The art of reduction

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It occurred to me when I ordered up a tall blond.

I rarely go to Starbucks, preferring my own coffee. But today, my power went out in the early morning. The Starbucks drive-through was my option. As I pulled up to the window after ordering, the woman taking my money laughed. “How tall would you like him to be?” she asked me. Next time, I will clarify “tall blond roast.”

And it hit me. As I enter the online dating fray again, this ordering up a custom date is a dream I think most men would entertain. To the detriment of us real women out there, living life—sometimes sporting a rock-star blowout, and other times running with wild hair and circles under our eyes. We are no Barbie, gentlemen. To the chagrin of a good number of you. And this is coming from a woman who does ok in this online fray. Many of you reach out. Just not enough of you who have truly grown up.

When you get divorced, as a woman of a certain age, you have no idea what you are in for. I’m not talking about the bits you yourself will go through—financial, emotional and otherwise. I’m talking about the true confessions you become privy to.

I had no idea how many women suffer in unhappy situations in silence. For years.

They do it for the kids, out of fear of financial instability, out of a desire to save face out there in the world, because they are worried they will never be loved again.

If you are tempted to scoff, don’t. Let’s face it. As a woman of a certain age, you get the message loud and clear: Sculpt, nip, tuck, sweat until you drop, don’t touch those carbs. Life experience, in a woman, seems to count for so much less than in a man. The pretty package—even now, in the twenty-first flippin’ century—still counts for far too much, and the life in our years for far too little. For those of you lucky enough not to be in the online dating pool, a brief primer. Man, age 50, seeks woman 34-39. Man, age 58, seeks woman 35-49. And a pattern emerges . . .

This truth would probably never have revealed itself to me had I not gotten divorced. But when I did, it became imminently apparent.

As I healed and messily figured things out, I blogged about it. And as my divorce became common knowledge, the floodgates opened. Woman after woman appeared at my doorstep, next to me in a quiet corner of a cocktail party or virtually as a text on my phone—all saying different versions of the same thing.

“My God, it’s been hell and I haven’t had anyone to talk to about it.”

“How did you do it?”

“I don’t want to lose the house or time with my kids.”

“It’s been going on for years.”

“I thought he’d always be faithful.”

“I thought he’d always love me.”

Over wine, coffee, homemade meals, I have heard incredible stories. If people only knew how many crazy things go on behind as many closed doors.

There are as many versions of the story as women. I am sure men have their own versions, but it’s not men coming to me after 20-plus years of marriage. It’s women. So I can’t address the male side of this equation.

What I can tell you is that, for women, divorce is a process of reduction. You cooks out there will know what I’m talking about. For your less domestic counterparts, I will explain. When you reduce a sauce or some such in the kitchen, you simmer or boil it. When done, there is less of the substance, but what is there is more substantive, intense, flavorful and rich.

What I see, in all of the women who have come to me with their stories, is a reduction in process. Suddenly, in a life that was filled with “important” things, the truly significant bits are the only to survive. Love for self and children, enough prosperity to make ends meet and the value in a single hour—because most, when suffering, can only think about getting through the muck an hour at a time—otherwise it feels too overwhelming. You can go a little crazy looking too far ahead in the thick of it.

Carpooling, who snubbed whom, a decent haircut and baking cookies for the school fundraiser? Well, you thought those were important but–turns out, in the big scheme of things—they’re not. At least, not for now. What is left is the essence of a life. You realize your beauty truly does come from within. That you can battle to keep outer beauty alive, but it is a never-ending one and you will lose it. You will never look 25 again. And, if you’re smart, you realize that you really only want people in your life who value your inner beauty. Because a woman who is truly herself does emanate a beauty the wise can see clearly.

The women themselves are also strengthened by being reduced—which sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s not. They become their core. All non-essential bits fall to the wayside. They find their worth again. They speak their truth unapologetically. They remember what true laughter sounds like, emerging from their own mouths. And they don’t waste their energy on the unimportant. When done, they are stronger, more flavorful versions of their former selves. There may be less there, but what is there was carefully crafted. I’ve been lucky enough to date at least one man who appreciated this. He gave me hope. But, in the end, he really wanted someone he could take care of—someone who would depend on him for all things. I did not go through a reduction only to then reduce myself to something less than.

Not all women come through divorce as I’ve described. I’m sure you know a few who didn’t use it as a tool for change. Women who scurried to find a quick replacement for their ex, the security of another marriage, speedily so they would not have to think too hard about any of it. Women who will battle the ticking clock unceasingly, one painful nip and tuck at a time.

I don’t judge those women. But I do see it as a missed opportunity to become more of who they were meant to be. The question for the self-actualizing woman is: “What haven’t I done yet?” Not, “What haven’t I had done yet?”  

