The internet is full of pretty and beautiful things- cute animal pictures, nonsensical quizzes (but seriously, which Disney princess are you?), travel inspirations, Pinterest boards… the list goes on and on. But what you seldom hear about are the not-so-pretty things- I am guilty of this too- 90% of my blog is made up of easy to read, happy posts but sometimes a harsh reality intersects with a post and this is where I find myself today.
If you’re new here, you should know that last year I went through a divorce after three years of marriage and 12 years of being with my ex-husband, Expat Fox. My earlier post outlined the first step of my letting go and now that its been a few more months on, I am able to look back and reflect on the process.
I was the first (and only) person in my social circle to get a divorce. I had to figure out a lot on my own. I wish someone had told me that some family members would blame me and treat me like the black sheep of the family. Or that the hypocrites who never said a word about how they felt about my ex would finally speak their truth and tell me how they never thought he was good for me. I wish someone had told me that happily married people would treat me like I had a highly contagious disease when they heard I was divorced. There are SO many things I know now that I wish I had known when he first asked me for a divorce… things I wish I had known when I found out via pictures on social media that he was dating someone 10 years younger than me… things I hope can help someone else going through the same thing.
So with the help of my fellow panda pal, Po from Kung Fu Panda, here are the things that this petite panda had to learn:
Divorce doesn’t have to be ugly
With a distinct lack of kids or mutual possessions other than our 1 property, Fox and I came to amicable agreements about everything. There was no yelling, no spite, no blaming… it was rather anticlimatic actually. However, this was only because of my mindset that I had to accept things instead of trying to fight them. Once I reached a point of acceptance, we came to mutual agreements swiftly. It helped that we no longer lived in the same country and most of our communication was done via email but even so, we maintained a civil disposition with each other throughout the process despite the intense emotions I was experiencing.
The truth is that society- through the media- has set us up thinking that divorce should be a war with both parties spitting venom at each other. Although I can understand why it might turn that way, your mindset will determine how you deal with things. The most helpful thing I did for myself- advice I got from my father who, ironically, has never been divorced- was to take some time between the time Fox asked me for the divorce and before we started the legal proceedings to process it all. During this time I was able to process everything instead of just lashing out at him which would’ve happened if I was served with papers too soon.
2. You will need people… and they will be there for you
As a relatively solo & introverted panda, I have a small social circle consisting of women I have known for over a decade; of course none of them live in the same country as me, but as a nomad that is something I am used to. However, when Fox asked me for a divorce I had only been living in the UAE for 3 months- which means the people around me were people I had known for an even shorter period of time.
Do you know how awkward it is to ask people you just met to sign your divorce papers as witnesses?
But one thing I learnt very quickly is that people will be there if you ask them for support whether they know you well or not. My new friends- the Expat Felines- rallied around me in a way I did not expect considering the fact that we barely knew each other. Expat Bee would Skype me from Bahrain regularly and my friends & family back home checked in on me frequently. A year ago I would not have had any problem with being alone in my apartment with my thoughts; but post divorce I needed people to help me take my mind off the hurt and pain. Just to sit in Expat Lion’s apartment and watch The Notebook or to go out to a meal with Expat Lynx even if I wasn’t hungry or just hear about Bee’s day to distract me for a while. If you ask for help- you’ll get it.
Rough moments really can put things into perspective. You become more grateful for your family and friends. Asking for help after my divorce definitely strengthened those bonds and publishing my story online led me to find other women (in real life and online) who have shared similar experiences and consequently given me comfort.
3. You will make peace with the fact that it isn’t your fault
When I got divorced, people were shocked. I was pretty shocked by my divorce too, but not as nearly as stunned as I was to hear other people’s impression of my relationship and why they were surprised…
“But you have the perfect body!” (Why thank you!)
“But you cook so beautifully… he put on 15kgs after marriage after all!” (It is true, I am the curry queen!)
