I thought about divorce for years.
It wasn’t a spontaneous decision and it wasn’t easy. I researched it for years, to the point that learning more about divorce became my secret porn stash. I wanted to be as prepared as possible.
There’s no question that going through a divorce sucks. The financial hit and emotional damage to children could have their own college thesis. It’s the endless arguments and two people who once dedicated their lives to each other suddenly looking out for themselves.
I don’t care if you’re burning your wedding dress for fun or staring stoically out a window: divorce is a gut punch to your life.
A friend of mine is at the beginning stage of her divorce. She’s overwhelmed and terrified about the future. My friend is turning to me for guidance like I’m the ultimate divorce expert.
It’s been a year and a half since I moved out of my marital home. The dust has settled (no, really; I had to renovate the hell out of my new digs). While there are still unknown challenges, like when the kids get cell phones or have more autonomy over where they’re staying, I feel confident that I’ve experienced the worst of it.
Instead of a “Things You Need to Know When You Divorce” list (there are plenty of those), here are the “Hard Truths About Divorce Life”.
1. Dating after divorce isn’t the same as when you were young.
In my pre-marriage years, I was cute. Not gorgeous, but I had potential. I look at old pictures of me and think about how adorable I was. Full cheeks and a phenomenal smile.
Youth truly is wasted on the young. In my defense, there wasn’t a myriad of TikTok videos teaching me how to do makeup and hair. I followed whatever Seventeen and Cosmo told me to do.
Dating was done the old-fashioned way: randomly meeting in a grocery store, randomly meeting in a bar, or randomly meeting when attending a friend’s barbecue.
Online dating is both complicated and simple. Being able to swipe from the comfort of your living room and sussing out the initial red flags makes it easy.
But playing the dating game when older is exhausting. And your profile picture has to look good but not too good or else you can’t live up to it in reality. The bar for appearance is high when you’re competing with women who have filters and endless time at the gym.
My advice? Be prepared for a solid six-month learning curve when you dive into dating.
2. Silence isn’t golden.
I was a single, working mom when I was married. My ex-husband was never around because of his work commute.
With an autistic son and a temperamental-with-ADHD daughter, I relished silence. When they were asleep, I stayed up for hours enjoying the lack of crying and whining. The best Mother’s Day I ever had was when I kicked them all out so I could stay home and get my crafting on.
When you don’t have your kids all the time, the silence is deafening. It’s painful. I miss the sounds of them tossing and turning in their beds at night. I miss them being noisy in the morning. I miss them wanting everything and anything of me.
Looking back, I became a pro at dating because it was my distraction from the nights without my kids.
My advice? Get an Amazon Echo and let Alexa play podcasts all night. Get a needy pet. Invest in loads of Kleenex.
3. The economics of milk will surprise you.
When you live with a man and kids, grocery shopping is never-ending. I bought massive jugs of milk and tons of bread. Costco was in my shopping routine.
Trying new recipes is easy when you have a guy in the house to play garbage truck for anything your picky-eating kids won’t eat. Mayo and mustard need replacing.
Subtract a man’s appetite and halve your children’s eating habits after divorce.
I learned that I have to check expiration dates on condiments because they expire before I’m halfway through bottles. I can’t try endless new recipes because if I don’t like them, my budget doesn’t allow for anything to be tossed.
The biggest shock was the economics of milk. I can’t buy a large jug because it’ll expire before my kids drink it all. But if I get the smaller jug, I run out too soon. It took me months of trial and error to narrow down the best timeline for milk purchasing without waste.
My advice? Strain leftover cereal milk to use in your kids’ breakfast the next day to avoid running out of milk. Learn to buy smaller bottles of condiments, even if the price per ounce is higher than the jumbo size. When budgeting for your divorce, the silver lining is your grocery bills will drop.
4. You are responsible for everything.
If you’re going through a divorce from a man-child as I did, you assume life will be a cakewalk because you managed everything on your own.
My ex-husband was a hot mess after the divorce because he didn’t know how to buy home insurance or pay property taxes. He’s still a hot mess…I don’t think he’s ever changed the kids’ bedsheets since I left.
When I was married, I forced my husband to handle all trash tasks. Emptying the trash and taking out the recycling, along with rolling the bins out once a week, were his duties. I used to toss empty Amazon boxes on the porch for him to put in the recycling bin when leaving for work.
After my divorce, I still tossed my trash and recycling onto the porch. It took me a few days to realize, “oh shit…these aren’t going to put themselves in the bin.”
I hate taking out the trash. I hate rolling the bins on the street. I hate bringing them back in the next day. I hate when they’re wet from the rain or when they’re packing to the brim with stuff falling over. I hate pulling the trash bag out of the kitchen trash and praying it won’t leak when I carry it outside.
