I read an interesting article on the BBC website the other day written by a woman who, after having had a baby, suddenly realised all the stuff that women don’t tell each other openly about having a baby.
Typically, being a slight muppet, I can’t actually find the damn article to link to. But it certainly got me thinking about things I wished I’d known (not babies – never going down that road) – but about the other huge thing I did, namely getting divorced.
I suspect that most of the ideas society has about women vs divorce centres on the image of a slightly embittered middle-aged woman shredding her ex’s boxers on the drive and that sort of thing.
I’m not sure what society thinks of women who get divorced in their very early thirties; even less so when she is the one who chooses to leave. I’ve written about the circumstances, the whys and the hows – but I thought it would be interesting to compare what I assumed or expected at the time versus what actually happened.
I guess the biggest assumption that I had – being in my very early thirties when my decree absolute landed on the doormat – was that I’d find a long-term partner again pretty quickly, or certainly as soon as I fancied being coupled up again.
Six years (and a lot of blog posts [errrrm, 715]) later, I’m precisely as single now as I was then.
However, I’ve stopped being quite so permanently baffled by this state of business. Sure, I wonder occasionally what makes me so undateable, but other than that I rest comfortably in the knowledge that one of the reasons is because I ain’t ever going to settle for second-best. Been married, got the t-shirt, got the divorce – not going to date twats just for the sake of having a boyfriend.
It’s good-looking, fun, caring, dynamite in bed and slightly daft or it’s nothing at all, thanks…
There have been people who I could have dated. Sometimes they were drippy, sometimes they were droopy, sometimes I liked them more than they liked me, sometimes I thought they were boring, sometimes I just didn’t really like them very much,
After years of being half of a couple, and indeed getting married very young, it took me years to realise that actually falling in love and not getting your own way is just a big fat part of life. That sometimes you’ll date someone for a little while and you’ll know it’s not quite a fit but you’ll carry on for a bit anyway because it’s nice to have some company, until the day when something crops up that reminds you that you’re not actually that compatible and one or the other of you calls it off. Like Dr Fathead – the last person I can honestly say I dated in the real sense of the word – and that was 5 years ago.
So yes. The next man isn’t necessarily right around the corner as you gleefully sign those divorce papers, but that doesn’t mean I will stop looking. Besides, I had an awful lot of adventurous sex in the time where I definitely didn’t want to be dating…
Because divorce is a licence to do all the things you secretly wanted to but couldn’t. Two people at the same time? Tick! String of men on the go? Tick! Driving around the countryside with no knickers on, off to meet your latest date? Tick! Within the parameters of safety and healthfulness, the sky’s the limit, and there is something out there for everyone. It was (and still is) – without ego – a source of great wonder just how many men do find me attractive and want to get horizontal (or vertical) with me. It means I’m not dried up and shrivelled just yet. Make hay while the sun shines…
I suppose the bits that were a shock to me were how expensive it is to live on your own. For years I paid half the mortgage, half the bills. Suddenly it’s all on you, plus a hefty deposit to rent.
And then there’s the actual business of the divorce. I couldn’t afford a solicitor, so I did it myself (with some excellent and free advice from a friend who specialised in family law – it wasn’t the time to be polite and say “oh no, I couldn’t possibly trouble you…” – I seized her offer with both hands). But doing it yourself is brutal – there is no filter between you and your ex’s solicitor.
I used to only read those emails in the office when I was at least surrounded by familiar faces. I couldn’t face reading them at home on my own. I didn’t want that intrusion into my Cotswolds fortress where I was holed up trying to ride out the storm. So my colleagues periodically had to deal with my shrieking at my computer in rage, or perhaps fleeing to the toilets in tears, or sitting steely-eyed at my desk looking daggers at my screen – and bless them for the lunches and the drinks and the tissues.
I didn’t expect, either, not to get any return on a house I paid half of for seven years. I didn’t expect my brilliant mathematician husband to be so woefully inept at putting together financial details, and I genuinely thought he had made a mistake when he sent me his numbers, honestly thought that he’d added an extra nought by mistake. This, then, was the outcome of his refusal to discuss his finances for years, and my complicity in not forcing him to. Stunning, breathtaking debt.
In short, I wanted the divorce to be done as quickly as possible, and said he could have the house in return for him not pursuing me for any of the debt. Or we could go to court, which I was more than prepared to do, but he wasn’t. He only just dodged the court bullet by the skin of his teeth – he’ll never know how close it came. I walked away with nothing, which is always better than minus nothing – and started the hell again.
