I remember the day I went to court to hear a judge pronounce me divorced. I dressed carefully (in black, which seemed appropriate) and wore a pair of shoes that made me feel statuesque and actually made me particularly tall. I figured that I needed all the mass I could muster, as the act of going before a judge can be a very frightening experience. I think I assumed that upon the final banging of the gavel that I would immediately feel different; liberated, uninhibited, new…
I felt none of that. What I felt was sad and somewhat diminished. My feet hurt from the shoes, I had collected lint on my black dress, and my mind was exhausted from having been on DEF-Con 5 for so many hours. My newly pronounced ex-husband and I had a brief conversation about who would be taking our kids to dinner that night, then my attorney and I went out for coffee.
In the context of walking down the aisle to get married – which I have done twice – each time I think I expected to feel different when I emerged from the church, proclaimed as the Mrs. to somebody’s Mr. Yet each time I felt like I was searching for an identity that didn’t exist. I was fundamentally the same person who walked into the church as the one who walked out; the metamorphosis of a new persona taking years to occur, not something that happened in a 30 minute ceremony simply because a person who possessed a Doctor of Divinity said that I was different. I was still worried about bills and promotions and who would walk the dog when I was gone.
I wanted to feel different – different as in better, I suspect – when I got divorced. Yet I didn’t feel different or better, only tired.
I’ve been divorced for almost 3 years now, and I wonder if I am any different. I have a different legal status, and a different house, even a different romantic relationship. But the fundamental issues that cause me stress and angst, that tap into my inner demons, continue to be the same. I worry about the same things that I did when I was married. I obsess over the same fundamental issues of child rearing and financial security and professional success that I did when I was Mrs. Cornell, rather than Ms. Cornell. I still have a complex relationship with the man to whom I was married. The difference is now we exist in parallel rather than concentric universes.
What has made me feel different about being divorced is not that I am not somebody’s wife, but that I am solely responsible for the choices I make in the interests of myself and my children. Standing at the threshold of a new relationship, I think about the implications associated with marriage and divorce, and what that does or does not contribute to the expectations of a connection between two people. Is a relationship any less significant or committed because there is no word or legal status that defines the relationship, or does the absence of that delineator contribute to a greater depth of intimacy? Within this new relationship I still have the same worries and baggage that I have always had, the difference is now I have someone to help me haul the luggage.
I wonder if we as women, many of us raised by a generation of women who were defined by the man they married, seek too often to define ourselves and our issues by the legal status of our relationships, rather than finding definition in our personal actions through our relationship choices.
Or maybe at the end of the day we just want someone to walk the dog.