My ex-husband did the grunt work that I assigned him. Lifting heavy boxes and unclogging drains were his menial tasks.
While he did very little, my ex-husband did some of the jobs that I’d rather stab my eyeballs than do myself. It was, and still is, a bitter pill to swallow.
My advice? Learn to empty the drain without vomiting before you move out. Find a handyman who is willing to do simple chores without charging extra, like lugging a heavy box upstairs.
5. Your physical safety is a concern.
If you’re in a violent marriage, then this list item doesn’t apply. Your safety will go up, not down.
Despite my ex-husband never being home to help raise the kids or run a household, he was there each night. While we had a few outdoor cameras, I didn’t panic about intruders. My ex-husband was bait so the kids and I could escape.
When alone with the kids, I was ultra-paranoid about locking doors and planning escape routes. My brain strategized where to hide and what item to use in any room in case someone barged in. These were passing thoughts.
I haven’t lived alone since I was 23. Before that, I lived with my parents. The longest I was ever on my own without a roommate or future husband was six months.
When I moved out, every noise made me jump. An unfamiliar, new house and no one else around to call 911 had me on edge. I couldn’t sleep at night; every creak was a murderer tiptoeing across the hall.
Even as I type this, I heard a noise and turned off my space heater to make sure no one is home.
My advice? Invest early in an alarm system. Because Amazon has my soul, I have the full Ring alarm system set up on every window and door. I also pay extra for the security feature that dispatches emergency saviors when an alarm isn’t shut off. Even when not armed, a chime signals when any door is opened so I have peace of mind at all times.
6. It’s not a blank slate.
I thought getting divorced would be a “reset” on my life. New bank accounts, new home, new lovers, and new opportunities to define myself.
Instead, it’s more like a game of life but you rolled the wrong number and now must go back a few steps. Not three steps. More like, thirty steps. Everyone else is in direct view of the finish line and you’re still avoiding hurdles and pitfalls.
I have loads of different friend groups, but they’re all married. I’m too old to go to the clubs but I have 50% of my evenings free and I don’t want to stick around to hear the aforementioned sound of silence without my kids. We rarely hung out child-free because we all had family obligations.
When I moved out, half of everything needed replacing. I became fixated on finding the perfect (but affordable since I was now broke) can opener. I let my ex-husband have the OXO one that is discontinued. Sigh. I could write a love letter to it. In the end, I settled for a $2.50 model from Target requiring Herculean strength to turn.
Getting new things is a blank slate. Replacing things, whether they’re kitchen appliances or typical Thursday nights, is not. It’s Thanos snapping his fingers and you’re left to rebuild the remains.
It’s not all negative. I discovered joy in little things that I didn’t before. I can dress up in whatever I want without my ex-husband providing unnecessary commentary. That’s a massive self-esteem boost. I can create a cleaning schedule that works and reduces stress. I can have my heart open to someone new instead of it being closed for someone who couldn’t be the man I needed.
My advice? Reset your expectations and don’t view it as a blank book. It’s more like chapters of your life’s progress are erased but you have the opportunity to fill them with new pages.
7. You will feel lost.
Listen, if anyone has her stuff together, it’s me. My home loan broker always laughed in amazement at how good I was at money management. I have bins full of toys purchased on sale for future birthday party invites. I keep every piece of tissue and paper bags folded, ready for re-use. I plan everything months in advance.
Did I use present tense when I wrote that paragraph? My bad. I had and I planned.
I didn’t think my identity would be taken away with divorce. There is nothing inherent about divorce itself that causes that.
Somewhere along the way in trying to rebuild my life and handle the emotions, I stopped doing things that made me…me. When you find yourself doing things you didn’t before or not doing the things you once did, it’s overwhelming.
Can I still say I’m ultra-organized? Can I still say that I’m a neat freak when my sink has been full of dishes for three days because my kids aren’t here and I’m too depressed to tackle them? Or is it just a temporary blip?
My attention span struggles. When once I focused with laser precision, now I can barely read a page in a book without my brain wandering off. If it weren’t for my discovery of the Pomodoro Technique, I’d never accomplish anything at my new job.
It took me a while to recognize part of my depression and feeling constant confusion came from this “lost” feeling.
My advice? I gave myself grace to let the dust settle before acknowledging that something needs to change. There’s no point in trying to fix everything, including your sense of sense, all at once. Get logistics and finances figured out first, then take the time to acknowledge the change.
This may list may sound like I’m wearing a purple robe and screaming, “heed this doom!” over my crystal ball. This isn’t meant to scare anyone amid divorce.
I’m pragmatic. These are things I wish I knew before trudging toward divorce.
If there’s anything everyone can agree on, it’s that divorce is a bitch slap to the face of life. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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