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Relationships • Breaking Up & Heartbreak

Rethinking Divorce

Everyone wants to talk about weddings (especially the table plans and the speeches); few can bear to consider divorce. Like death, divorce happens somewhere far offstage, an unmentionable and fear-inducing rebuke to all that we would want to believe of ourselves and the dangers we face. Those who go through divorce typically have a double burden to bear: the turmoil of the event itself and, no less profoundly, a blanket societal embarrassment about its meaning. The revelation of an impending divorce tends to generate near-funereal silence and mumbled, quasi-censorious ‘I’m so sorrys.’ Because love is the meaning of modern existence, what could there possibly be to say to those who – perhaps with a joint mortgage and two children in tow – have seen no option but to break their vows?

Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash

Yet to those who know them from up close, divorces are simultaneously the most appalling and, at moments, the most creative, idealistic, rejuvenating, thought-provoking and plain mesmerising events they will ever go through. Pretty much any other drama will forever pale in comparison. Years after, divorce will still loom as the defining indentation and inflection point in their lives. No story of divorce, properly told, can ever be unengaging or banal. These are the moments in which we catch the human animal in all its complexity, turmoil, folly and beauty.

Insofar as we have narratives of divorce, they tend to be fictional ones: novels and films do the lion’s share of the telling. Stock images of divorcees tend to skew in stereotyped directions: we picture reprobates and sinners, cads and bounders, mid-life adulterers and abandoned paragons. We can be quick to drain the humanity from those who offend (what can still count as) our dominant moral code.

Few of us are without some relationship to divorce: we may be the children, parents or grandparents of divorcees, the colleagues or friends; this may be what we went through a decade ago or what lies ahead of us in the 2030s; it might be what we are just concluding – at this very moment and in intense turmoil – or something that we will need to set in motion in the coming days. Divorcees are, like all of us, only grown-up children, stumbling in the dark, trying to make sense of their choices, beset by blind impulses, illuminated by occasional grace, and human – all too human. One of the best things we can do in the face of our difficulties is to turn pain into art – of a sort that others can refer to, at moments of particular isolation and befuddlement, to recover their poise and sense of community.

Divorce should never be thought of as shameful, morally simple, abstract or even necessarily tragic. It is as much a part of who we are as love.

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