Latest update: June 20th, 2012
At a wedding, I sit across from a woman I don’t know.
“What’s your name?” she asks me.
“Alanna Fine,” I say, choosing to introduce myself with my maiden name.
“And what’s your maiden name?” she asks me.
“That is my maiden name.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought that was a sheitel on your head.”
“It is. I’m divorced.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok,” I reply, knowing it won’t be the last time I hear that.
I know these awkward situations will continue and I’m prepared for the comments: “I’m so sorry.” “I don’t know what to say.” “How are you doing?” “We should hear good news ” And the one I thought I was done hearing, “Im yirtzeh Hashem by you ” “If you and your ex get along, maybe you’ll get back together?” And my all time favorite, “You know, it’s a mitzvah to re-marry your ex” Really?
If someone had asked me years ago to envision my future, I would have never foreseen that I would end up a divorced single mother. My grandparents were married for 62 years and my parents have been married for 32. I was married for 5. In California, that’s around the average amount of time people stay married. We exerted ourselves endlessly to make the impossible possible, but we were unsuccessful. We worked harder at our marriage than I’ve ever worked at anything in my life. After seeing five marriage counselors – we divorced.
My friends comment on how happy I look now. My family tells me that they’re so glad to see me back to myself – happy and relaxed. I’m again becoming the person I was before the marriage. During my marriage, I felt like I was losing who I was – slowly fading away.
Many people ask me why my marriage didn’t work. It reminds me of the man who asked Hillel to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot. Although I would love to do what Hillel did, I can’t be expected to explain a marriage of five years in five minutes.
Everyone wants to know what went wrong with someone else’s divorce. Both sides allocate blame: “He didn’t know how to be a husband/she didn’t know how to be a wife.” Young women in their early twenties are often unprepared for the surprises that marriage brings. We work at it with counselors who themselves don’t understand how to help us make the marriage work. A counselor can believe that we can stay together but the bottom line is – can we?
Too often couples seek counseling when destructive patterns have already set in or when they’re nearing the end of the rope. A counselor is only as effective as the couple will allow them to be. Sometimes people want a counselor to do all the work but are unwilling to put in the work themselves. In certain situations, the best thing for everyone’s emotional wellbeing is to let go. Yet we plug away, sifting through counselors like quicksand, praying we’ll find one who will somehow fix our marriage.
I believe that for a marriage to continue, we have to accept and live with the person we married – even if they never change.
Women have many reasons for staying in a bad marriage. Some fear being alone or that they’ll never remarry; some stay for financial reasons or for the sake of the children; others fear the stigma. Some stay because they find themselves strongly drawn to their spouses despite how poorly they are being treated. Sometimes we can be drawn to or attracted to dysfunctional people and abnormal, unhealthy situations. Just because you are attracted/drawn to someone doesn’t mean you should stay married to them. A truly qualified counselor can help you form a complete picture.
Some stay because they feel it’s their tikkun in life. How depressing it is to think that Hashem really wants people to be unhappy and lost in a marriage. Though divorce has been an option for centuries, even people who did not believe a miserable situation was their tikkun in life stayed because of the social stigma attached to divorce. People stayed married – no matter how bad things got. Many stayed for their children thinking it would be better for children to live in a home with both parents – no matter how bad the dysfunction and its effects. While the stigma still exists, it has lessened enough that people are finally willing to follow a road out of heartbreaking circumstances.
And thus families, where parents and grandparents have been married for many years, are suddenly finding themselves with a cousin, daughter, son, grandchild, niece or nephew who is divorced.
So often the response of an outsider upon hearing the news of a divorce is, “It’s such a shame. Maybe they should have worked on it more.” What is not taken into account is each unique situation or the possibility that some people are completely unresponsive to therapy or change, not even ever acknowledging that they have a problem.
We have chosen the harder path even though some people believe that we’ve taken the easier way out. The decision to divorce comes with a lot of heartache, much sadness and a lot of deliberation. We did not choose our own happiness over our children’s and we did not leave our husbands because they did not live up to an ideal fantasy. There was simply no way to live with our spouse. By the time people choose to get divorced, they are out of options.
After my divorce, I had questions running through my mind. Will I find someone else? There had been a comfort level with my husband, and now I would be starting from square one. I wondered if I should get back together with him – it’s hard to be on your own. I call this the euphoric recall stage when you remember the good memories and conveniently forget the painful moments. It takes time to be comfortable with the decision you made and begin rebuilding a new life for yourself.
