Sounds a bit contradictory, hey? “Remorse” sounds an awful lot like “regret”. But the two are not synonymous to each other. Not in this context.
While I pick and prod and poke fun at the number of times I’ve been married (and figure this out, I’ve not once gotten married in my thirties. I could rename my former decade as the “Roaring 20s” and it wouldn’t be wrong). But the truth of the matter is that those marriages ended in divorce. So while I’m sort of a pro at what flowers will last the longest for your bouquet, I’m also an expert on watching a marriage dissolve and knowing when divorce is the only, and final option.
What’s important to remember in divorce is that no one who got married did so with the intention of getting divorced. This ‘D’ word is sloppy, and expensive. Time-consuming. It wears “failure” like a garment. It’s hard to admit. It’s hard to accept. It’s hard to tell people: I am divorced. On your taxes, you won’t return to “single”. You’ll only ever be “divorced” till you marry again. Forget the shame of wearing the almighty “A” on your lapel. Allowing “divorce” to hang over your head is a far harder narrative to accept. You got divorced. At one point, you were so in love, you told your spouse, the officiant, and all your loved ones that you’d vow to stick things out through thick and thin with this person. And now, you’re double backing on that promise.
To say people get divorced for all sorts of reasons is as cliche as saying people eat ice cream to feel cool. Come on, we all know that every relationship is unique and divorce is never first go-to. It can take weeks, or months, or years to finally conclude that the only proper course of action is, in fact, dissolving the marriage. And the factors that persuade the final vote are just as distinct as the relationship itself. There is merit to the person not wanting to leave the marriage because of financial restraint, or unwilling to venture out into an entirely different lifestyle that comes with being single. Or not wanting to start over. Or kids. Or geographical locations. Or just simply being used to the person you’re married to for so long that you genuinely can’t imagine a world where they aren’t simply a part of it. And for those reasons, you’ll stay put and “suck it up” for lack of a better phrase.
While I don’t find the word “divorce” the dirty little word it may have been even twenty years ago, I also don’t think that it should be tossed around in a cavalier manner during arguments. Divorce is a weighted beast, and once it’s used, it’s very hard to take it back. Once said, the work it takes to repair the hurt it causes takes time and effort, and a joint commitment to keep it sealed in a bottle. Think when Miranda says it to Daniel in “Mrs. Doubtfire”. She comes home, finds Daniel having a party with the kids, dancing on the dining room table. And she blurts it out, “Daniel, I want a divorce.” The word hangs like a dead balloon, sucking the air out of the room. Divorce. It’s probably the only word that says a million things in just a simple set of syllables. It says: I don’t love you enough to make this work anymore. I think my life would be better without you as my spouse.
Common misconceptions surrounding divorce, and what forces this tiny little word into the world of pain it causes, is that there isn’t life after divorce between the two of you. And this is why I don’t find it as “dirty” as some would necessarily label it. There can be life afterward. There is something to be said about finding your way back to your partner through co-parenting, and even friendship. My dear Gwyneth and Chris Martin coined “conscious uncoupling”. In my opinion, the phrase just simply says “we’re removing the negative connotation attached to the word ‘divorce'”. I get it, I really do. It’s easier to say: “We’ve agreed that we love each other, but not in the way we once vowed to one another. We are better as friends, than romantic partners” than to say “We’ve given up on our marriage, and have opted for divorce”. Sounds prettier. And we are all living in land of scrutiny. We are all chastised for our decisions. Best to not make it worse than it is, if you can, right? To this day, I am still in some sort of contact with some of my exes. Life after divorce exists.
But what is divorce remorse? This, in my experience, is the lesser of the conversation surrounding the dissolution of marriage. It’s sort of like how much gets excluded from the “you’re having a baby” advice books. Yes, they do eventually touch on parts of the process that’s a wee less awesome than the rest. But you don’t find an entire chapter dedicated to what hemorrhoids are, or how you may defecate on the table, and what it feels like to push out the placenta, or what you need a warm water bottle for when it’s all said and done.
It’s the same idea. These things are sometimes glossed over for the sake of the bigger picture in child birth. And as it is with divorce, the manual (is there a manual?) gives you the right idea of what you’re looking at. Separation agreements, custody arrangements, plans to forgive and to pay joint accumulated debt. What to do about housing costs. What to do about pensions. And the longer you’re with your partner, the more complicated the detangling of two lives can become. Lawyer bills, family friends who don’t know if they should choose sides. Who will live where. How do we tell our parents?
And finally – after the dust settles – how do I come to terms with saying goodbye to the person I once told myself I’d die for?
This is divorce remorse. It sneaks up on you in the middle of the night. Or during a meeting at work. Or when you’re walking the dog through the park. It comes in from behind when you’re not looking. And it chops you at your knees. And pulls the strain on your heart. When you’re mind is done calculating, and processing the finality of the divorce; when you’re done being distracted by the mechanics of detaching your life from the life of the person you pledged your life to – divorce remorse waltzes in and smacks you in the face. The person you loved more than anything you’d ever thought you were capable of loving and adoring – is gone.
This is why “remorse” and “regret” are not interchangeable in this scenario. “Regret” implies you are allowing a shred of doubt infiltrate a decision you spent time and energy on making. However, “remorse” is permitting that flood of sadness and guilt for not making good on a promise you gave.
Divorce remorse is, and will be, different for everyone. It goes back to the uniqueness of the relationship. Perhaps you were a couple of kids who fell pregnant and were “encouraged” to make it down the aisle (ahem, my first marriage). Maybe you were two people who fell so deeply in love, it’s unbearable to fathom that anything could have shredded the two of you apart (ahem, my final marriage). But the point is, eventually, somewhere, somehow, divorce remorse will make it’s way to your heart. Maybe you’re not giving in to feeling sorry that you’re no longer with the person you were previously with. Maybe divorce remorse shows itself as failure to your parents, or those you felt you were proving something to. And you are able to push these feelings of remorse to the way-side.
But maybe, maybe, divorce remorse is that bullet that hits you straight between the eyes when you think back to the person who you stood in front of and gave a simple, yet complicated vow to. Maybe it unveils itself as sorrow for falling flat on the one thing you’d promised yourself you could be – everything they needed. Maybe for you, and your story, divorce remorse will creep into your room late at night, and rack you to your core, because you couldn’t be all things you’d hoped you would be. And the memories somehow feel like a wasted story line, in a plot twist you couldn’t have seen any faster than a freight train to your heart.
That’s okay. Because, that’s grief. And grief, as we all well and know, has zero limitation, no boundaries, and doesn’t care where you are, or what you’re doing, or who you think you are. Grief does what it wants, and it will chide you into a cry sesh on any given day it feels like rearing its face. Same with divorce remorse. It’s the final step to a long, and painful process. It’s the finality. It’s saying goodbye. It’s coming to terms. It’s allowing your heart to catch up with your head. It’s saying: I loved this person, and though we couldn’t be everything we’d initially promised, I am glad I spent those days of my life with them. I can close this chapter now, because I know that it was all it was meant to be. I can say goodbye.
Like I said before. They exclude a bunch of stuff you wish you’d known about before you went into labour. And they don’t tell you about this, either. But being aware that it will happen, someway and some how, can prepare you a whole lot better for the curtain call.
in love always