Heartbreak

Why Is Everyone Getting Divorced Without Me?

Photo: Jecapix, simarik | Canva 
Woman missing out while friends are getting divorced

In my 20s, it was weddings. In my 30s, it was baby showers. In my 40s, it’s drinks on the town with my recently divorced friends. Society doesn’t yet have a social tradition for commemorating divorce, but I think we should change that. “Reverse weddings,” perhaps?

I have to imagine that divorce is a complicated life transition. One might feel shame, grief, guilt, and anger, and one might simultaneously feel freedom, empowerment, and relief.

One friend put it this way: “Getting divorced sucks. Being divorced is awesome.”

I’m not sure everyone would agree with that sentiment. Lots of people aren’t particularly happy about being divorced. There’s more financial strain. There’s loneliness. There are sleepless nights spent wondering what it was all for. If you had children with the person you divorced, there is also the tension of continuing to co-parent with someone you don’t get along with, or maybe someone you wish you never had to see again. If your ex starts dating or gets remarried, there’s the emotional labor of dealing with the new person.

If you’re a woman, there are also societal judgments to contend with — even in 2023, society still insists on marital status as a barometer of female worth. And if you’re a middle-aged woman entering the online dating scene… well, that ain’t going to be a walk in the park. It’s all too likely you’ll be subject to messages like this one that a man actually left me on a Medium story:

Middle-aged women have hit the wall. Many of them are worthless single mothers no man of value will seriously consider marrying those used-up women with baggage. The best they can hope for is a short-term fling or one-night stand. That’s all they are good for.

So yeah, divorce is no joke. But marriage is no joke, either. And I have to admit, when I see my friends taking the leap… part of me is a little jealous.

I’m not jealous because I secretly want out of my relationship. I’m not jealous because I want to be single again. I’m specifically jealous of my divorced friends who have children and evenly split joint custody.

RELATED: 5 Divorce Statistics That Predict The Success Of Your Marriage

They seem to have found, albeit perhaps inadvertently, the most straightforward path to enjoying the benefits of parenting while having the time to claim their own sense of self.

I don’t want to romanticize the challenges of co-parenting with an ex — as a stepmother, I know all about those — but having legally mandated, built-in “me time” is something that most married partners, and particularly women, simply don’t enjoy.

Fifty percent of my life that no longer involves cleaning, or negotiating the cleaning of, my children’s trails of destruction? Fifty percent of my life to process my own emotions rather than managing everyone else’s? Fifty percent of my life to be able to venture out in the world alone without coordinating childcare? Fifty percent of my life to listen to what I want, eat what I want, watch what I want? Fifty percent of my life where I don’t have to think about who does what and whether or not someone (namely, me) is doing too much whether I should delegate more, and why the hell am I the one doing all the delegating?

As a working mom who is currently attempting to carve out an hour of writing on a Sunday afternoon while my children loudly complain about the lack of viable snacks in our pantry and bicker over who gets the last rice cake directly outside my door, I sometimes catch myself fantasizing about a life in which I have every other week all to myself.

From my vantage point, it kind of sounds like heaven.

RELATED: Top 10 Reasons Why Divorce Is So Common These Days

It’s weird, to feel a little jealous of my divorced friends.

Society has trained me to frame divorce in terms of failure. A divorce is a byproduct of a failed relationship. Parents who divorce are failing their children. Women who divorce are failing society’s expectations.

And to be honest, if my partner and I were to get divorced, I would feel the shame and frustration of failure. When I make a commitment, I like to follow through. Not only that, my partner and I have weathered many storms over the 18 years we’ve been together, and I’d like to feel that our obstacle-riddled journey is amounting to something. I like to imagine the day when we’ve slayed all the dragons and got to ride off into the sunset.

Our relationship started with a bang when I filed a temporary restraining order against my partner’s son’s mother. She had climbed up my fire escape and broken into my house. As I was trying to decide whether or not to make the restraining order permanent, I was threatened by her father, who told me that he “knew some people.” He could easily get my partner’s “Black ass” thrown in jail, he said. Not long after, my future stepson’s mother did try to get my partner’s “Black ass” thrown in jail by corroborating phony felony charges that cost us thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Sometimes my partner and I joke that more relationships should start this way. For us, it strengthened the foundation for all the struggles to come — struggles that have included racism, sexism, alcoholism, mental health crises, unemployment, legal battles, and crippling debt, to name a few. Then layer on three kids, demanding jobs, and the ongoing task of co-parenting with a woman who tried to get my partner locked up for 20 years.

Perhaps we haven’t seen it all, but we’ve seen a hell of a lot.

That’s why I sometimes take other people’s divorces as a personal affront. Are they really giving up? They haven’t gone through half as much as we have.

But of course, this a stupid and unproductive road to travel down. First off, we live in an era where images of “happily married” couples flood our social media feeds, and yet we never really know what happens behind closed doors. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, this notion of “giving up” is one that deserves some serious re-examination.

Are my divorcing friends giving up, or are they empowering themselves? Are they failing, or are they better setting themselves up for success? Are they incompatible with a specific person, or are they incompatible with an institution?

RELATED: These 2 Questions Can Accurately Predict If You'll End Up Divorcing

The Christian patriarchy has long held up marriage and nuclear families as the Holy Grail, but they are, in fact, as flawed and messed up and fraught with conflict as any of their viable alternatives — and arguably more so.

Marriage may work for some of us. But in the context of a society where nuclear families are increasingly isolated, where we must work more to simply get by, where caretaking duties are still primarily relegated to women (whether or not they work outside the home), and where milestones like college and homeownership and retirement are more and more difficult to achieve, the demands on married couples are ever-growing.

   

   

The vigor with which conservative and religious groups bemoan falling marriage rates may lead one to believe that marriage is an institution facing an existential crisis — and yet, according to Pew Research, “The share of U.S. adults who are currently married has declined modestly in recent decades, from 58% in 1995 to 53%” in 2019.

In the United States, at least, marriage is still the default. When you pause to consider how many different ways there are to couple and/or raise children, it is astonishing that so many of us — particularly non-religious folks like me — still cling to patriarchal Christian notions of marriage as the “only,” “best,” or at the very least, “most normal” way. It’s even more astonishing when you consider the institution’s spotty track record of success.

What if we explored coupling without cohabitation? Co-parenting without the expectation of sexual fulfillment? Co-parenting in groups rather than couples?

As anthropologist Rebecca Sear points out:

“In evolutionary anthropology, it is now widely accepted that we are a species that practises cooperative reproduction… across most societies, the husband–wife unit is rarely autonomous, but is instead engaged in extensive cooperative relationships with other individuals, particularly other family members.”

Yes, some people out there are exploring non-monogamy, polyamory, cooperative childrearing, and other so-called “alternative” arrangements. However, embracing these pathways within the context of our current societal pressures and norms requires a courageous amount of intentionality. I imagine at times it feels like swimming upstream.

As for my partner and me, we’re stubborn and stubbornly still in love.

We are also well aware of the demands and constraints of our current arrangement. We spent five weeks apart this past year, which exhausted us and our savings account, but it was what we needed at the time.

With no immediate family close by, we’re trying to figure out how to find other sources of support, how to carve out the “me time” that is so essential to a healthy relationship (not to mention healthy sex life), and how to reimagine marriage in the context of a society that is evolving in both exciting and terrifying ways.

Meanwhile, everyone else seems to be getting divorced without us. And I say, good for them. I hope they find a brighter path ahead, and I look forward to our next night on the town.

RELATED: Men Who Marry This Type Of Woman Are More Likely To Get Divorced

Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.