It’s important to take time to rediscover who you are and to be happy without relying on a new man to provide happiness for you. When you are ready to start dating again, you will realize that your perspective has changed. You will find that you overlook many trivial things and focus on what is truly important. Even the actual dating is different. There’s so much that both of you will bring to the table and hopefully you both know what it takes to work at a relationship and what communication is.
Often things move very quickly the second time around. However, it’s really important to take the necessary time to really get to know someone and then once you’re sure, have the two families meet. It’s a big change for everyone and the second marriage failure rate is fairly high.
The biggest obstacle I have faced is men who won’t date women with children. Women with children are to be avoided at all costs. It’s upsetting to hear, “He won’t date anyone with a child.” This comes from men in their 30s – men who are divorced or who have been single for a long time.
It’s hard to get your foot in the door when a shadchan represents you like this to single, never-been-married, 33-year-old Zalmy:
“Hi Zalmy, would you date someone who is divorced with a child?”
“No, I’m not comfortable with that.”
“Ok, no problem. Bye.”
It’s not just men who have not been married before, divorced men with children, who really should know better, avoid single mothers. And yet we’ve all heard the stories of that man who was pushed into dating a woman with a child and it works out or that story about the guy who met the woman, really likes her, finds out she has kids, and marries her “anyway.”
Single mothers shouldn’t be cast aside – we should be sought after! We know the work that goes into a marriage. We know what it’s like to have a baby and raise children. You can see what kind of mothers we are just by watching us – you don’t have to guess and hope. We devote our lives to our children and put them first. We are giving and selfless – true heroes who deal with great challenges and overcome them on a daily basis.
There are the shadchanim who ask, “What’s so special about you? I have singles your age coming to me who’ve never been married.” “I don’t have anyone in your age range.” “Men don’t want your baggage, you’re divorced and have a child.” It is painful to hear our precious children referred to as “baggage.”
The alternative to using a shadchan is the Internet – Frumster, Saw You at Sinai or Chabad Match. The problem is that you never know what you’re going to get. One man contacted me from Frumster and I found out he’d been in jail. Another had every addiction under the sun. One man, who dated my friend, had not gotten his get yet and made inappropriate advances. Some men prey on divorced women because they assume we’re lonely and will latch onto a new relationship with excitement. I can only hope that divorced women proceed with caution and ask for references before dating anyone.
In addition to the troubles we face in the dating world, people assume that our children are taken care of. We have to be our own advocates asking our children’s rebbes or men from our neighborhood to sit with our boys in shul. Yom Tov brings its own challenges. Rather than feel excited about yom tov, we feel a loss. It’s family time and we just don’t belong – Mommies pushing babies to shul, fathers holding their children’s hands, families eating with other family friends. We’re confronted with our reality more than ever and long to start a new life with a husband.
It can be discouraging to look at single mothers who have been single for many years and wonder if that’s what the future holds in store for us too. The only thing I have come up with for myself is that Hashem looks at each one of us separately and has a different plan for each one of us. We have to believe that Hashem is guiding us through what is hopefully one of the last and greatest challenges we will go through. With Hashem’s help, we can look forward to a smoother road in the future.
Our children feel so many effects from our divorce, both at home and in school. Some of my friends’ children are facing teasing in school and feelings of being different. Young children are not able to understand why their father/mother isn’t as involved as other children’s parents. Children and parents need the school’s faculty and administration to be more understanding with tuition and behavioral problems. It would also be helpful if the parents of our children’s classmates would be more understanding and explain to their children what divorce is and how to treat children of divorce with sensitivity.
It’s important to establish a support group in your neighborhood if there isn’t one already. I wouldn’t suggest for women to sit around and complain but rather to keep the focus on one issue, maybe bringing in guest speakers. We all have our own issues and we are at different stages, but it can be helpful to focus on one issue.
If you know of a widow or divorced mother, invite her over for a Shabbos meal or take her children toshul, especially if you have your own. Every rabbi and shul member should be aware of the divorcees in their midst and pay close attention to their family’s needs. It can make a difference.
I’m here to support you and answer any questions you might have. Please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will respect your anonymity.Alanna Fine
About the Author: Alanna Fine, a clinical social worker, lives in Los Angeles with her son. She is involved in advocacy, awareness, and empowerment in the hope of initiating a system-wide change for the divorced community. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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