By Dena Landon
My boyfriend and I are close to our six month anniversary. It hasn’t been an easy road. There has been a lot of turmoil in my life – custody battles and drama – and a last minute move back across the country. He’s planning on joining me in Minnesota but, like so much in my life, I’m holding that in open hands. Do I want the relationship to end? No, and I’m putting in the work to keep it alive. But I know I’d be okay if it did.
Part of the stigma surrounding divorce, and those who view it as a failure, is the idea that divorced couples treated their marriage cavalierly. That they should have worked harder, gone to more therapy, or just sucked it up. These assumptions are not only insulting they so often place the burden of that work on a woman’s shoulders.
Who’s the one arranging the baby-sitter during therapy sessions? Who is calling to make those appointments? Who ends up swallowing her hurt and putting on a happy face for the sake of her marriage? The amount of emotional labor a woman performs when she’s in a bad marriage is incalculable. And it takes a toll on her physical, emotional and mental health.
I don’t think many women were hoping for divorce on their wedding days. But we had the courage to embrace change, to make the best decision for ourselves and our children, or to cope when someone else made the decision for us. This doesn’t mean that we’ll just throw away our next relationship, however.
Yes, I’m divorced, but if anything my divorce has taught me the value of relationships.
What it does mean is that I know I can survive without a man in my life. I know that I can leave if he becomes abusive. I know my own strength and have a calm certainty in it. Yes, I’m divorced, but if anything my divorce has taught me the value of relationships.
The girlfriends who saw me through the tough times. The friends who helped with childcare. The lovely woman putting me up in her house while I get back on my feet. The therapist who guided me back to a good mental state. Divorce taught me the value of all the other relationships in my life.
I feel like online dating in particular encourages this idea that people are disposable – just swipe right and find someone else – but a true connection is hard to find. Once found, it should be cherished. No one knows that better than a woman who’s seen the connection with her former spouse fade, explode, or be torn apart.
But I also can better identify and articulate my boundaries – this far, no further. And I know that my needs are valid and I can express them to my boyfriend.
A few weeks ago we had a blow-up fight. Screaming into the phone, hanging up then calling back and screaming some more. It was…good.
No, really. Because, in my marriage, I would never have stood up for myself. Never have expressed how upset I was with his actions or told my partner what I needed. And I would have folded in on myself and just agreed when he was being unreasonable in order to keep the peace.
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We both took a few hours to calm down, during which I examined myself and what I’d brought to the fight, realized how much I loved him but also drew my lines in the sand. Then he showed up at my place and we worked it out. Came up with a plan to address the fight’s causes and put it into action.
Dating post-divorce also means that I know what I can really tolerate and what’s a deal-breaker. Before I met my boyfriend, I didn’t just go out on second dates with guys because I was scared of being alone. In fact, I went months without going out at all. I knew that I could be alone, and that alone was preferable to being with the wrong man. Now, my new strength means that I know that I am with my partner by choice. There are days when I feel like, even though I was thirty at the time, a child went into my marriage and a woman came out. That growth was dearly won.
I am proud of the woman I am now and have forgiven myself for the mistakes of the past. Moving into the future, and into the uncertain world of post-divorce dating, I am grateful for the lessons I’ll take with me. I not only know what really matters, I know what to hold closely and when it might be time to let it go. And I have the strength and peace to do both.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.