If you’ve ever been engaged or spent significant time around someone who is, you’ve seen it. Each participant, temporarily dubbed ‘fiancé,’ exists in a sort of limbo, neither married nor single. But then the big day comes and they graduate to something more substantial: spouses. Life becomes stable. Whew. No more limbo ever again. Right?
Cue: Divorce. At the beginning of the marriage, we call that funky in-between time the ‘engagement.’ But what do we call the awkward time at the end–a period no couple plans for but that has become all to common nowadays? For lack of a better word, I will refer to this interval, between separation and formal divorce, as the ‘backside’ of marriage.
At this point in life, I’ve been married twice, so I’ve done the engagement dance a couple of times. But I’m not here to tell you about how being engaged rocked so much more the second time around. Engagement? People get it. The backside? I don’t think most people have a clue. I know I didn’t. So, now that I’ve found a window into this little-known ‘other limbo,’ I’d like to share it. Maybe my perspective is unique. All I know is what I’ve experienced. If you have something to share about the backside, please leave a comment! I’d love to get a conversation started.
The full force of the backside hit me one day as I was driving to my attorney’s office. I’m not quite sure where I was in the divorce process–one of the final phases. As I rattled down the street in my soon-to-be ex’s dumpy truck, I noticed my hands sweating and pulse racing. But this time it wasn’t fear or anxiety. Something felt different. My heart fluttered in anticipation. Why? I realized I might be done with the whole mess by the end of the week! Single. Moving on with my life.
A wave of guilt immediately followed. How could I actually be looking forward–excitedly–to such a horrible event as the demise of my marriage? When you put it that way, it sounds pretty atrocious. But hear me out, people. As I reflected over the past six months of my life since I’d filed for divorce, it suddenly struck me how similar it had been to ‘engagement limbo,’ just upside-down. Here are some of the issues I experienced:
Who am I? When I left my ex, I got on a plane with nothing but a duffel bag slung over my shoulder and my two children in a stroller. And for me, there was no legal separation, just a waiting period while we lived with my parents–because we had nowhere else to go. Heaven bless my folks for taking us in with zero warning! I know not everyone is so lucky. Still, I felt totally displaced: not living a married life anymore, but not single either because technically I was still married. Weird. So what was I during that time? Married or single? Daughter or mother? Adult or child? So many days, I felt like I was 18 and helpless, rather than the 32-year-old mother of 2 that I really was.
To date or not to date? In case it wasn’t frustrating enough figuring out who/what I was supposed to be during the backside, how about we add some dudes to the picture? Let me start by saying I’m a little traditional. Okay, a lot traditional. I wore a ring on my left hand until the judge signed the decree and stuck it in my mailbox. That’s just how I roll. For some reason, that didn’t stop the winks and the smiles, though. Or maybe I was just noticing for the first time in a long time. Either way, it didn’t matter. At first I just wanted to gag or kick guys in the balls, even over an innocent gesture like a gentleman holding a door. Pretty sad for someone who has never considered herself to be much of a feminist. I hated feeling so jaded–so altered. I did eventually date, but not until the backside was over. Toward the end, something clicked and I started breathing and feeling again. (It sounds simple, but it wasn’t.) In retrospect, I guess it was good to give my heart some time to heal.
Tic-toc, tic-toc. Have you ever talked to a bride or groom (or mother of the bride) that swears the big day will never actually come? They are convinced the planning will just keep going on and on … Ironically, I spent much more time and energy on my divorce than I did planning either of my weddings. And that’s not by choice. Legally, you can get marriage license in a matter of minutes, but in most places it takes months–even years–to get a divorce. True story. Just like an engagement, divorce seems to drag.
Lovers and haters. Whether your getting married, having a kid, getting divorced … whatever … everyone has an opinion. Ain’t it the truth? In all cases there are the lovers: the congratulators, the well-wishers. Ah, so pleasant. But then there are the haters: the critics, the know-it-alls. You’re getting married? Hmmm … you haven’t been dating very long. Are you sure it’s right? You’re having a baby but you’re only 5 weeks pregnant? Hmph! I never would have told that early! So … you’re getting divorced … Oh man. I’ve heard a million of them.
In the case of divorce especially, it’s interesting to watch the reactions of people who really have no idea what’s been going on behind closed doors in the marriage/family relationship–which in my case was pretty much everyone. I always kept my struggles private. None of my friends, not even my family, knew our marriage was in trouble. I was surprised when I ‘came out’ in public. A few people I loved abandoned me. They assumed the worst about me and still continue to do so. I miss them. I also hadn’t anticipated the pain that would come with losing an entire extended family. They say when you marry a man/woman, you marry the family. I never thought about how excruciating it would be to lose my ex-husband’s family when I lost my ex. I still ache.
On the other hand, many loved ones flocked around me, helping me in ways I didn’t even know I needed. Mere acquaintances came out of the woodwork to show compassion or offer support. I was overwhelmed with the great outpouring of love I felt. It’s part of the reason I survived. Also, in the aftermath as I’ve began sharing my story more openly, miraculous things have begun to happen. People from my past sometimes contact me as pieces of the puzzle come together for them and understanding dawns. Each time I get a message like that, my heart swells and it helps me heal a little. Also, as I’ve begun working in the addiction recovery realm I’ve found more peace, love, strength, and true friends than I ever imagined.
Yeah … so? So, now what? You’ve uncovered some of the mysteries of the backside of marriage. But who cares? Someday you might. Maybe not for yourself, but perhaps for the sake of a friend or loved one.
When we observe an engaged couple, their actions might elicit a smile, a sigh, or a gag, but at least we are aware of them. But what about that guy at the office whose wife just left him? Or your sister who is going through a divorce? Perhaps while everyone is wandering around oblivious to their reality, you might be the only one who has a clue. You’ll know: Limbo is lame. The process is probably taking up more time, energy, and money than anyone realizes. They are just ready for it to be over already. They might have support–or they might have haters following them around just making things worse. They’re not just losing a spouse; they are losing a family.
In the end, I guess I’m not rallying my readers for a call to action. I just want to create an awareness. However, next time you come across someone in the middle of a divorce, I would say this: Cut them some slack. Give them a pat on the back. Smile. Send some positivity in their direction. Because let’s face it: the backside of marriage stinks.