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Posts from July 2008

Divorce as Life Affirming or “Is there an Expiration Date on this Thing?”

When I was 22 I did not know that at 47 I would be living in Virginia, that I would “only” have two children, that I would be a teacher, that my hair would be shoulder-length and not dyed to pretend the gray is not there, that I would be able to talk about sex and salary without being embarrassed, and that I would still like Elton John.


For as much as I could look 25 years into the future, I can say that I assumed that I would still be living in Israel; that I would be looking back on a brief, but successful, career in advertising, international relations or journalism before becoming a best-selling author; that I would have three or four children; that I would still be sporting a buzz cut; and, regarding Elton John, well, I got over the infatuation long ago (for obvious reasons), but not love of the music.


So why do I need to feel like I am a failure because a love and a decision from 25 years ago turned out to be wrong or (being kind) with an expiration date? Many of us are being set up for a lifetime of seeing ourselves as failures if we realize that we are unhappily married. That should not be a life sentence, but instead it should be a proclamation of life. Isn’t it a good thing to realize that you are miserable because then you can act on changing yourself and your situation? I mean miserable people are a negative presence impacting all those around them. Just think of all of those people who installed granite countertops in hopes of making them happy only to discover that they are, in fact, radon-infested. If it’s bad, it’s bad, and it needs a total change before things just get worse.


We need to remove even more of the stigma from divorce. I am not a failure because of it. I am a powerhouse of maturity and self-reflection and empathy and compassion and passion, rather than a stifled woman who second-guesses everything she does and says. Can someone tell me which has a worse toll on “society”? I know, I know, things have certainly changed in the last few decades, but not the honest understanding that not everything is meant to last. As interests change over a person’s life, so, too, do their attractions. And that is not necessarily a bad thing; it is life.


I’m sorry, I don’t understand why people need to work on their marriages. Okay, I can understand working through a bumpy patch, but if you must continually work on it, doesn’t that mean that you two are a square peg and a round hole, and the only way to make things work is for both of you to change your shape. And I’m sure that someone has said that you can’t change people; and if we’re talking about people changing themselves for the better of the couple and the family, then (another heretical idea coming) WHY? Why is that something good? Isn’t that suppressing the self? And (I guess I did not drink the Kool-Aid) I don’t think that destroying myself to keep the family intact is a positive thing. How can that possibly be good? How can a subjugated self be a paragon of learning and morality to a child? How can a home that radiates disaffection be a place of comfort and joy to a child? I mean who wants to bring their friends home for milk and cookies if your secret ingredient is bitter essence?


And totally changing metaphors this late in the essay: Life should not be about continuing to pay one's dues because you joined the wrong club at 22.


So let’s be realistic here, divorce is as life-affirming as marriage. Maybe even more so, because you are opening yourself up to a world of interactions that were closed to you as a married person. And I don’t mean only of the dating and sex variety. I’m referring to the fact that we change how we confront the world when we are one rather than when we are one of two. Once someone changes the status quo (or is changed by it), she is more open to other changes, and change is often good. At the very least, it’s a change. And we should not have to start on our changed lives with one strike against us.


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It's Finally Over: Banish Despair

Recall dreams that you had before you became embittered and poisoned with a narrow-minded focus on your pain. Bring back the laughter and joy that were once part of your life—you know it was there—and let it invade you, pushing out, even temporarily, the pain you are living through. This pain is—must be—only temporary, there must be an end. As there is no pure happiness, so, too, there is no pure unhappiness. Let the smiles and joy filter in, past the veil of disappointment.


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Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Nineteen

Just Answer the Question


Sometimes I forget that I am living with a man who is not normal. For a moment I think that we can have a conversation, and then he responds in a completely irrational way, and I am back to my life.


