How in the world did this happen? I’m a nice Jewish girl from New York. I should have been married once, had a few kids, and way on to grandkids by now. That SO didn’t happen.
I married for the first time at the age of 21. Big mistake. But it seemed the only option at the time. I was obsessed with him (but being my first and only boyfriend – what did I know?) and more importantly I desperately wanted to escape my home – I couldn’t bear the thought of living with my parents any longer. It took five years but I finally had the guts to do it. I left him, breathed easy for the first time in ages, and theorized that the next time I would marry for crazy love, and only to an orphan. Because as a holder of a BA in Psychology, I was sure I had the answer. No domineering mother-in-law around, ergo no misogynist problems.
It took a while (I was in no hurry) – marriage #2 occurred 20 years later. I found him in another country, from another culture, already divorced with kids and best of all – no mother! She had long ago passed away and I was sure all potential problems were avoided. (Big mistake #2). Apparently a dead mother does not guarantee a lack of matriarchal hostility issues. So much for my theories.
So… divorced and single, again. Not just single, totally ALONE! The husband disappeared from my life (and that of our dogs) in an instant. His kids? The ones I was so crazy about and loved as if they were my own? Also gone. The grandkids – vanished. Of course I could have made gargantuan efforts to maintain a relationship but it was beyond awkward. As their father had long ago deserted me emotionally, setting up a new life with a new partner, I suspect they may have been uncertain as to what their behavior should be. Their abandonment of me hurt like hell – still does.
Then there was the issue of friends. Friends, my ass! You can certainly learn who your real friends are when you get divorced. My advice? Forget all expectations because the people you think will care the most won’t, and others who may have been distant might show infinite acts of kindness.
Holidays and Friday nights were the worst. In a country (Israel) totally focused on family, where Jewish holidays are defined by the food you serve and the number of guests at your table, I found my loneliness on these occasions almost unbearable. My ex and his family abandoned me exactly around the Jewish New Year, where one holiday follows another for four consecutive weeks. The agony of being alone then was so wrenching I was not at all sure I could ever escape it.
I was certain that my friends would be there for me. I had heard horror stories of women being ignored due to divorce but it seemed absurd. Certainly my friends would all show support, especially now that I needed them so.
Leni had been a buddy for over 20 years. We had attended each other’s kids’ weddings, went away for weekends together, spent holidays together. She and her husband were one of the few couples that my ex and I totally agreed on that we both loved. She was one of the first I phoned to tell about the divorce.
I was certain that she would embrace me with her usual warmth, assure me that it would all be okay and absorb me into her family’s cocoon. But as weeks turned into months, I realized that my expectations were mistaken. Her singular attempts at communication were a few emails sent in response to an inquiry I had put on a local online group. I asked for a plumber and in her reply she penned “And how are you, by the way?”
Then there was Ava, the friend that was part of an intimate group that met once a month for years. Although not bosom buddies, I considered her more than “just” an acquaintance. After realizing that I was not being invited to her home, while the others were, I made a bold move and asked our mutual friend to intercede on my behalf and ask if I could join them for a Friday night dinner. The response was more painful than the beatings I received as a child. “I asked, and was told no. While she has nothing against you, she thinks you will be a bit loud and out of place at her Shabbat dinner table. Her husband prefers a clam atmosphere. Sorry, I tried.” It took me a very long time to get beyond that insult.
And then there was the women’s friendship group I belonged to. For sure, they will reach out and show compassion? After all, I had been a member for many years, hosted numerous events in my home and always wanted to share our Israeli lifestyle with the newcomers and foreigners in the group. Wrong again. Many of those women, bag hags who judge you by the label on the purse you carry and the size of your home, showed absolutely no interest whatsoever. Oh, they were still enthusiastic about utilizing my talents (“When will you write & direct another play for us? How about another amazing movie like the one you did for the organization’s 40th anniversary? Can we count on you to host this year’s Passover & Easter celebration in your home?), but showing concern by inviting me to a family dinner, or out for lunch or even just phoning to see how I was doing? Nope, almost no one.
Even some family members were less than concerned with my situation. I had long ago made my life in another country. Did they perhaps think that I no longer had need for comfort and understanding due to distance and a “new” life?
Could the lack of kindness stem from the thought that as I appeared to be a strong, self-confident woman I could easily handle this situation? That my tendency to joke and make light of my circumstances would naturally make me less affected by my sudden singleness?
I knew of the classic concept that women don’t want single women around their husbands for fear of losing them to those “conniving bitches”. Oh yeah sure, that was the case with me. I was overweight, in desperate need of a facelift and would never say no to a glass of Chardonnay, a slice of pizza or a bowl of good chocolate ice cream (oh hell, not even to a bowl of bad chocolate ice cream). I couldn’t possibly be a threat to another woman, could I?
So what was it?
I never did figure out the answer. But I did discover something wonderful: the real treasures in my life. The friend that said from now on you are part of our family and will join us on every Friday night (and it has been so for nearly four years). The friend that phoned on a daily basis to check on me and make sure I wasn’t slitting my wrists. The close friends of my husband who called and reassured me that the divorce would not change how they felt about me and I would always be welcome in their home. Or his former secretary who wanted me to know that if I needed help in any way (like deciphering Hebrew documents, managing for the first time on my own with insurance and health and house and legal matters), she would be there for me. I was touched by their kindnesses and knew that I would make it out of the darkness.
Out of the darkness is definitely where I am now. And miraculously, all the physical symptoms of those stressful days have disappeared. I don’t gasp for breath anymore, nor suffer debilitating backaches or migraines, or burning tongue syndrome (yes, it’s a thing), or heart palpitations or acid reflux. And best of all – my neighbor asked what I had done to myself – that I was looking great. I answered honestly – “Divorce.”
“No, really, what have you done. You look amazing.”
“No, honestly, nothing. I told you, I got divorced so I guess I just don’t look worried and aged anymore.”
“But you look so young, are you sure you don’t want to tell me the name of your doctor?”
Believe me, when I’m ready for that doctor I’ll find him or her and be happy to brag about it. Everything is up to me from now on and I’m not going to be dragged down by a husband who doesn’t deserve my love or friends who disappoint. I’m looking forward to the future, and whatever path my life’s journey takes me on.