Have any of you gotten to that place, where you’ve woken up one morning in your apartment alone, an empty space beside you where your former spouse used to be, and you realize, “I’m over it?”
Somehow — slowly and yet suddenly — the heavy cloud of mourning, the knots of anguish in your stomach are gone. You never thought they’d go away. In fact, you might have learned to live with that feeling, accepting it as an inevitable imprint of divorce trauma. You’ve stopped fighting it.
And that’s when it goes away.
There is no way to predict when it will happen. The aftermath of a divorce is composed of many painful stages, and each time you think you’ve graduated past one phase, you enter into another one. I suspect it is different for everyone. It is a function of who we are and how long we were married for, not to mention the nature of our relationship and the manner in which it fell apart.
I was married for seven years of a fourteen-year relationship that began when I was 20 years old. When my ex-husband and I separated, I was 34. I was a different person, with different needs (not that I ever really knew what I wanted at the unripe age of 20). Our divorce was not amicable, and by the time we both signed our divorce papers, we had managed to destroy the memory of whatever good had actually existed.
So when it finally became official, I was relieved. Not because it was finally over, but because I thought I could finally move on. I could finally be free of the pain and sorrow.
But I was wrong. Yes, we had signed on the dotted line, but no clear timeline for healing had magically appeared. I didn’t know what shape my immediate future was going to take or how I was going to feel next. Would I continue to be sad? Was I going to accumulate enough experiences of my own, so that I could start saying “I” rather than “we”? Would I ever feel normal, and was I even entitled to? And if so, when?
But no one could tell me when. There is no single defining moment that marks progress. It is an accumulation of hundreds of intangible moments — of tiny shifts — that build on one another. Sometimes all it takes is sign — a concrete incident — to shed light on your growth.
These signs can come in many forms, such as:
1. You stop going to his Facebook page to see if he’s changed his profile picture (since you’re not friends, you’re not privy to anything else).
2. You no longer have an uncontrollable urge to talk about your divorce or “what happened to you” anymore (you can still write about it, though).
3. You enter into a new relationship where you don’t cry the first time you have sex.
4. You enter into a new relationship where you’re not comparing the new guy to your ex, checking off the positive qualities he has that your ex didn’t. Or perhaps you’ve come so far that you realize they have some good things in common, too.
5. Your mother calls you on what would have been your tenth wedding anniversary, to see if you’re okay, when you don’t even know what day it is.
7. He sends you an email out of the blue, and while you experience a disconcerting jolt of anxiety, it doesn’t send you into a tizzy the way those emails used to. And even if you might consider writing back, you get too busy in your own life that the email gets buried in your inbox.
8. You find out that your ex has a new house, a new wife, and maybe even a new baby. Six months ago it might have driven you to the brink of email bombing, but now suddenly, you are too busy enriching your own life that you don’t care what is going on in his. Maybe you’re even happy for him.
9. You don’t trip over the “ex” part in “ex-husband” like you used to. Now, it rolls right off your tongue.
10. And maybe, you’ve opened your heart up again and have allowed someone new in — someone whom you can even call “husband.” Like I did.
Six years after my ex-husband and I separated, and two weeks after we had a heartfelt reconciliation meeting and declared that we were finally over it, my new future husband got down on his knee and proposed to me.
Guess what I said?
– ORITTE BENDORY
Oritte Bendory is a Manhattan based writer and blogger at The Cougel Chronicles: Tales of a Jewish Cougar (Or, If Carrie Bradshaw was Jewish and divorced Big). Her remarriage memoir, “To Love, Cherish & Disobey,” is forthcoming. She is also a former screenwriter and film producer.