Reduction is an art. And yet, it’s also a gift wrapped in the least attractive wrapping you’ve ever seen.

Not all of us are handed such a gift. But the wisest women, when handed such a package, see it as a new beginning. Chosen or not. And they make something of it.

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46 Comments Add yours

  1. I do understand what you mean about getting to the “core” self which can become the gift of divorce – that is, if one chooses to take positives rather than negatives out of this life-changing event

    1. candidkay says:

      I think even the negatives, perhaps especially the negatives, are what end up reducing us to our essence. Which I guess nets a positive :-).

      1. Ah, yes … I see what you mean.

  2. shunpwrites says:

    You, my friend wield the power of metaphor with deadly narrative effect as always!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! I guess the pen really is mightier than the sword :-).

  3. srbottch says:

    Yes, if you dance long enough, then there’ll be plenty of ‘toe stepping’ and ‘wrong leads’ but the times when you’re flowing together as one…those are the times you remember most. I bet you’ll find a great ‘dance partner’ yet. Just keep those shoes ready (By the way, how are your boys doing?)

    1. candidkay says:

      Boys are doing great. Thanks for asking. Although, they have not yet truly learn to dance, something your comment reminds me we need to check off of our bucket list :-).

      1. srbottch says:

        As a boy, I never would have done it. As an adult, I wish I had learned it long ago. I love the athleticism in combo with a certain grace and the mental challenge. We’re learning ’round’ dancing now, ballroom steps but to a caller. Have a wonderful day.

  4. heyjude6119 says:

    “Well, you thought those were important but–turns out, in the big scheme of things—they’re not.”
    Nothing like a crisis to show you what’s important. I have battled weight most of my adult life. But when it comes to other people, the ones who are self confident and beautiful on the inside, are frequently the ones who aren’t the most beautiful on the outside.
    I don’t envy you dating because of the way so many people are not genuine online. It’s hard to know who to trust.
    I do enjoy your posts so much, Kris!!

    1. candidkay says:

      You’re telling me on the trust issue! It’s tough. I so appreciate you reading and commenting, as well as your kind words. Thank you!

  5. srbottch says:

    When we dance, I lead. Or, I try to lead. Sometimes I fail and she says, ‘Follow me’. Reluctantly, I swallow my pride and follow, it seems to work best when we both lead at different times. We’ve been doing this for 47 years come next Wednesday.and, yes, we’ve stepped on each other’s toes on occasion . It hurts…but 47 years.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I love that:). My parents were married over 60 years and that is always what I pictured for myself. Congrats! The toe stepping is to be expected, right?:)

  6. Yet another excellent post, K. Glad you shared it!

  7. Aunt Beulah says:

    So wise, Kay, so wise. during the decade I was divorced, I was, indeed, reduced. And once the painful part was over, I liked myself better than I ever had. There is something affirming about revealing your essence. This should be required reading for all newly divorced women. But, then, maybe it’s something we each need to learn for ourselves.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you so much, as always, for your wise and kind words. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all learn on each other? I guess it’s not quite that simple but hopefully we each learn in her own way and time.

  8. You are brilliant, as always!

    1. candidkay says:

      And you are too kind, as always 🙂

  9. Susan says:

    I was one of those who didn’t stay single long. Not for lack of trying though. I was adamant that I would take care of myself for a change. Then the love of my life asked me to dance. He, however, has helped me “reduce”. Over the years he has shown me the best parts of myself.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, that is a lovely story :-). I think finding a soulmate quickly is absolutely delightful, if it’s not done out of fear but instead out of serendipity or Providence. It sounds like that is what is happened for you and I am so happy for you!

  10. Amy says:

    All flags waving again here in your downstate cheering section! Barbie culture drives me bonkers. Women can certainly decide to be as outwardly “pretty” as they want to be, but I feel nipping, tucking and Botoxing are symptoms of a cultural pandemic that ravages the eyes of men, women and children alike, causing natural beauty to be perceived through fun-house mirrors. You, thank goodness, are immune to this modern malady. Thank you for championing true health of mind, body and spirit. You’re just what the doctor ordered. xoxo

    1. candidkay says:

      What really gets to me is when plastic surgery is featured prominently at women’s “health” fairs. As if it has anything to do with health.

  11. Beautifully paired title and main course. Delicious! I am so very grateful that I’m not single, looking to date, at this age and stage. Your description of reduction is spot on! Hopefully I’m learning that every big time life squeeze is an opportunity to let go of what’s not working and concentrate on what is (pun intended). I hope you are able to find someone who shares your life’s values, and who is your equal in every way.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! I am with you. I am married to be married for life. Would much prefer that to this craziness :-).

