People rarely talk about divorce in our culture and, as a result, I rarely thought about how it works until I ended my marriage. Honestly, it was totally different than I imagined. Divorce isn't something that happens the day you decide to file. Instead, it's a process that takes months — or, in my case, years — of give and take to finalize, and one that is sometimes emotionally charged, complex, surprising, and logistically challenging. There are so many things I wasn't prepared for when my divorce was finalized.
A wise person once told me that in divorce cases, no one wins. While I got most of what I asked for in the settlement, that was definitely true for me. Leaving my ex-husband made me feel happy, sad, scared, conflicted, and free, all at the same time. Thus, the day that it was finalized left me emotionally raw and uncertain about my future.
I also had to deal with other people's ideas about divorce and the stress and shame of having to tell everyone from the bank teller to my boss that my name and martial status had changed. Was I imagining the questions and judgment behind their eyes? Their unasked questions about what was wrong with me? There was also my own fear and insecurity. How it felt to see him and hear his words in court. How hard it would be to grieve the loss of marriage and my identity as a married person and how hard it would be to tell my kids.
To say that nothing could prepare me for that day is putting it mildly. It was so different than I expected.
I honestly didn't expect to be sad. After all, my ex is a terrible, abusive person and I had already built a new, happier life with my kids as a badass single mom. I didn't grieve the loss of my husband as much as I grieved the loss of my marriage and the way I wanted and expected my life to be. I was happy and relieved to finally have everything finalized, but the day was definitely bittersweet.
People don't expect you to be happy when your divorce is finalized, and I am sure some people judged the heck out of me for being cheerful about it. However, I felt so happy to finally be free of him and our terrible marriage that I got a new tattoo to celebrate my freedom. I felt like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon to start her new life, or a bird, finally free of her cage.
How Anti-Climatic It Was
It took so damn long for my divorce to be finalized that it was pretty anti-climatic in the end. Despite over a year of fighting me on every issue, he finally agreed to almost everything I asked for. There were no surprises in court.
Saying the words "I'm divorced" was so damn hard and so surreal. I was sure they were judging the heck out of me and felt so ashamed to be divorced, which is so stupid because leaving my husband was one of the best, most challenging, and most badass things I have ever done.
Now, whenever anyone tells me their divorce was finalized, I ask them how they feel about it and if appropriate, say "good for you."
Changing My Name Everywhere
What a pain in the ass. Seriously. I wish I had never hyphenated my name. Two years later I still have my old name on a few random accounts. Ugh.
Telling My Kids
This was seriously hard. Even though we'd been separated for a long time before everything was finalized, and my kids knew it was coming, nothing could prepare me emotionally for telling them the divorce was final. My daughter had so many questions, and I wanted to make sure she didn't blame herself.
Catching Myself Forgetting I Was Divorced
I found myself constantly referring to "my husband" or thinking that I wanted to tell him something when I got home from work. When you are with someone for over a decade, old habits die hard.
Seeing Him In Court
Because my ex-husband was abusive, seeing him in court was seriously hard and not something I could prepare for. I had to keep breathing, tried not to make eye contact or have a panic attack, and repeat the mantra "You can do this" in my head over and over again.
"You can do this. It will be over soon."
How Long It Would Take To Make Things Happen
It never occurred to me that even once everything was decided, divided, and signed by the judge that it would take a seriously long time to move forward with court orders, and that he would totally drag his feet on making things happen. Ugh.
Finding A New Normal
As hard as it was to tell other people I was divorced, it was way harder to internalize the idea, find a new "normal," and for it to feel real. After court, we had a plan for custody, visits, and support. TBH, two years later, it still doesn't always go smoothly, and in some ways it hasn't gotten easier.