Public Service Announcement

*To my friends and family: Please remember that if I am upset with you I will talk to you about it in person….not in a blog post. This isn’t about you. (o:

Check this out…

I have a friend who is also in the midst of divorce and when her husband was moving out, all their neighbors came out to see what was up with the U-haul in the driveway. Fine, normal, we’re all curious creatures. But one set of neighbors crossed all lines of polite behavior. When they asked what was going on, my friend’s husband quickly and directly said, “I’m moving out; we’re getting a divorce.” He hoped they’d go away, but they did not. Instead, they went on and on about what hard work marriage is and how, for the sake of the children, they should keep trying—otherwise they would ruin their children’s lives. And they said all of this right in front of the two children! These neighbors are not friends of the divorcing couple, have no real knowledge of the situation and… it’s none of their damn business! What is wrong with people??

One part of divorce I did not expect was how free people would be to judge, advise and question me. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked whether my ex and I went to counseling, I could probably afford the retainer fee of a decent attorney. It didn’t bother me at first but after the 73rd time, I started to twitch. The answer is yes (2+ years, 3 different counselors), and it didn’t help one single bit. I’m not saying counseling isn’t helpful in general; in my experience counseling is very helpful when the people on the couch speak the truth and invest themselves in the work. Otherwise, it’s just really expensive. In hindsight I think the money would have been better spent on hookers and housekeepers.

If I had a dime for every time someone has said to me, “You really need to…,” “You should…,” or “You have to…,” I could easily cover the attorney’s bill for the entire divorce. Divorce is an uncomfortable topic and it’s hard to know what to say when someone gives you sad news. While I can’t tell you the absolute best thing to say, I can give you a short list of what to avoid.

1. Don’t give advice unless you hear these words: “Do you have any advice for me?”
90% of the advice given to me is unsolicited and from people who don’t know me or my marriage very well. It’s getting pretty old. I have been a frequent giver of unsolicited advice myself, so clearly my karma was due, and I’m pretty sure this experience has cured me. If you are talking with someone and they say “Can you believe that?” or even “What do you think?” these are usually invitations for validation, not advice. Validation is comforting and sounds something like, “That must be really hard and I’m so sorry you are going through it.” If you are the generous and nurturing type you could even throw in, “Is there anything I can do to support you during this time?”

2. Don’t tell a woman (including yourself) to lower her standards or expectations in an effort to  find, manage, or fix a relationship.
Every woman on the ding-dang planet who has ever said this to another woman needs to check themselves. I would like to make a loud and public plea that we stop feeding each other this giant bag of B.S.. Seriously? Enough is enough. Yes, I’m sure that some women have insanely high standards and need a reality check from the people who care about them—but these women are in a very small minority (probably just Minnie Driver and one other chick I don’t know). Women’s relationship standards being too high is not one of the cultural crises facing the people of America. Trust me on this one.

I had no idea that Billy Ray Cyrus was Minnie's baby daddy!

3. Do not ask them how the spouse they are divorcing is doing. They don’t speak for them anymore. That’s kind of the point.

4. Don’t judge. None of us really know what happens in someone else’s marriage. The worst parts of a relationship are usually kept well-hidden from public view. Be careful what you say to or about someone going through a divorce. Your judgements will likely travel through conversations, across towns and eventually be added to the big pile of poo already sitting in the divorcee’s lap. Nobody needs that.

So what can you say?

“I’m sorry” is always good. No matter what happened, no matter who left who, even if it’s a mutual choice; divorce sucks for everyone involved. Curiosity about the details is natural, but tread carefully. A woman I know, when hearing my news, asked how long I was married and how many of those years had I wanted to be married. I thought this was a great way to put the question. If someone says “we were married for 10 years and I never wanted it to end,” you know more about how they are hurting, and it’s kinder than the “who left who” question. If they say “we were married for 10 years, but I wanted out after 6,” well then they probably feel a combination of grief and relief… and it’s probably safe to mention any hot single friends you’d like to set them up with in the future.

And now, I’d like to revisit point #2 (lower your expectations B.S.). I heard and followed this advice many times throughout my marriage and it always made things worse, not better. Always. I paid attention to the patterns; I cannot belabor this point enough. The less I expected and asked for, the less I got. I’m pretty sure it’s just physics… or something… sciencey. (I wish I’d known about this guy and listened to him instead.)

I am a very outspoken person (obviously) but when it comes to romantic relationships I have trouble being assertive about what I want and need. In my marriage I spent way too much time accommodating when I should have drawn lines in the sand. It was only when I spoke loudly and stood my ground like a prison guard that we made any progress. In the end, I think my marriage could have survived if I’d have done more of that.

So there we have it: my divorce is my own fault because I refused to behave like a prison guard, day in and day out. I have two kids; I do enough whip-cracking as it is. I waved the white flag and cried “Uncle!” Yes, relationships are hard work. Call me lazy, but I’m not willing to spend the rest of my life in a dead-end job.

Next time, I'm going for the haircut.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Public Service Announcement

  1. Thanks, dear. Really well written, and even though I was mostly there already, made me think. Best wishes, Polly

  2. trouble

    You forgot the best part: when my neighbors said we are, “ruining the kids’ lives!” Yeah.