  12. I went to a talk on death by a Buddhist nun Monday night! She shaves her head and has only two outfits to wear, and they are exactly the same . Her only possession is a laptop! She certainly knows what unattachment to life means and only works on her inner being. You only have to be you in this crazy world and live the way you believe is right for you and your boys. Your strength and honesty are valuable 💚💚

    1. candidkay says:

      I thought for sure that you were going to say it was Pema Chodron when you said Buddhist nun:). I hope you are right–because being me is about all I know how to be:). Thanks, as always, for reading and putting your two cents in.

      1. No it wasn’t Pema. I’m glad you know how to be you, believe me, not many people I know do!

  13. Very deep words beautiful lady (inside and out). It does take a big experience to craft that fine tuning, and you’ve done it in spades.
    I bow to much wisdom.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Mr. L:). A high compliment coming from a very wise soul. I appreciate it!

  14. Sparkyjen says:

    I chuckled several times reading your post. I hope that’s also what you were hoping readers might do. I love the way you used the “reduction” analogy. It works!

    I’m all about the inner self, as opposed to the outer. I’m tired of shaving my legs almost every day.

    1. candidkay says:

      You got it! I did want a pleasant vibe–a chuckle or two. This is not about being strident. It’s about realistically looking at something our society seems to still turn a blind eye to. Hoping that changes in the next couple of generations. As for shaving legs, oy. I hear you! Almost easier to do the inner work. Almost:).

  15. Well written not only for the diction but the strength these words came from. What can I say? Our identity is bound in roles and relationships. Indeed it is a challenge to embrace the reducing.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, you put it well. The crux of it–our identity is bound in roles and relationships. Rather than us bringing a solid identity to those. And so few of us question that . . .

  16. George says:

    Great post, Kay. I’m not a woman but I’ve known too many who are fearful of breaking away from the life they’ve come to know regardless of how happy, or in their cases, unhappy, they may be. Unfortunately, some stay so long they don’t expect or believe life is any more than what they’ve experienced. It’s very sad.

    1. candidkay says:

      I call that the frog in boiling water syndrome. I’m sure you’re familiar–a frog will stay in water until it boils, without being able to detect the change in temperature if you turn the heat up slowly over time. Water it would immediately jump out of if you put it into while boiling. I think many women forget who they were (or never find out, sadly) or what truly happy feels like. Thanks for the kind words, George.

  17. Tammi Kale says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head – I remember the first post I read on your blog was along the lines of being a strong woman – and would men approach you being such. And I thought then, although I didn’t want to sound discouraging with it being my first post to your blog, that being a strong woman is an accomplishment to carry you through, to take you to places you’ve never known before where you don’t need a man to go with you in order to go! To be more who we are meant to be, yes!! Great post! (And I can still say I never thought I’d be here (alone), but okay with it at the same time…)

    1. candidkay says:

      I agree with you:). Finding a partner is great, but not a goal in and of itself. It is the byproduct of a happy life, well lived. Thanks for reading and commenting again!

  18. I love this. My Mom just became a widow and although she misses her husband of 60 years horribly, I see how she’s becoming a different person on her own… more authentic in a way. I agree about women not rushing into another marriage. We’re too brainwashed to think that’s the only way to live. And it’s so not true.

    1. candidkay says:

      It is true, right? I’m all for a good partnership–someone to go through life with. But women, far less than men, don’t seem to consider the alternative. It’s seen as them lacking something rather than a choice. I hope your mom continues to live on into herself–wonderful how we can grow, no matter our age.

      1. ChidiOnye says:

        You sooo got it ; women far less than men, don’t seem to consider the alternative. Especially in this part of the world(Africa), a single woman is seen to be thoroughly lacking no matter her achievements and you see women remaining in trapped marriages. It doesn’t help that here that one’s chances of getting re-married is less than 2% for women and almost 95% for the men

      2. candidkay says:

        I would bet this is true especially in Africa, as in some other parts of the world. If in the United States this is true, and we consider ourselves a “modern” country, I cannot imagine the degree to which it happens in other places.

  19. You are so wise. Reduction is indeed an art, and you are an artist of great works. An impressionist, I believe. Thank you for your wisdom. If only you could fit the following inside a fortune cookie: “A woman who is truly herself does emanate a beauty the wise can see clearly.” Truly beautiful — in so many ways.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! I think you’ve come up with your million-dollar idea: fortune cookies for smart cookies:).

  20. You are a philosopher-sage and I wish you true
    happiness in your state of reduction!

    1. candidkay says:

      Wow! A true compliment:). Thank you. Sending those wishes for happiness right back at you tenfold. Hope all is well.

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