There's a great, darkly comedic scene in the 2009 movie “It's Complicated” that I think sums up divorce heartbreak for many of us. Meryl Streep gets into a car with co-star Steve Martin, who is listening to a self-help CD on divorce. After he fumbles in embarrassment to shut off the track, she asks him, amused, if he's recently been divorced. “Yes,” he answers quite candidly. “Two and a half years ago.” She shoots him a knowing look and replies, “Well, look at it this way. In two more years, you'll start to feel normal again.” At least, she points out, that was her experience.Which means, if we do the math, it took her almost five years just to start to feel normal again. Give it another two, and maybe she will actually feel normal...which gives us a total of six and a half years. That's a lot of years of mental turmoil to go through. But then again, aren't our lives mostly made up of turmoil and long periods of feeling not quite normal? What is normal supposed to feel like?
A Simple Life, or Not
I married young. I was brought up in a traditional family that very much subscribed to the notion that marriage and children are the ideal. One should marry for life, have a family, have a stable and if possible lucrative career, and enjoy the weekends. And I did make an effort to have that kind of life. But the thing is, humans are complicated creatures. We don't always live by the rules that our society has put into place, and we don't even usually live by the rules of what is considered mentally “normal.” We all experience the world in a different way, and we all have our quirks, our ups and downs, and our unique relationships with others that defy the so-called norm. A lot of people find it peculiar that I would hire my ex-husband to build my dining table, or that we have dinner together, or do other activities that may seem a bit atypical for a recently divorced couple. I guess in a way it does seem odd. But then, would it be healthier or better if we were screaming and hurling dinner plates across the lawn? Divorce brings out almost every kind of human emotion and reaction. It would be great if we could understand everything about it, and put it all into perspective so that we could define an all-encompassing, normal human divorce response. But it isn't quite so simple.
What is Normal, Anyway?
In the film, Meryl Streep's character has a brief affair with her ex-husband ten years after their divorce. She surprised her family, but most of all herself. I personally found it an odd rekindling of passion, but then, if you think about all the people in your life, once you form a bond with someone, it never truly breaks. So while you may be angry, or sad, or disappointed with your ex, you can't cross off all of the memories you made together and simply start all over. Life is a continuum, and when something interrupts the flow, it's ok to feel shaky. It's normal to not feel normal for however long it takes, as long as you keep living, experiencing, and keeping your heart open to any possibility. I'm not suggesting by any means that have an affair with your ex, but I am suggesting staying open to the chance that you may one day want to relive some of those happier times, as friends. When I think of all the relationships in my life, from the one with my mother, my sister, my late father, my ex – none of them are or ever were “normal” per se. And maybe that's the very definition of what normal is.
I don't have the answers, but I know that that I don't want to spend the next two, or four, or six years of my life waiting to feel normal again. The truth is, I probably never felt normal in the first place. There are many possibilities for how the next few years of my life could play out, and there is no point in fretting over the future, or my place in it. Too many people get caught up in the idea that they have to wait until the good part begins, or that they aren't really living until a certain event takes place, or until they feel a certain way. They go through something hard, like the end of a relationship, and enter into a holding pattern. But waiting until you feel normal again after a divorce might be a very long wait. Meanwhile, life goes on. Remember when you were a teenager and you couldn't wait for your life to “start”? I know I felt that way. I couldn't wait until the teenage part was over so I could begin my life at college. In college, I couldn't wait until I was out of school and out in the big world, which seemed so full of possibilities. Little did I know that I was already living my life, and the starting point was birth. Well it's the same thing with divorce. You can't wait until you're over your ex to feel normal, or good again. You just have to feel what you feel, day by day. No one said it would be easy. We may think we know exactly what we're doing when we walk down the aisle, plan a family, buy a house. But in reality, life is just never that simple. It's complicated.
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