About this Blog

About this Blog: Divorce is something you do, not something you are. It is not easy, but it can be funny. I know hanging on to my humor gave me hope and courage. Divorce shouldn't cramp your style. There are whole industries devoted to helping brides plan their weddings -- why shouldn't we have a style guide for divorce?

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Relativity of it All

Christmas sucked.  Purl hated the place I've been living, and who wouldn't.  It's small as small can be.  Me trying to do more with less, and still coming up short.  She hated every choice I made and didn't make since the divorce, and it showed.  She's still a child, and she deserves to be able to live the fairy tale, now that the horror movie of the divorce and the frozen Russian tundra of law school is behind me.  She should be able to see that both her parents are better off with no regrets.  But she can't see that yet with me.  So all her teenage angst came out as did my middle life insecurity.  And we had about thirty seconds of good and 40 hours of sleeping (over four nights) and the rest was squabbling and meltdowns and silence.

Fair warning, too late to help you if you've already read that first paragraph.  When I was a kid my cousin asked me if it hurt to get your stitches out.  She had stitches somewhere, a cheek or something, that were coming out in a week.  I'd had stitches, a few times, so I said yes.  She started to cry and got super anxious and fearful.  My sisters, and her sister, turned to me demanding why I'd told her the truth, and I was on the outs with them for the rest of the day.  So apparently that's in my nature, to tell you that something is going to be painful, so that you're prepared, instead of knocked over by a surprise attack of dismay and grief.

Now on the other hand, tensing up when you are headed for a collision is supposed to be bad.  You should be relaxed.  You should not know what hit you, or is going to.  Kind of like a deer that doesn't know it's being hunted.  Apparently the venison tastes bad because of the adrenaline that kicks into its system when it thinks it has a chance of getting off scott-free.  [which doesn't mean you don't have toilet paper on your shoe, by the way, as I found out in an awkward moment].

Knowing that, I still am going to tell you the truth.  Even if it hurts.  Yes it hurts to pull a band-aid off your knee.  Yes it hurts to get divorced.  Yes it hurts to know that it still hurts on holidays.  For me, depending on how you count it, that's years!  Five Christmases since the divorce was finalized.  Seven Christmases since the big separational crisis -- the schism if you want a more exact term.  Eight years since the trip to Paris and the New Year's Eve dinner that made me realize that this was just one of the worst possible marriages ever.   And I am still now waiting to have that one, great, happy Christmas that makes it all worthwhile.  That makes all the dud Christmases pale.  That makes Purl sink and melt into a sofa and feel joyous contentment.

Maybe it will come next year.  Or maybe the next.  That's the relativity of the thing.  The divorce.  Some days it seems so far away.  So many many days that I haven't had my life worsened by a bad relationship.  So many days of self-directed goodness.  And some days it seems like the transformation to the new me has not taken place yet, and everything is still the same crappy thing it was before.  So many days of hitting my head against the wall without a breakthrough.  So many days of not getting out my good Christmas decorations and having a blast with friends and family.

Relativity -- I won't go on to do the comparison of my life with the relatives'.  We can save that for another day.  But think about the time phenomenon.  It's relative.  So do whatever you can, zoom in or zoom out to get the perspective that makes it look good to you.  The fact that you are trying should make the difference.  Maybe you can't see it yet.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Language of Divorce: updated

Yesterday I took a hostile phone call from this guy I used to be married to and today I opened up my virtual newspaper and found this great article on faking a thick skin. Many of the techniques (some might call them tactics) work in relationships that have broken up or are in a current or post-divorce phase. The main message: know that you are being baited. Know that you are almost always being bated with someone that you used to be married to. It doesn't matter if they are calling to say Merry Christmas, one thing the person always looks for is evidence that the divorce was the right thing, validation for whatever better person they (or you) think they are now, as a result. So if you lose your temper or say something mean, it just takes you down a notch, where they want you.

So keep your shoulders back, hold your head up, keep your tone of voice level and slow. Smile at whatever they tell you. Agree with them, but don't change your position. Here's the article -
The Faker: How to fake a thick skin - chicagotribune.com

Have a great and stress free holiday. You're already one step there, since the person you used to be married to won't be messing it up for you.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Language of Divorce, Part II: I'm Rubber, You're Glue

I just got off the phone with this guy I used to be married to.  It was an entirely unproductive conversation.  Do I mind?  Not in the least.  I intended to be uncooperative.  I wanted the conversation to be unproductive.