So that was that expectation shattered. You don’t always get back what you put in. It’s the only thing I hold any level of bitterness about, but now I’ve bought my own house I’m able to finally let it go.
The big lesson for me was that you can only ever truly rely on yourself. I will never let my financial assets be threatened by anyone ever again. If I need to, I will specify splits and payments legally, should I ever live with anyone seriously again. This house is my security and I have worked hard for it. I will not let anyone touch it.
The little daily things I didn’t appreciate either. It sounds ridiculous to say suddenly you have to put out the bins yourself every week. But if you haven’t lived on your own, ever, you’ve always shared all the chores. There were days when I was newly living on my own that I couldn’t face the bins and the washing and the cooking and the cleaning – it felt relentless, this looking after myself. The level of organisation required to pay bills on time and feed myself and keep things neat and tidy as I like was just mind-boggling.
But I managed it. Everyone manages it. It isn’t anything special, it just takes time to adjust. And there are benefits – sprawling out in bed, hogging the whole duvet, doing what the fuck you like with the toothpaste cap and the loo seat, everything being where you left it, no arguments about what to watch on telly, never a queue for the bathroom, no snores, no accomodating meal tastes. No in laws.
There are things I love about being in a couple. The hugs and the cuddles, the passing kisses, the familiar sex on tap, someone to chat to, someone who is always interested, someone on your side, the two of you against the world – but life is good and rich and full without someone living with you providing those things.
Friends step up or duck out. It’s just a fact that you will “get” some friends and he’ll “get” others – but if you’re lucky like me, you’ll get the brilliant ones and he’ll get the irritating self-righteous twats who tell him what he wants to hear and haven’t the faintest idea of the truth.
If you’re truly lucky, you’ll get the friends who don’t mind you turning up on a weeknight when you’re newly seperated and sleeping on a lilo on their lounge floor because you just really needed to see some familiar faces who would give you wine and unconditional love. The ones who love you even though your ex was their friend too, the ones who know everything and still cherish you.
The ones who duck out or decide they don’t want to help you are the ones you don’t need anyway. Divorce changes how friends interact with you now you’re suddenly single. It alters the dynamic. You are now a third instead of an equal in another couple. Friends of friends will treat you warily if you speak to their husbands; even more so if there are children at a party and all the women are talking potty training – if you go and chat to the men instead then prepare to feel many pairs of eyes burning into your back. Divorced and childless – tsssssssskkk…. it’s a badge I was never ashamed to wear and I’m still not. Besides, I have more taste than to pinch someone’s husband, not that they know it.
All these things I didn’t know. None of these would have stopped me leaving.
Some of them would have made me do things differently while I was married – and I will never ever have a partner who won’t discuss money openly with me (I won’t have a bipolar partner, either, but that’s a slight aside…).
Divorce has made me see that I am capable and resiliant, that I am independent and can be proud of it. I can manage my own life, I can overcome really difficult things like M.E. without someone dispensing the cuddles and the comfort at home (parents aside!). I can buy my own house with my own money. I can look myself in the eye and be confident in my integrity. I can have sex as much or as little as I like, and I don’t have to settle by dating someone who isn’t worth it.
Yes, my TV is currently propped up on books while I organise my lounge. Yes, the painting is going to take forever because it’s just me and the odd friend doing it as and when. No – there’s no Sunday morning in bed reading the papers or a magazine after lazy morning sex and breakfast in bed, but then again it means I can shave my legs whenever I like and not whenever I have to!
Maybe it has made me selfish, maybe I’m stuck in my ways now. Maybe my inability to share my bed with anyone isn’t awfully healthy. Maybe my standards are what other people would call too high.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter what anyone else really thinks, because I have the freedom to do as I please. The things that matter to me are my friends and family, and those are the only opinions that I care to hold in any regard.
I don’t have to compromise to accomodate a difficult partner. There are no eggshells to walk on.
And that – if I could go back and tell the me sitting at my desk boiling over with rage at an email from my ex’s solicitor – I would tell her that it is worth it, the difficulty and the upset and the pain is worth it to have your freedom.
Don’t look back, be proud that you had the guts to leave when it was the right thing to do, be happy that you didn’t settle for an easy life – because you’ll emerge at the end as someone you like so much more, someone really great.