I was extremely worried about telling people about my divorce, mostly because I kept forgetting that other people have their own lives to get on with. I was also extremely worried about what my parents would think, mostly because I’d underestimated their wisdom (their reward, I guess, for surviving their own mistakes).
My mum’s solution was to spend every waking moment texting me the names of other people who had divorced.
“Sue’s divorced, remarried and much happier now” my phone would ping at 9am on a bleary Tuesday.
“Sue, Maria that I go shopping with’s sister – you’ve never met her.”
Then shortly after: “Cathy is divorced. Said the whole experience made her a much more rounded person.”
An unfortunate choice of words: Cathy had put on 3 stone.
If divorce had needed a cheerleader, my mum was it.
“Divorce is in fashion, it’s all the rage,” she’d say, as if divorce were a handbag. She cut out articles about famous kids whose parents had split, and circled the passages where it talked about the breakdown of their families. “Look,” she’d say “this rapper has had three kids with three different women. Sperm flying about like sycamore seeds. Sometimes I think its better. You know what Freud says: nuclear families are like nuclear bombs.”
I’m not sure that Freud did ever say that but my mother was never one to let the truth stand in her way.
At her most serious, she would describe divorce as an ‘epidemic.” “Men and women don’t need each other any more,” she’d say thoughtfully. And she would have done her research. “Some of the statistics don’t look so great for second marriages either. It’s conflicting,” she’d add, putting down the newspaper and taking off her glasses, “but just to be on the safe side, if I were you, I’d just have hundreds and hundreds of flings.”
“Is Mick Jagger a failure?”
My father was more matter of fact: he took me out to coffee still dressed in the suit that he continued to wear, fifteen years into retirement. “ I’m sorry to tell you this,” he announced, “but you married the wrong man.” He said it in the same tone that he reserved for business ideas that didn’t work. As far as he was concerned, my marriage was like a failed samosa factory. Then his eyes lit up as he remembered something:
“The good news is that you have completed a full life cycle,” he said. I felt like a drosophila fly on its way out.
“I feel like such a failure,” I said.
Dad looked at me with genuine bewilderment. “What, so you think Mick Jagger is a failure?”
Mick Jagger was one of Dad’s heroes, and at times I wondered if the main thing that he might be disappointed about was that my marriage didn’t break down because of an affair with a playboy centrefold. (At least I don’t think it did. In our marriage there were definitely two people, neither of whom Id’ known particularly well – but as for the rest, at this point, who knows?).
The Mick Jagger line was probably more useful than any lines I ever got from my therapist. That’s not to say that therapy isn’t helpful: therapy is helpful in the way that GCSE Latin is helpful- fundamentally, abstractly. It gave me the ingredients of a healthy relationship and a glossy photo of what the delicious end product might look like, like a recipe book that one might read whilst eating a Pot Noodle.
Then of course there was the more practical advice from a divorced friend. “When you’ve filled in form E, buy yourself a present. When you get your decree nisi through, buy yourself a present. When you get your decree absolut through, buy yourself a present. If things get delayed or if in doubt, buy yourself a present.”
Of course, the ultimate healer is time. But you have to pass that time first. Googling quotes is brilliant for this. “If you think it’s hard to find happiness within, rest assured that it’s impossible to find it anywhere else.” It was Cicero apparently, who said: “If you have a library and a garden you need nothing else in life.” I have the Central London equivalent: a kindle and no razor. I think that’s proof that I’m on the right track.
Dr Isabelle Hung is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and clinical psychologist. Having got through her own divorce just three years ago, she is now remarried and happy to report that divorce really is an opportunity for growth and positive change.