A few months ago I had to make yet another trip to my bank to sort out some lingering financial ties with my ex-husband. I had no idea when I set up our mutual funds as joint accounts, that getting them cut in half once divorced would be next to impossible. Splitting mutual funds or any investment containing stocks requires such an overwhelming amount of challenging paperwork it isn’t even worth explaining here. This trip to the bank was my third attempt, and the mutual fund company had given me the wrong information, again.
Sitting across from me, in one of those cubicles for private banking transactions was a manager, a small woman with dark hair and olive skin, maybe about 10 years older than myself. She was firmly explaining that I would have to re-do my paperwork and bring in my ex-husband with me before they would sign the necessary form to get our joint account split. I kept explaining what the mutual fund had told me, yet she wouldn’t back down. It went back and forth like this for at least 20 minutes slowly escalating as I got more and more worked up, until finally I said simply.
“Do you know how hard these things are? Do you understand why I don’t want to deal with my ex-husband with this? Have you ever been divorced?”
To which she replied simply.
“Yes, I have and it was awful”
My mood immediately changed and I said.
She then went on to explain to me how her husband had ruined her, she had managed to get full custody but through a ridiculous loophole on his part got no child support. She wouldn’t go into too many details but said simply.
“I don’t care, I have my daughters and that is all that matters to me, I live paycheck to paycheck I am not sure how I am going to make it but I am free and I don’t care about his money, I just wanted out”
And I started crying.
She whipped out a box of kleenex and told me
“Look, this mutual fund is only for $2,000 don’t make yourself crazy over $2,000. I know you want to put it in your IRA but it isn’t a lot of money and it isn’t worth this.”
I shook my head.
“I know, I just want it to be over. I was ruined too, I lost everything even my ability to pay my rent. I have looked for work and there is nothing out there, so I just do whatever I can to keep from starving, I used to work with my ex. He is doing great and I can’t even buy food”
Then we just sat there for a few minutes sharing different parts of our stories. In the end we got up and hugged each other before I left, as she gave me more specific instructions on exactly what I needed to do the next time to get my investment split.
I have had many other experiences like this since my divorce. Perfect strangers instantly become friends the minute they say.
“I am also divorced”
I know many friends who have tried to empathize with me, with a long-term split that was not a marriage. I have written before about the differences between a long-term relationship with cohabitation ending and a divorce. In most cases a divorce is more traumatic, as both parties entered into a marriage thinking it was a lifetime partnership. The wedding, family members getting much more involved, lifetime expectations are all different in a marriage than just a relationship. Divorce is just so hellish, so terrifying and so life-altering very few things compare in terms of trauma.
But one of the strange unexpected side-effects is what I have found is the kinship I feel immediately between fellow divorced people. It is immediate, and it doesn’t seem to matter how long the marriage or the reasons for their divorce. We both understand each other in a way that non-divorced people don’t quite get. I felt it with the bank manager as soon as she said she was also divorced and that her divorce was a difficult and painful one. We became instant friends, the argument disappeared and I had empathy for her and her daughters immediately. I didn’t have this before, in fact I didn’t really understand divorce as it is rare in my extended family. It is as if going through the fires of hell and then surviving it, we form an army of battered souls. Our fairy tales didn’t have a happy ending, in fact for some of us the entire dream was just a farce, a lie, a fraud. So we aren’t going to see the world in the same way again, we aren’t going to have that sunny outlook necessarily on romance or romantic partnerships. But we enter into an odd kinship with others who have been in the same place.
I tell anyone newly divorced to seek out fellow divorced people, sit down with them and talk. Talk about everything and anything and most of us will listen. I had another friend, who recently had a bit of a breakdown. She had entered into a relationship immediately after her divorce and seemed really happy. I marveled as she was the only person I knew that once divorced didn’t seem to go through the stages of self-destructive behavior or rebound romances that so many of my other divorced friends went through. I didn’t know how she managed it, but she seemed relatively unscathed. But a couple of years after the fact she finally melted down. She called it a “ticking time bomb” that little by little let out its poison. She had not yet mourned for the marriage and hadn’t allowed herself to heal properly and as a result the new relationship ultimately fell apart. I really felt for her, I thought somehow she had escaped the torment by being in a healthy relationship right after her divorce, but I was wrong. The demons caught up with her, and it was a little heartbreaking to here her talk about it.
Divorce really is one of the worst things an adult can survive, but we do survive and move forward. Most of us worked hard on our marriages and never thought it would happen to us, but it did and now we have to live with our shattered lives. If nothing else my divorce has caused me to become far less judgmental of other people’s situations. It has also given me the gift of empathy of a depth that I really didn’t have before. Unfortunately I have developed a wall of ice about 12 feet thick around me that doesn’t seem to allow a new partner anywhere near me, but I am working on that. When I first left my husband I had no such defenses and got hurt horribly, so I learned to put that wall up. A few months ago it was probably 20 feet thick, so in time it will melt away. At least I hope it will, but at least I have this strange unexplainable kinship with anyone out there who has been through a divorce. We will get better, but it will take time. Solidarity to anyone out there recently divorced, you are far from alone.