. It is a foreign, inhospitable, dangerous journey. One that holds infinite, endless gifts for the ones who are brave enough to continue on, and will eat alive those who misstep, or throw them instantly back in through a different door with a different partner.
The goal of divorce should not be to be with someone else. There is no one else. Not yet. Because in order for there to be anyone else, first you have to recreate yourself. And that, as you know, is a task only for the very bravest of heart. It takes stamina, fortitude, faith, trust, belief and not a small measure of complete insanity. It takes time. To forge a new suit of armor. Made from better material. Something new. Something more flexible. Breathable. Fire resistant. Softer. Easier. More comfortable. It takes time to regrow bones and skin and sinew and soul. It takes courage not to thrash about in the quicksand. It takes a willingness to surrender completely to every weakness inside yourself, to forgive, forgive, forgive... and to let go. Only then do you really have a chance. Only then can you begin to walk towards a new place, a better place. Only then will you know that you have done the right thing.
It’s been a year since I left. I’m coming to that new place, that better place. I know, at least for me, I did the right thing.Good luck my friend. Whatever you choose, I wish you love.
David Wolpe | Jun 1, 2011 9:07 AM