It finally occurs to me that the analogy that fits his understanding of the world is that he sees the world through a circus mirror. Everything is distorted. He is incapable of even recognizing reality, because for him there is none—everything is twisted and contorted, and, unfortunately, he is the only one who sees things through that mirror. His vision of reality is implicitly twisted. Not only can he not see the truth, but no one can even know what he is thinking or perceiving (his truth), since the distortion is only within him.


The other day I asked him if he had someone come to service the air conditioner. That should have been a simple conversation; instead, it touched off a tirade.


“Don’t leave me notes telling me what to do,” he yelled at me, already red in the face. Then, without a pause, he turned the tables, and rushed at me with accusations: “Did you call your plumber? He didn’t fix the bathtub. Did you call him? Did you tell him to come back to fix the caulking? Did you?”


I tried to answer him over his tirade, “I called him and left him two messages.” But as I was trying to explain, I realized that he was not interested in what I had to say; moreover, he was not going to let me know about the air conditioner, so I walked up the stairs, defeated. He wanted to hear himself berate me; he did not want to listen to an explanation.


He complained that I leave him notes with things to do. Well, we don’t talk since whatever I say is just a lead-in to a rant at me, so I leave notes, how else are we supposed to “communicate”? In fact, he has even asked me, through his lawyer, to leave him notes telling him where I am going with our daughters or about their different activities. Some notes are good and some notes are bad; if it’s the information he wants, it’s good; if it’s for me, then it’s bad.


It had seemed like a harmless question. But, nothing here is harmless.


What am I afraid of? That he will yell at me. Unbelievably, it’s that simple. Nothing more than that (I think); to maintain a modicum of peace and quiet in the house, in the family, in the soul. Has it been worth it? As I sit here thinking about it, it seems such a petty concern, just ask him what you need to know and to hell with his yelling, don’t let it bother you. I even imagine telling him to shut up and answer the question. But it doesn’t work like that. I have not built up immunity to his screams; I have developed a severe allergy to them and try to avoid them as much as possible. And no, it has not been worth it. My silence has been devastating to my psyche, my self-confidence, my very sense of self and my understanding of the world.


But even when I finally did answer back with a “stop it,” he would keep going, ignoring my pleas and hands over my ears. My shouts of “I’m not listening to you” simply interrupted his rant, they did not end it. This is a man who must have the last word, no matter how ugly.


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Why? Because.


Is there a reason to hate yourself or your life? Is there a reason to relinquish your demand for a life to love?



Because in spite of all the pain I have lived through, because of love or its loss, I want to again walk arm in arm down a street and be proud of who I am and who I’m with.


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Self-Pity Party

I feel that I deserve a bout of self-pity. I have been so strong, so together, so responsible, so stable for so long that I need a break. I need a break to collapse into myself, collapse into the weight of being alone, of feeling alone, of being tired of taking care of my daughters and myself with no shoulder to lean on, day after day. Is something wrong with that?


Don’t I deserve a patch of self-pity to counter the up-beatedness that I have been inhabiting lately? Do I always have to feel like a living self-help book? Can’t I regress into just plain pain without feeling the need for remedies? Why can’t I just be without feeling that I am failing if I am not focused on picking myself up? Why do I need an aspirin if I have an ache? Why can’t it work its way through me, do whatever it needs to do, and then be released when we’re both ready?


Why can’t all moods and feelings be equally valid? Why is only the positive respected? Don’t we all need some downtime, some time to recoup? I mean isn’t that what vacations are for? So there it is. A self-pity party is really a mini-vacation of the body and mind.


And I've made my reservation.


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Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Eighteen

When a House Is Not a Home

Lately, he has been calling our house “his house.” It is his house and I should leave, just like that. It is his house because he has earned more money. There is absolutely no recognition of non-monetary contribution or partnership or support, it is cut and dry. How does something that was shared, that was decided upon by two of us for our family, that was a sign of success for the both of us, suddenly become the sole property of one? How does one person negate the value of another? How does my space suddenly become non-existent? And how did I become a squatter with no rights to my own house?

