If you skim my Facebook page, with its sunny messages and abundant photos, you would probably think my life is a whirlwind of lectures, concerts, trips and museum visits. But while I have watched Beyoncé rock the Barclay Center and climbed to the top of Penobscot Mountain, Facebook doesn’t tell the whole story, or even the most important part of my story. Because after almost three decades of marriage, I’m one of those statistics you read about — an aging boomer getting a divorce.
I met my husband over 30 years ago at a party given by a group of friends. He was tall, intelligent, logical, quiet and extremely nice; I was short, intelligent, emotional, boisterous and creative. While we might not have seemed a perfect match, I thought we complemented each other. I drew him out of his shell, introducing him to my wide circle of friends and encouraging him to investigate the arts, and he staunchly supported my endeavors and could be counted on to calm me down whenever my emotions threatened to overwhelm me.
But as time went on and we had three kids, our world started to shrink. Like many new parents, we spent our rare free time oohing and aahing over the exploits of our children, cocooned in a world where everything they did was extraordinary. There was no time for us as a couple or maybe we just didn’t make the time. I limited my socializing to the daily interactions at school drop-offs, on the soccer field or during playdates, and grew to resent the fact that I was always the one responsible for our social life, vacation planning and family activities — why couldn’t he make more of an effort?
No infidelities or gambling addictions led to the breakdown of our marriage; just a gradual detachment, a lack of common interests, and an unwillingness to reach out or change on both our parts. Almost immediately after our youngest left for college, divorce reared its ugly head. And I’m not alone. Sociologists at Bowling Green University have termed it the “gray divorce revolution,” as if we’re all manning the barricades together, a sizeable united movement of aging revolutionaries. But it’s not like that at all. If anything, it often feels like the most isolating of experiences.
And, quite frankly, I’m scared. Scared of aging by myself, scared of running out of money, scared I won’t be able to find a group of friends who will be available to go places with me, scared of living the rest of my life alone. I never spent an inordinate amount of time on my looks, but now find myself brooding over each new mark on my skin or thinning section of my hair. I am constantly questioning whether I have enough time left to take on an intriguing career challenge or make congenial new friends, and I absolutely hate the fact that my divorce seems to have triggered this intense fixation with age and time.
So, in spite of my cheery Facebook page, I’m still in the beginning stages of unwinding a shared life, and it could take years for the dust to settle. However, I’m learning as I go, and I have some thoughts about how to cope with a “gray divorce” that I’d like to share.
Understand Your Divorce Agreement
I’m a retired lawyer, and I have spoken to so many men and women who seem to have either not read their divorce/separation agreements or have agreed to things they didn’t understand. No one or almost no one gets everything they want in a divorce, but if something is important to you, whether it’s money, possessions, custody or housing, make sure it’s been thoroughly aired and documented. And don’t assume your lawyer is infallible — if you don’t understand a provision, ask questions and don’t be scared of legal jargon. But know when to stop. Not everything is worth fighting about.
Reach Out To Friends
While you should avoid barraging them with a nonstop litany of complaints and woes (and remember, no matter how needy you feel, friendship is not just one-sided communication), ultimately, your true friends will be happy to support you, listen to you and give you advice. And if they don’t have time for you, then they’re not really your friends and you’re better off without them.
Make Time For Yourself
Get enough sleep, exercise, lose weight if you have to, dye your hair if you want to. Take some risks, join a Meetup group and go places by yourself. It’s scary to put yourself out there, especially for older adults, but too often the alternative is to dwell on your unhappiness or your grievances. There’s a whole world of experiences waiting for you, if you have the courage to access it.
Take Control But Know When To Let Go
It may sometimes seem almost impossible to deal with the feelings of loss, invisibility and fear that often accompany a gray divorce (or any divorce for that matter), but one of the ways to combat your fears and insecurities is to take control of what you can. Make lists and check off items. If you don’t understand how tax rates work or how to service your furnace, find out! You are not powerless. However, let go of what you can’t control — your ex might engage in tactics or activities you’re not comfortable with, but unless they adversely affect you and you can do something about them, don’t dwell on them.
I’ve been told that when I get to the “other side” of my divorce, I will be much happier. Well, I’m not there yet, but I’ve been trying to follow my own advice to focus on what I need, not fight about what I don’t and, as my Facebook page attests, stay positive and active.