After being left for a younger woman in 2003, journalist Erica Manfred eventually learned how to both survive and thrive. In her new book, He's History, You'e Not: Survivng Divorce After 40, she shares her own divorce experience, as well as the advice of experts, with specific sections tailored to women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.
FWW: You were a writer before you became a divorceé. When and how did you decide to combine these two aspects of your life for this book?
Erica Manfred: My marriage pretty much quashed my creativity. I did write, but mostly journalism, while my great love has always been personal essays. The divorce signaled a burst of creativity for me. I'd always wanted to write a memoir, and I do love giving advice, so this book is a combination. The divorce was so traumatic for me that it triggered a flood of ideas, feelings, curiosity and much more. This book gave me the chance to tell my story, and investigate aspects of divorce for older women that I'd been curious about. I love to help people, I'd been a caseworker in a previous life, so He's History; You're Not was also an opportunity to help other women who had gone through what I'd experienced.
FWW: Why is divorce different for women over the age of 40?
EM: As older women who’ve been married longer, our grieving takes longer and hits us harder. For one thing, our losses are greater. We’ve lost both our happy memories of times past, and the expectation of a secure, comfortable future, plus we lack the resilience of youth to help us bounce back. After twenty or thirty years of a coupled life — where your mate probably took care of the traditional guy things plus provided economic security — you’re suddenly cast out into the cold, cruel world of struggling to pay the bills, figuring our how to find a plumber at 3AM when a pipe bursts, plus trying to find both a job and a man at an age where you’re supposed to be looking forward to winding down, not gearing up. Younger women can start over, we can't. We face age discrimination both in the job market and in the dating world.
FWW: What’s the most important thing an older woman needs to know about divorce?
EM: You CAN take care of yourself. I can't emphasize this enough. Older women tend to feel much more helpless than younger women who have been raised in a post-feminist world. So many older women have depended on their husbands their entire lives, don't know how to balance a checkbook, or when to get the tires rotated, or how to deal with home repair. I want reassure women that none of this is rocket science. Anyone who can raise kids can do just about anything. You are much more resourceful than you ever guessed, and you can take care of yourself without a man.
FWW: People often wait until the kids are grown to get divorced. What do you mean by “the kids are never grown?” How are adult children affected by their parents divorce?
EM: Adult children suffer a series of intense losses as a result of parental divorce. They lose their family as it has been and will never be again. The bedrock sense of self that your children depend on to know who they are can be shaken by your divorce. They will re-evaluate their childhoods in the light of the divorce, and come up with different versions of who they were and who they are now. Adult children of divorce often start questioning the point of marriage and become more leery of dating and making a commitment.
The losses go on and on, separating what was once one extended family. Families split apart, take sides; your children may stop seeing your in-laws if they take your side in the divorce, or even if they don’t. Instead of being a source of comfort, parents become a source of anxiety. Roles are reversed when there are adult children. Parents stop acting like parents and expect their kids to take care of them. Some adult children can become very depressed when their parents divorce and go through a long adjustment process, just like small children.
FWW: Should older women use the internet to start dating again?
EM: Absolutely. It has almost leveled the playing field for women like us. The Internet gives you the opportunity to find older men you never would have met otherwise and to cast a big net outside your immediate area. There is a cornucopia of older men — and even younger men — out there ripe for the plucking. You just have to be ready to make a few compromises. Internet dating is a long shot for long-term romance — so many men are either emotionally unavailable, married, or both — but it DOES happen. We all know women who've found love on the Internet. It is certainly worth trying, just to get back into the dating game and flex your dating muscles. Just don’t expect too much.