When Theo Pauline Nestor split from her husband, she didn't spill the details to her closest friends and family. Instead, she submitted an essay (very early on in the divorce process) entitled, “The Chicken’s in the Oven, My Husband’s Out the Door.” And it was published. In The New York Times. "That raised a few eyebrows in the school parking lot on Monday morning," says Nestor. From that Modern Love essay came her memoir of starting over: How To Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed. Here, Nestor gets even more personal.
FWW: Your ex secretly withdrew $100 from your bank account, and the confrontation spurred the split. Had that not occurred, do you think the marriage would have ended?
Theo Nestor: I think something big had to happen for me to get to the point of “I want a divorce.” because we had two young kids (and because I harbored a belief — which I now question — that things have to be utterly horrible before you can split up), I was willing to put up with a lot of low level — and sometimes high level! — discontent. But it was just a matter of time before we were going to have a “big event,” because my former husband had a gambling problem, and it’s not easy to keep large financial losses away from your spouse, even one as deeply in denial as I was.
FWW: You talk about the low-level hum of doubt when you were in your marriage. Did you ever feel it after the split? As though you should reconcile?
TN: One thing I was grateful for during the split up was the certainty I felt about what I was doing. I tend to be prone to self-doubt, and I was glad that I didn’t have to put up with confusion on top of the grief.
FWW: Your ex struggled with gambling issues. Did you feel an obligation to help him work through it? How did you separate his problems from your life?
TN: I didn’t feel an obligation to help him through it because in the weeks that followed our split-up, it began to be clear to me that he and I were locked into a codependency dance and that I was the last person who was going to be able to help him. When I felt tempted, I reminded myself, “If you weren’t able to help him as his wife, you’re certainly not going to be able to as his ex-wife.” I also had a very good life coach who kept me focused on taking care of myself so that I could take care of my kids.
FWW: What objects/hobbies gave you the most comfort during the darkest days of divorce?
TN: There are definitely guilty pleasures during grief periods, or at least for me there were. I read for long stretches of time whenever my kids were with their dad. I favored memoirs of people who’d gone through far worse than me and survived. Those books were a great solace. But I also discovered that Oprah replays in my area at 9 p.m., which coincided nicely with my kids’ bedtime and gave me something to look forward to. I also realized that I enjoy the occasional Manhattan served up in a martini glass with a bright red cherry resting in the bottom soaking up top-shelf bourbon.
FWW: The worst thing about being divorced is:
TN: School picnics and auctions.
FWW: The best thing about being divorced is:
TN: Learning that I can count on myself. Always.
Theo Pauline Nestor is an author, writing coach, and memoir-writing instructor at the University of Washington. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Child, and on msn.com, among others. How To Sleep Alone In a King-Size Bed is currently available on amazon.com or look for it on Target's "Bestseller New Releases" shelf on April 12th.