No one tells you not to graduate high school or get married or have kids. No one tells you that you shouldn’t exercise, eat right, save for retirement, or pay your mortgage on time. Or that you shouldn’t learn more, read more or strive for that next rung on the ladder. No one recommends you shouldn’t keep your nose clean, stay off drugs or avoid run-ins with the law. Nope. Nobody. There’s a general consensus that most of these things are smiled upon. Or it’s all a conspiracy theory — depending on your lens.
But we’re told — covertly or overtly — not to divorce. That divorce — in all its splendorous complexity and astronomical emotional and financial expense — is to be avoided at all costs. We’re instructed to “work” on our marriages, no matter how dire they’ve become. You’ll hurt yourself, your families, and your children, you’re warned. You’ll live eternally in financial straits. Your kids will blame you. Your ex-spouse will become an ogre only found in children’s fairy tales. Your life, after divorce, will become a big, black hole of regret, frustration and sadness.
But if nearly fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, why are we still peddling it as doom and gloom? Isn’t it time to put a different spin on it? Of the divorced ranks, I ask: Isn’t there strength in numbers? Shouldn’t divorced folks combine forces to change up the ingrained messages that still plague our society about the ending of a marriage?
Hang on. I’m not arguing for divorce. I’m no more pro-divorce than I am pro-illiteracy. But we’ve become a nation of divorce dissenters. What if we didn’t look at divorce as a failure or a train wreck? What if, instead of promising our kids a happily ever after in which their parents never, ever split, we tell them there’s always that possibility? Marriages, despite our best intentions, don’t always last, we could say, even before trouble is on the horizon. What if we didn’t greet the news of divorce as a tiny tragedy but as a near-inevitable occurrence for half our population?
I’m divorced and my heart still sinks when I hear another couple is divorcing. I know that prescribed road is bumpy and dark and scary. But when I filter out the dire messages about divorce, what’s left? Like millions of others, I’m happier and better off. Not in every way, of course, but in the way most important — my soul is at peace. My kids see their mother — not as a shadow of herself — but as authentically living and enjoying her life. Would they prefer their parents still be married? Perhaps. But that’s because they’re also victims of a society which tells them divorce is bad and sad — that their family is busted.
We need to start managing expectations around here. Just twenty years ago, the idea of legal marriage for our gay friends was anathema to most folks. Even those who supported gay rights may have looked at it as a blue sky dream. But many have come around to accepting it as an inevitability and a human right. Yes, the spin has spun in a different direction. The numbers supported a change in the tide; the need to redefine an antiquated way of looking at what makes a family.
But woe is the gay couple who marries and, yikes, then chooses to divorce. Because, when you divorce, you break up a family. Right? See how readily you nod? But, stay with me here, maybe that’s not how we market it. What if, as a divorced nation, we accepted divorced families, not as broken, but as, well, simply divorced. Without labels attached. Or sympathy. Or blame.
Are there a tiny percentage of folks who live happily and passionately in 50-year marriages? Yes, of course. But many more of us choose to stay in meh marriages. Huge numbers of us get divorced. We’re half the norm. Our stories — and our families — are in desperate need of healthy redefinition.
So, I’ll begin by modeling the change I’d like to see in redefining divorce with a message to my kids: Boys, your family is not broken and neither are you. Your parents got divorced. You’re loved now as you have always been by the very same people. You carry no stigma. When you marry, please choose your spouses with eyes wide open. Know that, if you’re lucky, lust and love will overlap on a good day. Manage your expectations when it comes to the routine of married life. Understand that relationships have ups and downs. But when those downs continue for years on end, know that’s not the way you’re intended to live. I didn’t bring you into this world so you could live unhappily. Or with heavy, dissatisfied hearts. If you divorce, do so fairly, kindly and respectfully. Be a model for successful, divorced families without shame or guilt.