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Life After Divorce: Please don’t Blame me for being Single

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The number one article on this blog is simply titled “Dating After Divorce: Why it’s so Difficult in your late Thirties” It’s been read nearly 30,000 times.  Nothing else I’ve written comes close to the amount of hits that article gets.  It’s certainly not my best or most entertaining piece. It gets a lot of hits because there are so many frustrated people searching for answers.

My younger friends try to empathize, but they have no idea what I go through.   When a person is in his or her early twenties, they’re constantly meeting other single people.   When they get together their friends a few strangers might end up making out on a couch in the corner.  When I go to a social event with folks my age, it’s mostly married couples.  While the pairs huddle together to discuss co-op boards, school districts and home renovations, I’m in the corner with the other single gals and gay men swapping sex stories and dick pics.  I’m not sure why, but straight single men are rare at such soirees.  At the last barbeque a unattached heterosexual man showed up alone, then bragged about his multiple girlfriends.

My married friends really don’t get it.  I love them dearly, but they just have no idea what I go through.  They wake up next to the same person every day of their lives.  They pay bills, worry about the future and plan vacations.  They might fight often, they might be at the brink of divorce, they might even romanticize their single years, but they’re still one half of a couple.  They know nothing of going to every social gathering alone, buying solo movie tickets, or being set up on horrible dates by well-meaning friends.

One married friend suggested that I change my attitude about dating.  He then listed three people who had all gotten remarried after a divorce.  I had to point out to him that all three examples were men who had married much younger women. Being single past 35 is difficult for both genders, but the challenges men and women face are different.  In two of the examples he gave, the men went on to have more children.  My age definitely makes me less attractive to a man who wants kids.  When I asked my friend for some examples of women who had remarried in my age range, he had none.  He just couldn’t see that my problems with dating are real and not imagined.  A simple attitude change was not going to produce age appropriate single men from the sky.

When I go out of my social network most of the interest I get is from men half my age.  I try to tell the young ones they won’t understand my sarcasm, my world-weary outlook and my complete lack of shame or social filter.  Usually they realize they’d rather be with someone with more of a spark of hope in her eyes rather than the jaded cougar. I don’t blame them.

I want my counterpart.  A man who’s had a few of his dreams and aspirations crushed.  At least he’ll understand my point of view and understand that life is mostly improvisation.  The young ones don’t always get that, and how could they?  The roller coasters of romance have knocked people my age around so much they’ve gotten skittish and scared.  They’ll pine away for a love they can’t have, complain bitterly about the one who broke their heart and avoid making any type of commitment with a new partner.  I do empathize as I’m not much different, but with so much hesitation and apathy it’s hard to get excited about anyone.

So I’ve tried, and I have other things to do with my life than spend all of my free time looking for “the one.”.  I’ve accepted that this could be my reality for some years to come.  It gets lonely, and there are days when I just want to scream at the top of my lungs and make it stop.  Then there are times when I’m so thankful that I’m not responsible for anyone else, I’m in charge of all of my finances and I can paint my bedroom whatever color I want.  When I walk by a couple fighting, or listen to a friend rant about their marital problems, I think – I’m free.

When did being in a relationship become the only path to contentment and happiness?  Don’t we all know couples who are miserable?  Don’t we all have friends and family members who remain in a marriage that is a toxic hell?  Don’t we all know men and women who will be with nearly any partner rather than be alone?  It’s not the years you’ve put in, but the quality of the partnership.  Right now after everything I’ve been through, I can honestly say I know more about myself then I ever did when I was someone’s girlfriend or wife.  I’ve discovered more about my strengths and weaknesses in the past 5 years than I did in the first 36.  I might not have someone to hold my hand when things get rough, but I also don’t have anyone to pull me down or hold me back.  I am responsible for my demise or my success.

I’m single and I might remain so for the rest of my life.  I probably won’t have kids.  I’ll have no first day of school photos, handmade cards with the word “Mom” scribbled in crayon, or pools of vomit to clean up after an underage drinking binge.  I won’t go through the highs and lows of parenthood, and none of this means I am less of a person.  A partner and a child do not validate my existence on this planet.

I’m not broken because I’ve been alone for an extended period of time.  I am single.  This is my life, and there is nothing wrong with me because I choose to live alone, rather than stay in a bad partnership. If two people are happy in a long-term committed relationship it’s a beautiful, wonderful, magical thing, but so is building a future by myself, on my terms and without a toxic partner.

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Life After Divorce: The Fetishization of Marriage

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If I were to write a fairy tale for young children, especially young girls it would go something like this.  Once upon a time there was a young girl who lived in tiny beaten down shack.  She didn’t have a lot of money and her parents were poor.  She decided she was going to get out of her situation no matter what, so she worked hard and went to school.  Despite the obstacles she started her own company and employed a bunch of other poor kids to come and work for her.  It wasn’t always easy and she nearly lost everything several times but she kept working hard and survived.  At some point she got married, and the guy was alright.  She also had children and loved them with all of her might.  She taught he kids to dream big, work hard and try to do right by their fellow-man.  Her marriage didn’t work out and she got a divorce.  She continued to live as happily as with her children and company.  When she died she looked back at her greatest achievements – creating jobs for so many other poor kids, and her beautiful children.  The end.

It could be easily rewritten where she’s an employee but takes great pride and satisfaction in her work.  I could also re-write it where she doesn’t have kids, and gets fulfillment through helping others or by using her creativity. The example of fairy tales is a powerful one for me since I work with kids in my day job.  I can’t help but see how much influence our myths, legends and pop culture have on young impressionable minds.

Why are we only told one story our entire lives?  With a few exceptions there are few fairy tales or fables that do not include weddings as part of a happy ending.  Why are weddings mostly absent in fairy tales geared towards boys?  Why do so many of our fables END with a marriage followed by the phrase “Happily Ever After.”  Every married or divorced person knows that a wedding is not the ending, it’s the start of a new chapter.  A fairy Godmother does not descend from heaven and make everything magical on the day we say “I do.”  In many ways everything gets harder, as the stakes get higher.

If our marriages end in divorce we are not lesser than our married counterparts. We all know dysfunctional and damaging marriages.   Just because two people remain married doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a happy or healthy union.

The wedding industry is big business the US.  With some estimates being as high as $51 billion dollars spent annually.  Yet despite all the extravagance and hoopla fewer people are getting married.  The media decries this trend as some sort of crumbling of our social fabric.  Personally I think it’s a good thing.  Marriage is not necessarily the end all, be all of happiness. Not everyone thrives in marriage and it’s much easier to walk away from a relationship that’s not legally binding.

When I was 27 I gave up my job, relocated to New York City and left my friends and career behind for a man I thought I would be with forever.  From a young age, we’re encouraged that to sacrifice for love is not only acceptable but a nobel thing to do.  Now it’s one thing to stay with a partner in a time of crisis, staying with them during a prolonged illness, or supporting them in a time of crisis.  That is a beautiful thing and a testament to the human experience.  Our bonds with each other can reach such depths that we do want to sacrifice for the ones we love.  At the same time, the emotions I have for my family and friends are just as strong as what I could have for a romantic partner.

We need a new narrative.  We need to stop telling the same story.  Marriage isn’t the only recipe for happily ever after, and honestly happily after doesn’t exist.  We live, we love and go through a lot in our lives and for most of us it’s nothing like a fairy tale.  I’d rather have a life with ups and downs than some Disney fantasy anyway.

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