    So I have one to add to the list of Do-Nots.
    Do not assume that normal annoying kid behavior is a result of the divorce. Children from happy nuclear families whine, fight, and throw embarrassing tantrums in public, and no one looks at the mother with pity (judgement!) and says, “Oh. Your marriage must be really hard on the kids. They’re still adjusting.”

  3. breeze coleman

    I know this is totally unsolicited but I don’t think your marriage would have survived if you would have done more of that. And a marriage “surviving”?
    How much fun is that?? And also, I love you.

  4. TFB

    Anyway, what does “marriage takes hard work” even mean. I have come to realize that it is really just a way of saying you need to bend to the will of the other person as often as possible. Sometimes, that shit gets old.

    • trouble

      Exactly! As Jennifer and I were discussing the other day, maybe if it’s “a lot of hard work” you’re just with the _wrong person_.

      In college I spent one christmas break working as a “Christmas casual” temp sorting mail in a huge metropolitan post office. It was “a lot of hard work”. In fact, it sucked donkey dick, and I quit at 1am on Christmas Eve. I literally threw my security badge at my supervisor and walked out the door. Guess what – it was _the wrong job for me_. Working harder wouldn’t have made it any more tolerable.
      The End.

      • trouble

        Post script:
        Funniest part was when they called me the next year and asked me to work again! Apparently I was a model employee…

  5. Girl, I swear we’re soul sisters, cuz every word you wrote I could’ve written by me circa 6 years ago, when I was going thru divorce. People suck, and those that haven’t put on a pair of our big-girl panties and hooker heels should just shut the f*#k up. And those that have been in the same boat should know better! SNAP!

    Great post. You are stronger than you know, and this too shall end. And when it’s all over, you will come out the true Rock Star!

  6. Amber

    I hope you write this blog forever. Soo funny. ..and REAL. Thanks for so many good LOL’s! ..and I wasn’t in a laughing mood when I read it..

    Keep up the awesome writing and realness~

  7. Wayne W.

    You would think that in this day and age people would be used to the idea of divorce. And divorce is not proven to ruin anyone’s life.

  8. Pingback: I’m a Catfish « smart girl smut

  9. “Marriage is work”. A nickle for every time i have heard this judgement might have paid for my house. Sure it is, a healthy relationship with your dog is work, with your girlfriends is, and with your man, particularly if you have children together is seriously hard work. But, the hardest work of all is raising kids. And pretty much any woman is aware of this as she is likely doing the majority of said work. She knows full well divorce will lead to even more of it, and likely far more complicated work as it is now infused with grief and guilt. So, any woman who chooses to end it, well, chances are she is well aware of the concept of “work” as it pertains to relationship, and certainly does not need her motives questioned.
    That said, I must say with regard to lowering of expectations; while no woman/wife should have to shoulder the role of prison guard, it has always seemed apparent to me that men are far more interested in spreading their seed than raising their young, and they generally possess a strong desire to live a solitary bachelor lifestyle.Why not figure out how to adjust society; say you get a big trophy and a tax credit (which goes to raising your offspring) for spreading your seed; it feeds the ego & proves virility, it could even be turned into a contest, with all entry funds going to pay for children’s expenses, who could then be raised by moms without the added weight of constant tending to a grown mans needs on top of the already taxing job of child rearing. Arrangements made for quality time the kids spend with dad, & “dates” could be regularly scheduled, with sitter in place, to promote a great sex life for both parties (and with all those trophies and tax credits in place the sex could be as often and varied as we like). Call me a bitter divorcee if you must, i know it is true, and I am know there are some GREAT fathers out there, and maybe even a few great marriages. I am just not convinced that if our expectations are along the lines of monogamy, playing house and being understood we are ever going to be anything but a disappointed, or even getting what we really want.

    Seriously though, I am not a man hater, I am currently very in love with an incredible man. He basically “get’s me” (which is no easy task), supports and protects me, and loves me unconditionally. This is my new set of expectations, I believe them to be high expectations, and I think they can even be met (at least as long as we don’t try cohabitation or having children together).

    • Well said Tanzi. I’ve often wondered if some of us are meant to have children with one partner and spend our lives with another. I certainly know a lot of people who are much happier in their second unions.

  10. Julia

    Jennifer,

    I recently stumbled upon your blog (I believe it was when I googled “Holy shit, I have a high school reunion”) and love this particular entry. Specifically, when you said:

    “2. Don’t tell a woman (including yourself) to lower her standards or expectations in an effort to find, manage, or fix a relationship.
    Every woman on the ding-dang planet who has ever said this to another woman needs to check themselves. I would like to make a loud and public plea that we stop feeding each other this giant bag of B.S.. Seriously? Enough is enough. Yes, I’m sure that some women have insanely high standards and need a reality check from the people who care about them—but these women are in a very small minority (probably just Minnie Driver and one other chick I don’t know). Women’s relationship standards being too high is not one of the cultural crises facing the people of America. Trust me on this one.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on this!!!! I think women GUILT each other into staying in unhealthy marriages with this line of shit.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope you add more soon. =)

    Julia

    • Thanks Julia! I haven’t written in far too long — one very sad side-effect of the crap-storm that is my divorce. I’m pretty sure that the horridness of my divorce is in direct proportion to how badly I needed to stop lowering my expectations. Also, love the google search terms through which you connected to my blog; that about sums it up. –Jennifer

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