He called me up to criticize my plan for Purl's winter vacation.  Hilarious.  So, here is what you do.  First, disengage the emotional part.  Whatever he says, it's just words.  Then, just toss the words back on to him, without any emotional content or reaction.  When I pointed out that my choices were no different than ones he made during our child's last winter vacation (the one he spent with her), he said I was paranoid.  Completely ridiculous.  Not that he would have understood or appreciated a definition of the term.  So here's what I did:  "No, you're paranoid."  "You're unreasonable."  "No, you're unreasonable."

Key technique to successfully using this line of conversation:  use the speaker phone.  This way you can floss your teeth, dust, and clean the cat box the whole time.  Just repeat the accusations he throws your way in a calm way.  They're just words.

When you hang up the phone, nothing will have been accomplished.  Except the preservation of your sanity!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Language of Divorce, Part I: my life as a dog

I guess if I could effectively speak with the person I used to be married to we'd still be married, but if it weren't for my divorce, I would not have been able to learn several new languages.  The first one that's relevant is canis lupis familiaris - dog language.

There's a book that was circulating a few years ago that talked about how to use the techniques that dog trainers use to communicate with your spouse more effectively, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons from Animals and Their Trainers.  What I recall the author, Amy Sutherland, saying is that when your spouse says something to you that's completely idiotic, you should not react.  This is not only because your emotional reaction impairs your ability to communicate and make decisions.  The reason you should not react is because your spouse, like a dog, will react to your reaction in a counter-productive way.

Here is a perfect example of the scenario -- imagine you are talking to your dog, a sensitive golden retriever.  Imagine yourself shouting at the dog in a really angry, aggressive way, pointing your finger and stomping your foot.  Imagine that as you are doing this yelling, you are actually saying "Good Dog!  I love you!"  When you do this, the dog will cower, and lower its head and tail.  It might even try to slink away from you.

Now imagine that you are petting your dog's head lovingly, scratching its ears, and speaking in a soft, soothing voice.  While you are doing this, you are saying, "Bad dog. . . . you are going to spend the night outside because I am so very mad at you."  The dog will smile (as they can really do) and wag its tail, and nuzzle its head against you.

The message of the book was that men, including your spouse, are pretty much like dogs.  If you are yelling and crying at them, it doesn't matter what you are saying, they fear a woman's anger and a woman's tears more than anything else they could ever encounter on a battlefield.  So your demonstrations are going to be incredibly counter productive.  Sutherland claimed that by remembering this concept and changing her behavior in a few ways, her husband became much more receptive to her needs and did not object to her opinions.

It was helpful for me to remember this on many occasions during my divorce process.  I found that if I made a conscious effort to not react to my feelings of anger and sadness when I spoke to him, and stayed focused on the facts of the conversation, he was completely thrown off his game.  I was now acting completely the opposite way that he expected.  Things just didn't escalate into a major fight where I would lose my temper, despite how he tried to rile me.  If he didn't agree with what I said, I would just calmly say, "okay, that's the way you look at it" or "I disagree with you" and move on.  Instead of ending up in a fight with me over an issue (and being able to complain to others what an unstable harpy I was), he'd now be stuck with his untenable position.  I would still object to his point of view, but it would be a case of "we agree to disagree."

As an added bonus, I learned I could now say mean and negative things to him, like "I've always felt you had difficulty with _____" or "I don't trust that you will follow through on this," because I was just putting it out there in the same tone of voice that I'd say, "Excuse me, but I ordered wheat toast and this is an English muffin."  He'd flip out:  "How dare you say that to me!"  But since I was consciously emotionally disengaged from his signals, it was no big deal.  It was like listening to a dog that is freaking out and barking at you for no reason.  I'd just sit back, watch, and think, "Bad dog, bad dog, no treat for you."


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader:

I know you can barely read this because your eyes are so puffy, but believe me when I say you are going to get through this, and your divorce is going to be worth every tear.

That bastard you were married to can take the house, he can take your IRA, he can even take the kids every other weekend -- but he can't take your sense of style.  There is no law that requires you to give up any panache, aplomb, or savoir faire when you are taking the trash out where it belongs.  Guard this, one of your most valuable assets.  It is precious.

Let's face it, only the lucky are either happily married or quickly divorced.  The rest of us endure proceedings that even in mediation or settled out of court last at least a year if not more.  That's a lot of time to experience the unique financial, emotional, life-changing stress of divorce.  But you don't have to suffer.  I won’t let you.

