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What I Wish I Could Say: Divorce & the Aftermath

These “WIWICS” are purely meant to be entertaining, not “advisory” especially legally. Any similarities between this and actual divorces I’ve witnessed, been through or seen in movies is purely intentional, because you can’t make some of this stuff up – at least no names are used. I know, as a pastor, people think I’m supposed to be “divorce is never good” but sometimes it is. And here is how I came to this conclusion.

At least ten times in twenty-years of ministry a couple comes in to my office for “marital counseling.” I generally refuse. I’m not a psychologist, counselor and if you come to a pastor to “fix” your marriage, I can almost guarantee you within a year, you’ll be just as divorced and neither of you will be members of the church you currently attend. You’re asking your pastor to get in the middle of your marriage and hear this clearly – we will. Some are gifted enough not to blunder in aimlessly, but most of us are conditioned to respond, mainly by telling you both where you’re wrong and to get it together. Even worse, some of us will just say, “You can’t get a divorce or God will damn you.” If you hear that – leave that toxic church immediately and don’t come back.

Case in point. I had a gentleman named Roxy come in with his wife Dave (the names have been changed) and while she sat on the couch with her head bowed he looked at me, with all seriousness and said, “I want you to tell my wife how she’s supposed to be submissive to my will.” Roxy was a good guy, I liked him, but this is a common thought. I sighed, “Why would I do that?” At that point Dave looked up at me – knowing this wasn’t going to go the way she’d feared. Roxy continued, “Because, in the bible it says that the woman is supposed to submit to her man.” I asked, of course for chapter and verse, and he gave it to me. I read around it and said, “OK, so I guess my first question is, Do you love your wife as Christ loved the church?” He was dumbfounded. I continued, “I think that’s a condition to the subservience, you have to be a man worth following in order for her to follow.”

He got mad – because this wasn’t about him, it was about his wife. He used the metaphor that I’ve heard 100 times. “IF we’re both on a horse, one has to be in front holding the reigns. That’s the guy, that’s me. She supposed to sit behind me and hold on to me.” I nodded, “Ok, but what if we look at it like this. You are both on a motorcycle, you’re in front, and everything is fine when you’re going straight, But then you come up on a turn and you lean… but she doesn’t, what happens?” He stared, “Well, you go down and eat pavement before you slide off the road You’ve got to be worth following before you can lead.”

Needless to say, this is not how a trained counselor would respond. So now, I have a list of counselors to make referrals. People complain that it costs money, which is a really nice way of saying, “We’re using you because we consider it to be a free service offered in return for our donation.” Well – you get what you pay for. Fixing a marriage is a long process, it involves grief-work, self-actualization, analysis, and hours and hours of a professional’s time because it isn’t like people come in at the first sign of trouble, usually visiting the pastor is more asking for a blessing for the divorce (both people defending themselves before God’s proxy) instead of “saving the marriage.”

Now, I don’t recommend divorce, but in some cases it’s a good idea. Not just the minor things: loading toilet paper/the dishwasher/the laundry etc. correctly, being in charge of the money, etc.” But major things: abuse, addiction, avoiding legal consequences, for the safety of the children, abandonment… notice I didn’t mention many scriptural reasons – you should already be familiar with the “endorsed” list.

Divorce is awful. Even an amicable one with no children or lawyers involved causes pain, anger, all sorts of emotions that can’t be labelled.

You’re going to feel worthless, angry, betrayed, and all those other things. You may even feel murderous or liberated. Here’s the thing, don’t be a dog. Remember, whatever you’re feeling is probably not only something similar to what your friends felt once-upon-a-time, but it’s not how you’re going to feel forever. I know this is trite, but here me out. Remember, there was a time in your life BEFORE the partner that recently ripped your heart out and squished that sucker flat. No love on earth is eternal – because there was a time when it was not. The reason I point this out is because you lived (in hope probably) quite well before that person came along. It wasn’t perfect, but it was livable, and during the divorce you want to be able to recognize livable. Take the time to notice things. For example: the car does not magically fill up with gas (bad) but you can sit down on the couch any way you want, even knee first (short-term good). The lawn will not mow itself (bad) but the dishwasher will loaded correctly (good). No one else is going to use “the last” of anything (Unless you have kids). Now, you’re going to buy some things (because one person takes the good ice-cream scoop and the other got the good pizza cutter), and it really does matter what chemical you use to clean different surfaces. Guys – unless you were previously fussy, buy cheap furniture, because you have no idea what spaghetti sauce can do to a “stain-proof” couch. And to all – avoid the leather furniture, apart from recliners.

