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.