Divorce Nightmares

There’s been some press this week about a piece journalist Ellen Tien wrote for O: Oprah Magazine called “Divorce Dreams,” which starts out “I comtemplate divorce every day.”

I haven’t read the actual piece so I probably shouldn’t be commenting on it, but I just can’t help it. From what I gather, there is nothing overtly wrong in Tien’s marriage, except that apparently her husband is a “bumbling fool. . .who lies, always says exactly the wrong thing, scratches his armpit at a parent-teacher conference and then ‘absently smells his fingers.'”

Okay that last phrase makes me laugh, but this is her right-now husband, to whom she’s still married and has kids (I think). Does he know she feels this way? Well, he does now, that’s for sure.

Divorce is hard. I mean, really really really hard. It’s true that while I was married and before my ex had his affair, I did fantasize about being single. While sometimes I was happy in my marriage, or at least content, towards the end I was vaguely dissatisfied.

There was nothing specific. Life wasn’t that easy what with having to look after my ex-MIL who was ailing and all the obligations in general to my in-laws; my ex feeling a lot of pressure at work; me feeling pressure from my ex to make more money, to have more money somehow. I tried to save, but it was never enough. I was satisfied with our apartment and lifestyle, but he always wanted more – a house, a nicer car, nicer clothes, good shoes.

Maybe it was because he was older than me (by six years) and thought he should be a later stage in his life. It’s true his friends by then all had houses and babies and burgeouning careers. I was a secretary and still hoping my writing would take off. Neither of us felt like we wanted kids. At least I didn’t at the time. I just felt like kids would be another time suck, the way looking after my MIL was. There was no joy associated with the thought of having children. Bascially, there was little joy in our lives.

So I can understand dreaming about divorce, or at least about not being married. I’d fantasize about having my own apartment in the city, going out with friends whenever I wanted, writing as much as I wanted, having no obligations. Then after a year and a half of hell, I finally had that.

And it sucked.

While I did have fun, and eventually learned to appreciate my alone time and all that I had (friends, job, enough money, cute apartment, the city at my feet), sometimes it was just really really lonely. When before I never had enough time to myself, suddenly I had too much. Of course it was better than staying in that marriage, and better than the life I had before, but sometimes it was hard to remember that.

I also appreciate the alone time because it gave me a chance to really think – what went wrong with my marriage, what he did, what I did, what I really wanted in both life and a relationship, realizing after some time that I did want a relationship again, not just flings, and imagining in my head the outline of that person, but also realizing that I might never meet him, or he might not exist, and I’d have to be happy or at least satisfied with what I did have, because sitting around being depressed would keep me from what I wanted to achieve in life: running 10 miles, taking a good picture, writing a good story, finding a good career.

There’s something both weak and arrogant about saying, in an offhand way, “I wish I were divorced.” From the comfort and security of your marriage and family, it’s very easy. Actually going through it is hell. It’s not just two individuals breaking up but two families. It’s dealing with it, and then having to tell your parents, your friends, the neighbors, the frigging dry cleaner. Throw some kids in the mix and increase that hell by a hundred-fold.

Also, Tien’s piece begs the question: why stay married then, if you’re so unhappy? If you loathe your husband so much? It’s rather accepted that husbands and wives at times hate each other. It’s the punchline of a joke. Another question: did you get married for the right reasons? Did you marry just to marry? Because it was the thing to do?

I for one am not sure how I feel about marriage. It seems artificial to me now, forced. Of course it works for some people, but if I’m happy as I am, and if the thought of marriage makes me feel suffocated, why do it? I don’t need a ring or piece of paper or ceremony to confirm feelings, dedication, and commitment that are blatantly clear.

A conversation with my mother earlier this week:

Mom: Do you think it’s too soon to introduce MB to the rest of the family?
Me: I don’t think so. We’ll probably go to LA in December or January.
Mom: Oh, good, so I can make the announcement.
Me [panic setting in]: What announcement? That I have a boyfriend?
Mom: I’ll call him your fiance.

Wha? Hunh? WTF?

I don’t think I wrote about a surprisingly earlier talk I had with my mother, in which she said she thought it was okay if we didn’t get married and still had kids. THAT blew my socks off. To her marriage isn’t necessarily a guaruntee of forever, and kids are (whether or not that’s true is another story). I let her know that neither of us have good feelings about marriage, for various reasons.

So it was very strange to have this recent conversation with her. Why would she think it would be okay to call MB my fiance? Then everyone would be wondering, “So when’s the wedding?” People may wonder about that with a boyfriend, but it’s a vague wondering, and no promises have been made. But fiance, hello? Fiance = ring = MARRIAGE. Jesus!

She did come around though when I reminded her of our talk, and made her realize that a term like “fiance” can’t just be thrown around like that.

“And why do you have to make some kind of announcement?” I asked. “There’s no need to make an announcement.”

Maybe it’s her way of making it official. She needs some sort of external validation, rather than just seeing for herself how we are.

As my brother said when I told him: “Has she lost her mind?”

Maybe just temporarily.


  1. “…in which she said she thought it was okay if we didn’t get married and still had kids.”

    I guess that’s all about grandchildren. Interesting post.

  2. funny, your story of your ex reminds me of where i’m at now with my boy. he too, is six years older than i, and looking for markers of certain stage in his life. he’s asked me to move in with him and i have refused simply because i need the kind of alone time you had AFTER your marriage ended.

    the whole relationship process is just so… monumental, that if it doesn’t work out with this guy, i’m certainly going to think long and hard (and do some serious soul-searching) before i embark on another.

  3. zydecofish: i’m not sure if it’s so much about grandchildren as her and my dad’s fear that i’ll be alone forever.

    dalia: definitely good to take that alone time now, and progress with your guy when you’re ready, not out of obligation or someone else’s expectations.