For many women, the challenge after divorce is learning how to be free.
I spent the last week trying to decide what my first blog on YourTango could be about. Relationships are so complex, and yet our culture tries to convince us that we can solve all our relationship problems easily. But we all know that's not true, is it? Then last night at my weekly women's group (we call it sister's night), one of the younger women declared as she came in the door, "Well, I've finally done it. I'm filing for divorce!" And the sisters let out a great big, "Yay!"
As the oldest member of the sister-hood, I have to admit I was surprised and gratified by the enthusiasm. When I got divorced many years ago, my mother's response to my news was, "What did you do to make him leave you?" Even though it was my idea to get divorced! Or my friends pouted, "Wow! I can't believe you guys are getting a divorce! You seemed like the perfect couple." That's what it was like in the 80s when we women got divorced. No cheers, no show of group solidarity, not even much sympathy. We were choosing to break the mold of patriarchal marriage and most other women were uncomfortable with that. Oh, we got some pity — mostly because the rationale was that we'd have to go out and find another man. But we never got the wholehearted support that my young friend is going to get. It was a different world.
After the celebration, the sisters were quick to explain all the advantages of getting that divorce. But the most important thing my young divorcee heard was that she was free — free from an unhappy situation, free from a man who didn't respect her, free to discover herself.
In my practice, freedom is a big issue. Yes, women who are born into a western society are told we are free from the moment of our births, but are we really? It's like the good fairy says, "You're free!" and taps us with her magic wand. But then we look around and ask ourselves, "What does it mean to be free?" Because in fact, women haven't been free to be ourselves for thousands of years. And nobody bothered to mention that fact to us.
We live in a society that tells us we are free to be whoever we want to be, but one that doesn't explain that that freedom is based on masculine values and ideas of freedom. And as we all know, women make second-rate men. And even though western societies legally give women equal status with men, the truth is our unique feminine way of knowing and being in the world is not valued unless it serves our patriarchal (masculine) values. That's not freedom. That's still being stuck in second-class citizenship. While we are still fighting for equal pay and the right to make our own decisions about whether or not to have children, we are not free and equal. And even more important, when our feminine ways of seeing the world through feeling and intuition are still devalued and made irrelevant to decision-making, women will continue to feel like second-class citizens.
Now back to the issue of divorce. I've discovered that freedom is indeed one of the positive results of divorce. As a psychologist, I know that we often pick partners who step in and take on the role of one or both of our parents. We choose people who help us repeat old patterns of behavior, even if they appear to be completely different from our parents. Then we end up stuck in those same patterns until we realize we can't take it anymore. We just have to break free. And of course, freedom has a price. You have to make your own decisions. You can no longer blame someone else for your unhappiness or your mistakes. You have to re-invent your life.
Freedom is something women have to learn to live with. And sometimes the best way to find our freedom is to get divorced, because our present idea of marriage is based on the principle of possession, as in "you are my wife/husband, i.e. my possession." Men are especially prone to this way of thinking about marriage, especially if they don't know that about themselves. After all, we learn about marriage from our parents, and while the principles of patriarchal marriage — heterosexual partnerships for life with the man as the head of the family — are slowly giving way to different kinds of partnerships, we are still unconsciously prone to living the imbalance.
So in many cases, that "Yay" is exactly what women need to hear from our friends when we decide to get a divorce. It gives us the courage to step into a whole new world — a world where we can find the freedom to be ourselves.