Photo attribution here.
On the issue of telling people I am divorced, I have two opinions:
1. The incredible shame of going through a divorce in the church causes many to clam up about it. I believe it's because we're not talking about it that those not touched by divorce are not thinking about it, therefore they stand in judgement by default of our culture, and the shame remains. Opening up about what life is like in the post marital world is the only way to open people's eyes and hearts to empathizing with us. It's hard, but we can do it.
2. It's none of your damn business. Leave me the hell alone.
I often feel these both, simultaneously.
When you tell someone you're divorced they always want to know one thing--what happened? The reason I don't like this question isn't what you think. I have no problem talking about my experience. I find it pretty cathartic--as is evidenced by this blog, it's just that I have no good answer for the question that can be conveyed in a 20 second window. This is because when you are a Latter Day Saint, there is an unwritten rule that there is a short list of reasons that make it "okay" to get a divorce.
1. Your partner is beating you black and blue.
2. Your partner was unfaithful.
3. Your partner has an addiction - usually drug or pornography - that is negatively affecting your family.
And really, with the exception of number one, these issues are not a hall pass to the courthouse to file. As a people we favor reconciliation in pretty much every case, and while no decision regarding a marriage and family should ever be taken lightly, I think this, "There are three people in my marriage and as long as God and I are two of them we can get by," mentality is doing long lasting damage.
I need to reiterate to you here that I deeply respect the marriage covenant. My relationship with The Mr. would have passed its expiration date six months into the marriage if we had not been sealed in the temple. Three quarters of our time together was spent turning myself inside out to avoid the inevitable. In the end there was no other way to retain even a shred of my self worth or identity than to let it go, and still somehow I feel guilty for finally releasing the long dead weight of the relationship.
When people ask me, "What happened?" I have no concise answer. I have spent days and weeks of concerted effort trying to encapsulate into a simple phrase the kind of life it was being married to The Mr. "We got married too fast." "He wasn't kind." "He changed when we got married." "We were just too different." But none of it covers it, and I know--because before I crossed over into this no man's land I would have done the same thing-- that while people have sympathetic feelings and faces, many of them are ultimately trying to discern what I would be like to be married to and if the break up was my fault or his. Ultimately they want to know if I "tried hard enough" and if the break was justified. It's not really the individual's fault. It's a product of a religious culture that honors lists of dos and don'ts. Divorce is a don't. I know that, but to convey the nuance of all the different layers of hell that I lived for those two years is impossible in a 20 second window, or even 20 minutes. Knowing that someone could think I would tap out because I was too tired, that I would walk away when the going got tough, that I don't have it in me to be in a healthy relationship, that I made this choice out of selfishness, or that there is any part of my soul that feels okay about breaking a covenant with God is extremely painful and insulting to me. It leaves me feeling unknown and completely misunderstood.
One of the hardest and most heartbreaking aspects of the end of my marriage was when I would show up at The Padre's house, completely distraught, bawling my eyes out, trying so hard to convey what was going on. The Padre and Lady Pants are sympathetic people, but they are (fortunately for me or I would be the last one standing in the family) very active in the church. While they have both gone through divorce, the counsel they gave me was essentially--So sorry this is happening to you. He's just a young guy. He shouldn't treat you like that, but he is your eternal companion. I hope you two can work it out. And off I would go, back to the vortex of my marriage to see again if I could make sense of it. I can't really blame them for not being able to give me what I needed in those moments. They were doing their best, I'm sure, and couldn't know the full extent of what was going on behind our closed doors, but what I needed was for someone to tell me it's okay for me to think of what's best for me. It's okay to own up to how horrible things had gotten. It's okay to put myself first this time. It's okay to say enough is enough.
Because my relationship didn't fit into scenarios one through three, there is a small part of me that refuses to die off that still says, "It could have worked out. I should have tried harder," and I don't think that's fair. I don't want anyone else to have to live with that feeling. My life with The Mr. was full of half working cars dangerously jerry rigged, camo shorts and black socks, beard hair trimmings left in the sink, a tragic lack of social skills or understanding, his inability to settle on a career path, a constant fear that he was going to get fired, pressure to have a baby when I wasn't ready, discontent at my desire to complete my education, lack of spiritual connection or involvement, and a complete dismissal of any element of me that slightly resembled an artist. In the last couple months I've seen three plays, started a student activism blog, joined the music club with a trip planned to the symphony, hand crafted a pitcher that looks like a whale, made the perfect salad bowl in ceramics, started juicing, planted an herb garden with fresh mint, made plans to launch a vintage inspired clothing line, and learned to properly capture a human likeness in charcoal.
The Mr. and I do not belong together.
He didn't hit me, cheat on me, turn to porn or pot or suddenly develop an affection for Neil Patrick Harris, but when I was with him, all that I loved about me hid itself away in a deep, dark corner of my soul for fear that it would continue to go unnoticed, unappreciated, dismissed and rejected. He was not good to me and I was not right for him. We are better off apart. As clear as God speaking to Moses, night following day or the human body needing oxygen, that is the truth. Can't that be enough?
As a culture we are endlessly looping through this idea that a list of dos and don'ts will be what saves us-- that it's somehow an all inclusive package to salvation. This mentality is how we end up criticizing those who drink coke but have no qualms serving brownies with every meal. It's why we can feel justified telling ourselves that home and visiting teaching members of our faith alleviates us of the opportunity to better the world at large or to reach out to our non-LDS community. This mentality disconnects us from the Sprit and our core knowledge of what is right and wrong. It creates a blinding hyper focus on a fear that we are somehow deviating from the list.
When we do what we do out of fear--fear of losing, fear of disappointing, fear of punishment or falling short-- it is not the same thing as when we do it out of love. The point of this existence is to become changed beings. Fear does not transform us for the better. The right thing for my parents to do in that time was to reiterate to me that the destructive elements of his behavior were absolutely unacceptable and help me remember to value myself while I was married to a man who couldn't find anything about me to love. The right thing for me while I was in that relationship was to say, "I will not allow you to treat me or anyone this way. You are not being a good husband and will not make a good father to my children. If this is the life you choose, you choose a life without me." The right thing for any of us to do in the myriad of situations life throws at us is to look inside, connect with that voice that never lies and is never wrong, and follow it--end of story. The dos and don'ts are guidelines. The voice is a lifeline. Pushing it aside for the sake of the list doesn't bring us closer to salvation, it alienates us from direct revelation. It separates us from God.