Plan to “hotel” your life for a while. If you’ve been married for a long time – you probably don’t know what you like. One guy I know LOVED NCIS, Law and Order and programs about wives killing their husbands… then he got a divorce and realized he wasn’t interested in those programs at all. He even went so far as to get rid of his cable-box because it turns out, he likes online streaming services and does just fine without broadcast channels. One woman I know (Steve) lived on her phone, always texting, social media, etc. When her husband (Rose) left she realized that she was avoiding dealing with him, and discovered a lot of other things she enjoyed and now she can’t find her phone half the time.

Like it or not – divorce is going to change you. If nothing else, it pushes “reset” on your personality and you regress to back to the time before you were held accountable. Many people go off the rails for a bit, buying stuff they can’t afford, drinking too much, becoming “that old lady” or “that old guy” in their local bars, and it’s all just trying different things out. As Lucille put it, “I was ready man, I was going to get back out there, the day my divorce was final I hit one of the coolest clubs in town, I walk through the door, don’t recognize the music, everything is blurry and dark, and a twelve-year old girl in a very inappropriate dress asked me if I was her friend’s dad – apparently she was drunk and needed a ride home but her friends didn’t want to stop partying…” and my favorite part of the comment was the end, “… I”m not even comfortable using the word party as a verb.” Here’s a tip – if you’re unfamiliar with the terms pansexual or cis-gender, stay out of the clubs unless you see license plates on the wooden-plank wall. You’re living in a world of 1s and 0s (binary) and the world just won’t compute to you.

It’s ok – no one expects you to be sane, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be sad.

The main thing you want to do here is avoid the “forevers.” Don’t pick up a disease that will be with you until the day you die (and if you use the term STD, you’re as out of date as VD). Don’t pick up a life-partner until the insanity has run its course, lest you become “that old guy’s dad” or “that old girl’s mom.” Don’t go broke on a car. I met a man, I’ll call him Sally, who had just purchased a brand-new convertible Corvette ZO6 (still had dealer tags) in what looked to be a canary yellow with a tan-leather – I couldn’t look at it all that long, it hut my eyes. He was wearing, a yellow long-sleeve shirt, tucked in, jeans and a brown belt where he’d missed a belt-loop, white socks and one black shoe and one white shoe. I asked him, “So, I’m sorry about the divorced, but at least you were finally able to get it done.” He just stared, as did the people that were around us. He looked at me and asked how I could possibly know. “You have a new Corvette convertible, which you are apparently using to help match up your clothes in the morning, you’re dressed to show off your health, you’ve got a deep tan, apart from where your sunglasses are, you’ve missed a belt-loop and your shoes don’t match – so obviously no one saw you before you left the house, and your left ring-finger is still indented from the wedding ring you wore for more than a few years.” He stared. Then shook his head, and said he was doing quite well, later we talked in private, and that was a lie. He was sad, and doing everything he could to figure out a way to be happy again. I suggested he ride in the passenger seat while I drove his ‘vette – at least that made him laugh.

Now, to the many genders – you’re going to get mad, but don’t steal other people’s joy. Your misery doesn’t want company, and the people that now welcome you into “the club” of divorcees are not going to help you. It’s like when you were married and you took advice from your single/divorced friends about how to have a healthy relationship. If they have a formula or a scheme, and they’re single, it obviously doesn’t work. Picking up people is really pretty easy, carrying them is possibly illegal and getting them to follow you anywhere is like trying to motivate a well-fed cat to get up out of their spot… not likely.

If you thought you were good at dating, and maybe you were, but now you’re not.

Middle-aged dating is like a series of job interviews. First off, it’s more popular than ever to engage in on-line dating. Here’s what I’ve heard from the rather small sample I’ve taken, “It either works fantastically well or it’s a mistake of biblical proportion.” The biggest reason? Lying. No one looks like their picture, very few “enjoy hiking” and “reading” usually includes their friend’s facebook updates. Tinder, Snapchat, Zoo, REpatha… are now fodder for data-mining. Most of your information is available from a cursory Google search and even if you lock all your stuff down, at some point you’re going to date someone from HR or Finance and they’re going to know your credit history better than you do – and that’s before you show up for your first date. Here’s the deal – don’t freak out when someone you have known for ten minutes says, “I’m sorry to hear about your father’s death.” He/She/They just found that information because your name was listed as a survivor in an obituary. It’s public record- it’s creepy, but standard operating procedure. Get yourself linkedin, and keep it honest, because lies will be cross-checked. Long stretches of unemployment will be questioned, and my personal favorite was a guys I know that isn’t the most attractive guy in the world, but he made a shirt that said, “Employed since 1992, Insured, 775 Credit Score… how do I look now?” And that shirt has started more conversations than a Trump tweet.

