“Do you mind if I ask…what happened?” Her face showed genuine concern as she asked a question I wasn’t sure I could answer for myself, let alone to a mom of one of my daughter’s friends on a school playground while we stood under our children on the monkey bars.
Six months after my divorce, I started to realize no one else was going to tell people for me that I had gotten a divorce. No one else would provide excuses for my children’s age appropriate behavior for what was happening in their world. No one else was going to field questions as to why I changed my last name on Facebook. No one was going to step in when someone who didn’t know that I didn’t have a husband asked me how my husband was doing or where he was working. It is not their fault for asking, and in most cases their concern was genuine. They loved and cared about me, and they were concerned for me. But they were also worried about themselves.
It was after a long conversation with a loved one that followed their question of me “Do you think you got a divorce because some of your best friends got a divorce?” that I realized many times, their concern for me was compacted by their fear for themselves and their own marriages.
They wanted to make sure I was okay. And they wanted to make sure what happened to me wouldn’t happen to them. I get it. If you know me, you know I’ve never sugar coated how hard my life is. But few things worth having come easy, and my life is more than worth having.
So, four years after my divorce, I thought I’d share: what happened. Grab the popcorn and pour yourself a glass of wine (it’s 5 o’clock on the East Coast as I write this).
What happened was, I came of age during a time period when the heroin chic look was hot, and the only time sex was talked about was in the toxic umbrella of purity culture. What happened was, I saw commercials and magazines where hip bones stuck out, and I went on my first diet when I was 12. I remember it vividly: I was standing on my bed in the middle of my navy blue bedspread (sorry, mom!) and holding a dial phone with a curly cord while saying aloud to a friend of mine “I am 88 pounds! That is disgusting! You have to help me go on a diet. We can do it together.”
What happened was, the only time my youth group talked about sex, they had a guest speaker talk to us about being pure. I remember a brave teenager suggesting that perhaps a person might like to figure out what they like sexually before getting married and that they were shamed and the answer *by a peer* to their concern was “There’s something special about learning what you like with the other person.” What happened was, I signed a “purity pledge” in a book given to me by an older friend, and reminded myself anytime I looked at that little card, that I would have nothing to offer a male except my body. And my body was bad. Every magazine, TV show, dressing room, and poster told me so.
What happened was, when I stopped eating, boys started paying attention.
What happened was, the more boys who paid attention, the more boys who paid attention. What happened was, I had options, and if the only thing I was good for was my body offering to my future husband, I needed options.
What happened was, I was told “boys will be boys.” I was “too much” – my hair was big, my belly was big, my laugh was loud, my passion was overwhelming, my jokes hit too hard and I spoke the truth when others didn’t. I needed to shrink to be loved and I was finally shrinking and the boys were paying attention so it must all be true.
What happened was, when I was a teenager and we told adults we trusted and respected that we didn’t like an older man in our lives, they told us we were being too difficult. What happened was, when he rubbed my shoulders in a public space, when he rubbed another girl’s feet, when he pressed his knees into mine behind his closed office door, no one said a word to the 40 year old man touching the 16 year old girl, and it was up to me to turn around and yell at him that if he ever touched me again, my lawyer father would sue him.
What happened was, when my periods were debilitating, I was told birth control was only for girls having sex.
What happened was, I was told that boys would want to have sex, but girls would not. There was something wrong with me for wanting to have sex. What happened was, I visited extended family who weren’t allowed to wear their size jeans but a size bigger because the male brain operates in such a way that fitted jeans would put us in an unsafe position.
What happened was, I was told to hold my keys between my fingers when I walked to my car and to never put my drink down at a party. Because that was the only way a rape would happen – if it was a “preventable” attack. No one talked about assault in the way it happens 95% of the time, that it’s very rarely random and it starts with teenage girls not being advocated for in public places.
What happened was, I was told I could do nothing without a college degree, but that the college degree that interested me only gave me a piece of paper and a whole lot of debt. When I was diagnosed with PCOS at 19 and handed a pack of birth control pills like candy, I started gaining weight. I started making choices out of fear.
What happened was, I knew that Amy Grant wasn’t a “real” Christian singer because she’d gotten a divorce. Real, strong people “stick it out.” Vows mean something, I was told. What happened was, a single woman, or a divorced woman, became my worst fear.
What happened was, the church, the patriarchy, the media, purity culture, and diet culture created the perfect storm for a passionate, worthy, beautiful, smart girl to feel none of those things and to make choices out of fear. And I am not talking about the choice to leave.
So, what happened? That girl grew up. She had babies and realized how she wanted them to grow up. That girl had friends grow up and recognize their own worth around the same time. Purity and diet culture harmed more than just me. So, did I get a divorce because some of my best friends did? Maybe. Freedom and peace are contagious. And thank God for it.