From being told not to take up space with my things, I am now told that there is no space for me. My presence is being invalidated simply because I have opposed him. Although I know that I should have spoken up more, I wonder if it really would have helped. If this man attempts to erase my existence because I no longer adhere to his rules, what would have happened if I would have spoken up sooner, would it really have improved the situation or worsened it? Would it have ended sooner rather than later? This is not a situation replete with negotiation, these are blanket statements and actions, and no matter how I act, go with the flow or fight against it, I am always found to be guilty of some offense against him.


And now that I have moved out of the master bedroom and am living in a guest bedroom, one that is used by my daughters since that is where the computer is, my space is even more restricted. It’s not that I agree that it is his house, but his stating it has made me uncomfortable in this house, as if that in and of itself has managed to dislodge me from the comfort I had enjoyed previously in this home. Since I moved out of the master bedroom, I barely have any personal space, since even this refuge is a shared space. My space, originally delineated by my daughter’s old twin mattress on the floor, and now a love seat, a pile of books next to it, and an alarm clock. My comfort in being at home has been taken from me. This is no longer a home.  


When he was working (ostensibly) at home, he had taken over the kitchen table and the study in the basement, not to mention the master bedroom. He spread out. No one told him to put his things away, to make like he does not exist, to move his things so that they don’t interfere with the life of the family. No, he takes and uses space as he sees fit. Isn’t that the way it should be, that we each consider our private needs as well as the needs of the family? It seems that he is reinforcing his statement that it is his house by taking so much of it for his exclusive use. Not surprisingly, he does not clear his things away at the end of the day; he does not have to uninhabit the space, I do not place that demand on him.


Why not oppose him? There was some logic to not leaving things out, not leaving a mess, not taking up too much of the family space with my individual things. But also, as always, I conceded without an argument to prevent an argument. I did not want to upset him, I did not want to create an opportunity for him to find fault with me for other things, to lash out at me for things I might have said or done, real and imagined. I stayed quiet simply to keep him quiet. This policy of appeasement may have been momentarily successful, but in the long run it undermined me to the core.


But why didn’t I start a fight? Why didn’t I let these things come out? I am a conflict avoider who goes out of her way not to cause an argument, and to settle those already begun. Even my graduate studies focused on how to resolve conflicts, on how to prevent or stop them. Yet, a central point that I seemed to have missed is that conflict can be good, it can help us to understand the other, and then to move forward in a relationship, whether between people or nations. That was the point I obviously missed, that confrontation is good and avoidance is bad. I just kept sweeping things under the rug.


Thinking back to the requirement that I clear out my things, I realize now that it was nonsense and an insult. What is a family home if not the space that holds the needs of the family? The space should be adapted to suit the family, each of its members, and not the other way around.


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It's Finally Over: Life Lessons

List the things you have learned going through this ordeal. Cast your net wide; don’t restrict your list to yourself and your spouse or ex-spouse. Friends: who proved to be friends, and who was not supportive. Things that were right or not. Things you were proud that you did. Things that you were disappointed in how they turned out. Did you go to the right lawyer? Was he aggressive enough? Were you still walked over? Why? Therapy, did it help? Should you have gone?


Look back. Even if it bites. It will help you look forward, and plan for the future, and live--always--at least part of the day, for today.  


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Why I Watch Cooking Shows

I don’t know about you, but there is nothing I have done for which I proudly exclaim Perfect. There’s always a qualification or a hesitation that something could have been improved upon or someone did something even better. (Can perfect be perfected?) No, perfect just isn’t a word in my lexicon, but I wish it were. I wish I could unhesitantly proclaim that a lesson I gave was perfect; that an essay I wrote was perfect; that a discussion I had with a child was perfect; that a day I had was perfect; or even that a night’s sleep was perfect. I aspire to perfection, but it seems as unattainable as fathoming why bad things happen to good people.