Everybody has game, and the “non-game game” isn’t a thing anymore. Just be yourself, a good version of yourself (don’t kick babies in a restaurant, it’s apparently bad, even if it wasn’t on purpose). Go for coffee (and get tea or hot-chocolate if you don’t like coffee). One of you show up early, and one show up late so you can’t track the cars, park behind the place, and leave separately so it doesn’t have the appearance of creepy – oh, and just so you know, the harder you try not to be creepy or not to be needy, the needier/creepier you seem.

You are going to meet a lot of people – either on line, set up from friends – and you’re going to have absolutely no interest in them whatsoever because you will find yourself stunned that they’ve managed to live this long without a catastrophic accident of their own making. Famous lines within the first three minutes, “I don’t want you to think I’m here to steal a kidney or anything like that” (Well that’s good, because the odds of two serial killers meeting on line are pretty… well now that I think about it, probably fairly common) or “How come someone that looks like you can’t get a date?” (I think it has something to do with the fact that I’ve been in prison for the last 11 years) or “I usually don’t do this, but you looked like you might be ok.” (well thanks, you’re pretty ok yourself.) “I’m leaving my husband soon, and he has a violent temper,” (Does he own a gun and have you turned the tracker on your phone off?) “I have more piercings in more private areas, if you’re nice you can see them.” (No thanks, I think that’s a very manipulative way to see something that’s probably free on-line somewhere – this is my favorite and the woman that shared it with me is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met – I’ll call her Matthew).

Don’t judge the others – because they’re probably not thrilled about being with you if they’re saying these things. 

I know, you’re wonderful, the last person just didn’t see it. And this is the thing I really wish I could say. It may not have been all your fault, but at some point (even it if was picking the wrong person) part of it is your fault. And THAT’s the hardest part to admit, especially while you’re in the process. Until you admit that in any break-up (especially a divorce) you’re only ready to make the same mistake you made before. Trust me, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who date the same personality with a different body-type or hair color before they figure this out. Many people take the easy way out, “I”m never getting married again.” And I wish I could say “You probably will, and it will end the same way unless you work on being you.” All that “He/She/They never understood me” stuff is a subtle way of saying, “I wasn’t open and honest about who I was” or “we were so different, but I convinced myself that it was all ok.” IF someone says, “It’s always about you.” It means that you’re either self-centered (which may be true) or could possibly be their way of saying, “This isn’t about me enough” and if you think/feel that you’re already doing everything you can, it’s already over.

That’s the hardest part of the divorce, admitting that we were wrong. We were wrong about the person, we were wrong about who we were/are, we made mistakes, and they probably contributed to speed-up the process that was probably coming at some point.

And this is why I support divorce. Because sometimes everyone’s life is improved by it.

One final story. I have a friend, well, not anymore, but I had the opportunity to officiate his wedding. It was a lovely service, and his second wife was a vision. He was incredibly happy. We’d done the pre-marital counseling and they were so similar, I almost thought they were putting me on. The worked through money, family, friends, faith, children, every “deal-breaker” I could think of and were within range of agreement. And I thought they were honest. After his first marriage, that ended with everything but gunplay, I was happy for him. They left the chapel, climbed into their limo and headed off for two weeks, one on a cruise and the other staying put in an adults-only all inclusive in Mexico. He was a good guy, great job, well-paying, and he was surrounded by nice things. She was a funny/sweet woman a few years younger than him, also a professional in the medical field.

A couple-months later, he was sitting in my office in tears. They had just finished up the settlement in court. His truck was parked outside. In the front seat was a 19″ color television, in the bed was a folded up camp chair. That was all he had left.

Apparently, while they were out of town, the bride’s mother had posted a picture of her daughter in her wedding dress in the local paper, a great black-and-white (sorry, grayscale) picture that showed off her beaming smile. When they arrived home, she apparently checked their voicemail at their house. On the machine was a voicemail from his first wife, wondering why he hadn’t bothered to divorce her before getting married again. (They were married in the same county and the clerk’s office didn’t catch it when they issued the license.) The second, now voided wife, went a little more than nuts and threw him out of his own home. During the divorce from one, he lost his house, had a new order for child-support (and back-pay) issued along with her getting many of his belongings/cash/investments. His “voided” wife took what she could of the rest while he tried to avoid a fraud trial, and was awarded damages.

He was on the couch, and suddenly he just stopped crying, and sighed, then laughed. “At least I don’t have to live the lie anymore.”

Divorce: The perfect time to figure out who you really are, even if it is the discovery that you’re a jerk.

 

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