When I divorced at age 28, a new shade of blush brightened up my cheeks: embarrassment. It’s mortifying to show your face in public or to maintain a presence in the virtual world with the scarlet letter “D” stamped on your forehead.
I felt like everyone was judging me for having married young and ending my marriage after only fourteen months. My family agreed with my decision and was very supportive, yet I still hid in my bedroom during the holiday season to avoid having to answer any questions.
I was especially afraid to face my cousin, who officiated my wedding. I knew he would be disappointed. (To those considering divorce: wait until after the holidays to announce your split.)
The most humiliating thing was changing my Facebook status from “married” to “divorced.” I felt so accomplished when I joined the social site a few months prior and used my new husband’s last name on my profile. It showed that my life was headed in the right direction.
While so many of my 20-something peers were still struggling on the dating scene, I had found love. My gorgeous wedding photos proved it — until I deleted them all and announced my “failure.”
I felt like the only young, divorced woman in the world. Women my age were supposed to juggle careers and motherhood, not rewind their lives, delete a few years of progress and restart. But I had no choice.
My husband told me he didn’t want to be married anymore and decided he never wanted to have children. Because he crushed my biggest dream in life (becoming a mom), I knew it wasn’t worth putting up a fight to save the marriage.
It didn’t take long for me to pull myself together and realize my divorce was actually a blessing. The end of a pretty miserable marriage actually opened the door to new opportunities for love, laughter and dreams.
Following my divorce, I made it my mission to connect with other young divorcées and show them that divorce in your twenties isn’t the end of your life; rather, it’s the end of life as you know it. To begin, I formed an online support group and interviewed about 70 women for a book I later self-published, entitled Trash the Dress: Stories of Celebrating Divorce in your 20s.
Through the interview process, I concluded that when a twenty-something woman’s marriage is officially declared dead, she must journey through six levels of reality before reaching the afterlife, also known as the “Celebration” phase. I’ve found the levels to be as follows:
For a brief moment, a sense of calm floats across the woman’s mind as she realizes that she will no longer have to deal with the stress of her marriage.
Shortly after the Relief phase, reality hits. The woman faces the fact that her marriage is over — finito, done, adiós — and her whole life is falling apart.
In the days following her divorce declaration, the woman names herself the only twenty-something divorcée in the world. She blames herself for getting married, wonders if she tried hard enough to make things work, and is convinced she’s a failure.
Dread overcomes the woman as she faces that she’s going to have to update her social networking page’s relationship status. She believes everyone she went to high school with is going to judge and consider her a failure, too. She edits her profile and quickly removes the automatic update posted on her wall. Then, she stresses out about how to tell her extended family. (Tip: A therapist once suggested the phrase, “I’m happy to announce my divorce.”)
The woman begins to freak out. Not only is her marriage over, but she’s single, most likely for the first time in years. All of her friends seem to be in serious relationships and she must re-learn how to date and decode guy language. She wonders, “Does the three-day rule still apply these days? What is sexting? Why don’t men just pick up the phone?”
In addition to those worries, the woman lies awake all night telling herself she’s never going to have children (or siblings for her current children) because she’ll be too old by the time she falls in love again, if she even re-marries. Will her new man care that she’s divorced? How will she explain that on dates? These questions shoot out of a young divorcée’s mind like an automatic weapon.
Sadness is oceans away at this point. The woman is furious with herself for marrying “that asshole,” and even more furious with the “asshole” for putting her through all his actions, assuming he’s the one behind the marriage’s demise. During the anger phase, the woman vows to move on with her life, as challenging as it may be at the time. Living well will be her best revenge.
After the six levels of reality are completed, she eventually comes to the afterlife: Celebration: The days of sighing and crying are long past. Maybe the nights once spent tossing and turning between the sheets now happen with a new, better man. Or perhaps, the woman isn’t even sleeping under sheets because she’s on an exotic island vacationing with her best girl friends and there’s no time to rest. The point is that she’s looking forward, having reached a place where she’s at peace with the state of her life, and she’s making the most of every new day.
The six steps of this difficult journey may vary, but the road traveled unites each woman. Embarrassment is only a temporary emotion. Everyone has to face it, but the sooner a woman learns to hold her head up high and own her divorcée status, the sooner life will reward her and present all the new possibilities.
It did for me.