Which brings me to why I watch cooking shows. Did you ever notice that everything they make is perfect? There are no qualifiers: if I had added some more oregano it would have been perfect; if I had bought a different cut of meat it would have been perfect; if I would have cooked it longer it would have been perfect. Nope. What they have in the pot, on the plate, or in their mouth is it—it is perfect! And that is why I watch cooking shows. I want to see people proclaim perfect perfect perfect without flinching, without feeling self-conscious, without looking like they’re lying. I want to learn—not how to cook (well, maybe a little)—but how to have unbridled confidence in myself and my abilities. I want to stoke flames within that will bring out the part of me that would stand on a stage and proclaim “what I have done is perfect.” I want to have a part of the perfection of the world that can be created through experience and talent and confidence.


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My Day in Court, Sort of

If I had a pulled pork sandwich for lunch yesterday it must mean that I was in court. It has become the only bright point on these days in court when nothing happens, even though something is supposed to happen. So as I sit and hope that the court will set the stage for me to be free of this house and this man, I know that even if nothing happens, I can at least expect a good lunch. And you know, that’s not much by way of compensation.


So yes, I had my day in court yesterday, but it was very anti-climatic. The judge did not stand up, come down from his desk-on-a-platform, and bow down before me and say SORRY. Sorry that we messed up and that you had to wait three months for me to say “okay, let’s get the show on the road.” And he did not say, since we—I—have really made a mess of things for you and your family, why don’t you present your case now instead of us wasting even more time having you wait until Monday to speak to the scheduling judge to get yet another court date.  


No, he merely stated to my lawyer, “Oh, yes, on that April day, for some reason the case didn’t get on the docket until 10:23.” Which was three minutes too late, since we left the courthouse at 10:20. Okay (deep breath here), so why didn’t he or his clerk say that at any time? Why didn’t they confess? And why did he listen to my ex who apparently lied that I was not there, in court that day (I filed the motion for goodness sakes!)? And why did they close the case as mr. ex requested when the judge knew that they had created the mitigating circumstance? And why didn’t the judge immediately re-open the case three months ago when my lawyer called and tried to explain what had happened—since they already knew what had happened? And why didn’t they say that I will get my legal fees back for demanding that my lawyer draw up a letter asking them to open a case that should not have been closed because of their scheduling glitch? And why shouldn’t I get back legal fees for having my lawyer in court two times with no judge to hear the case. And why, why is it all about procedure but not logic?


The only bright point of the day was that mr. ex was not there. Nope, I guess he didn’t call to find out when the judge finally rescheduled this ridiculous hearing a full month after he cancelled the last hearing. (Does it count as cancelled if we were all there ready to go, but only the judge was missing? Would that be a perversion of justice? Or a justice perverting the process?)


What are these people thinking? That we have unlimited monetary resources for lawyers and unlimited time to take off from work? (Luckily the last two court dates were during summer break.) Do the judges take too seriously the fact that they have been placed on pedestals? And honestly, who is this man to decide my fate so callously? If this were a ballgame the umpire/referee would have been booed off the field long ago for thinking that this is about himself and not about my case. Hey, over here, it’s not your parade—it’s mine, so focus on the points at hand. Namely, two girls who are continually exposed to the nastiness of their father, and one woman who is continually exposed to the nastiness of her ex-father and who is going into debt buying food for her daughters because their father won’t. THAT is the point!


I originally filed this motion in November, hoping to have something happen to enable this house to be sold sometime during the summer. This summer, a full year after we divorced; a full year after it was placed on the market; a full year added to the two plus full years already during which I have been living with an ex-husband in the house who is nothing but a negative presence.  


Bitter. I keep hearing from people who have long since left this stage of their lives behind and how happy they are, and that I will get through this. I know that, I really do, but it is taking so long—and for no reason. Delays and egos. That’s what I’m up against. And a weepy woman with a smile to boot is not, apparently, a contender in this competition.


