As the first divorcee among my friends, the trailblazer, if you will, I have somehow become the divorcing lady’s Ann Landers: a one-stop advice shop for everybody unhappy in their marriage. How did you find your lawyer? What are the German custody laws? Who do I get help from in finding a new flat? How do I get this asshole off my couch? All questions I wish I knew the answer to.
I have a friend who recently split from her husband. It’s normal: I’m middle-aged. I don’t go to weddings anymore and the birth announcements are coming less frequently. I am having conversations with friends about in vitro fertilization and retirement plans and impending divorces and all of this is happening before 8 p.m. on a weekend night. Anyway, said friend — we’ll call her Anna — well, Anna has been wanting to get divorced since before I even met her six years ago. She knew me when I was pregnant, knew that I hated my husband, counseled me on ways to get out of my marriage, supported me as much as she could during my split and all the while, she later told me, she was trying to plot the way out of her own unhappiness.
The most memorable thing Anna ever said to me: “It’s not about the 10 years you’ve got behind you. They’re lost. They’re gone. It’s the 20, the 30, 40 years ahead. Do you really want to be this unhappy the rest of your life?”
It was the first piece of advice that had resonated with me. Not: try a little harder, your marriage can be saved, as everyone else had been saying. No, Anna told me to either buck up or cut my losses. I realized later that she was giving me the advice she’d wanted to hear, something I couldn’t know at the time because I never knew how unhappy she was; where I pulled the plug, though, she pushed her chin up and plugged on. That is, until she left her husband a couple months ago.
Now she’s having a hard time getting out of bed. She’s staring down those 20, 30, 40 years ahead of her, looking at experiencing them all alone and it’s terrifying her. I won’t lie. The idea of being elderly and alone IS terrifying. The WNYC podcast Death, Sex and Money about living alone says everything that needs to be said about the matter. So when I ran into her the other day, looking ragged and admitting to having just rolled out of bed at noon on a Saturday (“I think I have to cancel Netflix so I can get some sleep at night,” she said to vehement nods from me), I gave her a bit of advice. Actually, I gave her a lot of advice. And it got me to thinking:
How many more Annas are out there, navigating their way through what most psychologists agree is one of the worst experiences of one’s life (just behind loss of a loved one, which on a scale of 1-100 is 100; divorce is 73)? How many people have hard questions about moving past what may very well be the simultaneously best/worst decision of their lives?
And so I decided, since I’m constantly doling out advice to people in real life, maybe I would make a habit of doing it virtually as well. So here’s your chance, people. Send me your questions (either via comments, which go through an approvals process or via email at mylifeinlederhosen at gmail dot com) and I’ll remind you of all the things you already know but weren’t willing to admit to.