I don't know about any of you married folks, but when I got married, the part of my brain that instinctively generated flirtatious behavior (or whatever organ is responsible for kicking this instinct into gear...use your imagination) shut down completely. I still flirted with my husband, but the kind of flirty exchanges that used to happen between me and customers or co-workers came to a screeching halt. Actually, that happened before I even got married...just as soon as I was exclusively committed.
I was happy about that. I didn't want to be getting into any sticky situations, and I certainly never wanted to do anything to make my husband feel uncomfortable or disrespected. For the record, I think a lot of (healthy) marriages allow for some, even a good degree of flirting. It can even be good for a marriage. The key is knowing the limits of what works for you and your partner and respecting those limits. I was well aware of my own.
While I was happy about being able to feel strong and committed to my marriage, I did--at times--wonder if a part of me had died a little. I like flirting. Who doesn't? And to feel that what was once a significant part of my personality had disappeared completely was kind of odd. I think I must have given off a different pheromone entirely--or maybe it was just the presence of my wedding band--because all activity in the stranger/customer flirt department ceased, even outside of my own initiation. Despite the odd feeling, however, I mostly considered it a good development.
Stranger, though, has been observing how this part of me has just now begun to reawaken, 8 months into separation, 4 months into divorce. As you may imagine, I meet and talk to a lot of people working at a bank. And I've only recently started even hinting at any kind of response to men who are giving off a vibe.
Being totally honest with myself, I suppose I can say I'm more than a little bit scared of men at the moment. I'm not physically scared of them (though having a young son, I do feel *especially* cautious about whom I would welcome even a little ways into my life right now). It's just so fresh for me still...the idea of being with anybody other than the man I'd thought I'd be spending my life with. It's not nostalgia for him, or for my marriage...it's not even the hurt about that--I recognize that getting divorced is the best possible thing I could have done for my life and that of my son. It's just, oh god, getting to know somebody new? The idea of intimacy in every sense of the word, with someone new? Sometimes it feels like something I could go for at any moment. And sometimes it feels like it'll be months before I'm ready to go down that road, if then.
And yet I must have been giving off some kind of quasi-readiness/flirtatious vibe, because after I'd helped a customer today, he called the branch and asked for me, then thanked me for my assistance and offered to "take me to lunch on a purely professional level, just to thank me for my great service." That's a different approach. I told my Mom about this and she said, "jeez, just imagine if you help him again. Maybe he'll offer to take you on a cruise." Haha.
As you might have guessed based on what I've said, this is the first time I've been asked out since I separated from my husband last June. In the past, I might have gone along with that "purely professional" pretense and responded accordingly ("Oh sure, customers take me out to lunch ALL THE TIME to thank me for clicking a few buttons on my keyboard, despite the fact that I'm paid to do so. Why don't I pencil you in, next Saturday, say?") But one truly good thing that has come from my marriage is my finally learning the lesson that dishonesty, even in the form of lies of omission, or going along with pretenses, gets a person into a lot of trouble. Sometimes it takes a long time for that trouble to materialize, but it will eventually. Honesty is, finally and forever, my only policy.
Today's New Activity: Using the "D" Word
For the first time today, I found it necessary to tell a stranger who knew nothing about me or my life that I was in the process of a divorce. My exact words were, "I appreciate the offer, but I'm in the middle of a divorce right now. I'm not really going to lunch with anybody." I do find this customer friendly and handsome, though (it was the second time I'd helped him), and I might be interested in going out with him at some point, but I let him know I would just see him at the bank for now, and maybe take him up on his invitation in the future.
It's a weird thing, to leave the familiarity of a marriage (however clusterf*cked it may be) and reemerge into the world as a divorced woman. Doesn't it just sound so ugly? I'm a "divorced woman." Okay, I'm not yet, but my divorce will be finalized within a few months, and I will soon find myself in a category of people I never imagined myself belonging to. Who does really? Nobody goes into marriage expecting to get divorced ("Eighth Time's a Charm" Larry King excluded...if he expects anything different at this point he is even more delusional than he is irritating), and no matter what the circumstances of your decision to part ways, it is a sad, sad day when you realize that despite all your love and best intentions and efforts to make it work, this marriage--like so many others--has, too, run its course.
Two important shifts have happened in my mind since the reality of my own marriage's demise has set in. First, I've had to come to terms with my own judgments about divorced people and their choices. Although I'm kind of ashamed to admit it, in my mind I had judged that they simply weren't trying hard enough...that they were lazy or selfish or uncommitted or bored. I always made the exception in my mind for people who left physically abusive marriages, but for the most part I think I judged divorcees pretty harshly. I now recognize that there are myriad good reasons why a marriage can end, and that people deserve some sympathy and the benefit of the doubt.
Secondly, I've had to come to terms with the idea that many, many, many people out there likely judge divorces and divorced people the way I myself used to. And I have to wonder how they will view me. Karma is a bitch though, ain't it?
I've been embarrassed, ashamed, and highly unlikely to share my marital status with people except those I trust completely (and it's been a challenge even among some of them), and I'm *really* not looking forward to the first time I have to mark the "divorced" box on some kind of document or questionnaire. No matter what my circumstances and all the whatnot that brought me to this place, if I'm honest I'll admit there is a part of me that feels like a failure.
I acknowledge and deal with that feeling as it comes, when it comes. And at the other end of that processing, I always get to the place where I know in my heart that a first step in getting my life on track as I want it to be is accepting where it is right now. And right now, I'm a soon-to-be-divorced 32-year-old woman, a single mother who's living with her parents. Ouch. It's kind of a harsh reality to face.
Always moving forward though, honoring the path that led me here and sending out heaps of gratitude to all the people and events in my life that have touched me along the way.