“You guys never had any major issues! If you guys couldn’t stay together then where is hope for the rest of us?!” (Now this I can’t answer…)
And surprisingly- they were right. You could have the perfect body, run a smooth household, exercise three times a week, greet your spouse at the door dressed in nothing but La Senza lingerie, have sex 5 times a day and yes, make delicious casseroles & heavenly cheesecake AND STILL he will divorce if that is what he wants. It took me far too long to realise that I DID NOTHING WRONG and more importantly I WAS NOT A BAD PERSON. He just didn’t want to be married to me anymore and that was not a reflection of my skills as a wife or a slight on my character. It was only after I realised this that I was able to think about finding love again with someone who would hopefully not discard me when he felt tired of being a husband/wanted a newer model.
4. There is NO SHAME in getting divorced
In the community where I come from, being a divorced woman is a disgusting thing. At my conservative & religious high school, a teacher once said to us, ‘No matter what else you achieve in life, no matter how successful you are in life, your success will mean nothing and you will be a failure if your marriage is not successful.’ Great advice to a class of young girls right?
Desi women (women of Indian origin)- and most women of colour- are brainwashed from their birth that women have to compromise and that they need to save their marriage at any cost. They must put up with any abuse and unfair treatment that comes their way because that is how to save a marriage. If he asks you for a divorce, you must do anything and everything to change his mind including begging, pleading, changing your entire personality and putting up with anything that comes your way. Haven’t you heard…
Nothing is worse than a divorced Desi woman.
The ‘shame’ of having to explain to people who knew my ex-husband that we are no longer married was too much – though, the funny thing is, I didn’t view it as shameful until I saw how people reacted.
As if I would be a total monster if I didn’t feel any shame. What sort of heartless woman would I be if I didn’t go to pieces, stop traveling, give up my career, move back to my home country and cry into a cup of tea everyday?
The funny thing was that people blamed me even though HE asked me for a divorce and pitied ME even though I am utterly successful in all that I do. Its a wonder I haven’t returned to my hometown in South Africa post divroce and don’t see myself headed back there anytime since.
Even in Western culture, we shame people who divorce. We view them as are failures, as lazy, as immoral. Accordingly, the only way to avoid the shame of divorce is to fight, to blame, to win, to prove it was not your fault. By making divorce a shameful thing, we guarantee nasty combative divorces. Its unnecessary. I read a quote on Facebook that said, ‘My marriage didn’t fail, I simply completed it.’ And that changed my perception- Fox and I didn’t fail- our time together just reached its end. Being divorced is a just a label- like being engaged, being married or being single. What I have learnt is that labels are just labels and do not define who I am. Why should I feel shame when I have done nothing shameful?
5. Your mindset is your choice
Following on from point #1, how you choose to handle the situation is determined by your mindset. Only you control your mindset. What I hadn’t expected was how much divorce would undermine the past. The doubts began to breed and multiply. Did he really mean it when he said “I do”? When did his heart begin to sink in response to my affection? Were they really happy, those holidays marked by smiling photographs? I can drive myself mad trying to identify the turning point. However…
When you are ready to accept the situation and move forward- you will. For some people that will take months. For others it may take years. Take things day by day and one step at a time until you find solid footing and each step doesn’t feel like you’re walking on quicksand. Realize quickly that emotions shouldn’t be suppressed.
One day you will wake up and realise how you want to handle the situation.When the shock has passed and you’ve forgiven the betrayal, you have a choice: To stay cocooned and venomous or to look on your divorce as a lesson. Being courteous to my ex husband while hurting was not always easy, but it was the choice I made and it allowed me to move on quicker than if I had held on to my anger. Honestly… I am happier and more peaceful as a result.
When I saw that he was dating someone so young, I just laughed… climbed into my new Audi… drove to Dubai to meet friends… came home to book flights to Egypt and Kenya… and then began this blog post. What I have learnt is that you are the only judge of your happiness and your success!
I used my divorce as an opportunity for growth and maturity. I took inventory of my life, mistakes and all, and devoted time and energy to discovering who I really am and what I want for their future. This process takes time, patience and dedication, but in the end, I was able to put my divorce behind me. In fact, when someone asked me recently if I could turn back the clock and stay married, the answer was overwhelmingly a heartfelt “no” — I would never go back, even with all of the known challenges.
When I have those low moments, or someone tries to upset me with an insensitive comment or idiotic reaction, I always remember…