Oh, did I mention we could hear a criminal in his holding pen to the side of the courtroom as we waited for the judge to come back from his potty break, and then later, as the judge explained to some about-to-be-divorced man what was in his agreement because he was going solo? Not quite rattling chains, but there was noise enough for the bailiff to peek in to see that all was well. Maybe that was not a prisoner there but my emotions rattling, rattling against the constraints and the constrictions. Rattling against a system that is not helping. Rattling against a system that is inflicting pain and harm and wasted time.


So all that happened was that the judge cancelled the April order that closed the case. So, yippee, the case has been reopened. I am, in essence, where I was in November (2007), waiting for my case to be heard, but with far more skepticism (or realistic expectations). The system, the system is painful to encounter.


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Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Seventeen

The Opposite of Space is Lack of Space


When I went to graduate school my husband would bristle at the sight of my books spread out on the dining room table. I was to put them away; I was not to leave evidence of my studies on the table or around the house. They were simply to be gone when he came home. He said they made the house look messy and the dining room table was not the place for them. Did he care that I was comfortable studying there, that I have always had an affinity to using a dining table as a study space? Where was I supposed to study, and who was to decide where I was to study? As usual, he made a proclamation and I was expected to—and did—comply, not sure of what the “punishment” would be, but not wanting to arouse his ire. Knowing that your husband makes threatening noises and postures, and tells you what must be done or not done is enough for someone like me, always trying to please and not rocking the boat, to do as she is told.


I don’t think that housekeeping was the issue, it most likely was that he did not approve of what I was studying, and he certainly did not approve of my studying what I wanted in spite of his negative opinion. When I told him that I was going to get a master’s degree in conflict studies, his response was that he would not bother me about working during my studies if I were to go to law school. Did someone say something about law school? Did I ever express any interest in studying law? No. It was his idea, his idea of what would be good for me—or, for him. I think about this now, and wonder if he had either planned the dissolution of our marriage or his retreat from the work world. I wonder if he wanted me to study law so that I would make a good salary and support him as he exited the law himself and pursued his heart’s desire.


We did not discuss what I was going to study because it was my decision to make and I did not want him to try, once again, to get me to study what he wanted me to study. A few years before he had convinced me that I should get an MBA, I even took the GMAT and began taking classes. It was a fiasco. I did not have the experience, outlook or capabilities for a career in business. I don’t know why he just didn’t go for the degree himself, it was what he wanted to do. By now, finally, I knew that I needed to just go ahead without his approval. To him this was a rebellion; to me it was standing up for myself. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.


His sustained campaign to change me was going awry. And I was getting to where I needed to be, in spite of him. His inability to acknowledge my interests as distinct from his was a problem that could not be erased by getting me to adopt his interests or expectations (and to drop my own). While I am glad that I finally did what I needed to do, it did not give me great satisfaction that there were no discussions about the studies themselves, or my reasons for pursuing that course. After years of marriage we were still not able to talk and plan, there was always an element of confrontation—never of compromise (or rather, only my compromises and never his) or discussion. It was my explaining and his deciding. As if we were father and child. So, I had learned to avoid discussing things with him, and he had never learned to trust me.


Every day I would set out my books on the dining room table after he left in the morning, and then put them away, out of sight, at the end of the day. This was an absolute invalidation of who I am, of my very existence. This was not about neatness; it was about my finally, blatantly, disregarding his opinion, of being decisive in what I want to do and not succumbing to his wishes. This was not about a notebook being left out, but about my betrayal of how he wants me to act and of who he wants me to be.


Why did I listen to his complaints and put my things away? Maybe I wasn’t ready to escalate the situation, or maybe I thought that this would be enough to align the relationship onto a level of parity. What for him was a transgression, a slap in the face, was for me self-expression, the beginning of being proud of my capabilities, interests and accomplishments, and not ashamed as he had made me feel. 


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