I have been there.  Yes, I too had my matrimonial hopes and dreams shattered, just like the gold-rimmed champagne glasses, a gift from his Great-aunt Mimi, that somehow dropped out of a three-story window onto the hood of a departing taxi.  But I survived -- I did more than just survive -- and you will too.

At a times like this I want you to realize that style is your secret to succeeding at the very unpleasant task before you.  You don't need to know how to endure a bad marriage with grace, and a nasty divorce dishes up more than enough servings of humble pie.  You don't need another lecture on letting go.  You don’t need to maintain your composure when you have brains splattered all over your little pink suit.  You do not need to telegraph your broken spirit to the world.  You need wit.  I have lots to spare.  Take some.


Introduction to the Style Guide

Welcome to The Style Guide to Divorce.  This on-line journal offers you, a reader representative of more than 50% of the population, the best of today's divorce-focused advice, humor, recipes, fashion, music, and literature.

You are a sassy and compassionate woman who will survive and thrive after your divorce.  But until that glorious day comes, you don’t need to read articles like “How to Cope with the Abject Failure of Your Marriage,” or “Why You Couldn’t Keep Your Man.”  What you need is “How to Decorate with Half of the Furniture,” and “Boots for Kicking Some Legal A**!”

This is not a blog you will be embarrassed to say that you follow.  No need to look over your shoulder while you are reading or hide the window under a fake spreadsheet.  Come visit anytime you need a tip on looking great and feeling much, much better.

About me:  I was successfully married for 15 years and was so successfully divorced five years ago that I now have trouble remembering his name.  I grew up in Chicago and have lived in Seattle and Montana, so I love the richness of urban culture and the freedom of wilderness recreation.  I was a good wife, I’ve been a mid-career law student and I am currently the single parent of a child who mouths off to me all the time.  The household pet is a three-legged dog, and when people ask me what happened, I say, “well, I had to give up 25% of everything to get my divorce, what did you expect me to do?”

My goal is to provide emotional armor for people going through a difficult time, not to laugh for one minute at your plight.  If I had my way, every bride would have a bookmark to my blog on her toolbar, right next to Susie Bright's.  But for now, the greatest compliment I hope to get is that of a divorce lawyer who tells her sobbing client, “Cry if you want to.  With the waterproof mascara this gal recommends, you're going to look fabulous on the stand and you're going to get at least two-thirds of the estate.”

I said it before in my first post, but since this is the introduction, I’m going to say it again:  getting divorced is something you do, not something you are.  It’s like taking a test, or getting your annual pap smear.  Don’t avoid it.  Prepare for it, get it done, then reward yourself afterward.  I recommend a nice New Zealand sauvingon blanc and a pedicure. 

Civilly yours,


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Divine Intervention and Divorce

Your Style Guide to Divorce editor knows that for many women a divorce provides the framework for an unpleasant spiritual journey.  Well-meaning friends and strangers will assure you that at the end of your suffering a better, stronger, and more enlightened woman will emerge.  You'll be told over and again that one day you will be grateful to have had this painful experience.

Throughout this lengthy, expensive process, a woman may search the metaphysical content of her marriage for singular moments of grace, so that by virtue of these crumb-sized redemptive acts she need not place her whole life in the "failure" box out by the dumpster.  Quests such as these are too often made in vain.

I don't feel that this is particularly dignified or practical.  Many moments during divorce are ridiculously humiliating, and in many of these moments your girlfriends and their blenders will simply not be available.  That's right, the phones are down, you have a run in your stocking, and the baby's crying.  You may be a non-believer, but believe it sister:  it's time for a Hail Mary Pass.

When I was a girl, I wore a hole in the knee of my best white tights seeking to bring down punishment on Mary Louise Stefanic, who had deliberately dented my lunchbox.  When nothing happened, I staged my own TV preacher show in the living room, accidentally scorching the coffee table with my baptism candle.  But several months later the object of my heavenly pleas got the chicken pox and missed our class trip to the zoo.  Clearly I enjoyed a special connection.  Today I can get out of speeding tickets by closing my eyes and whispering "please sweet Jesus."  Not that I'm bragging, but I do have some tips.

First, in times of crisis, direct prayer carefully and use the most expedient route.  By that I mean get an agent, preferably a saint, someone who can fast-track your petition directly to the top.  Understand that your most popular saints and divinities are busy beyond belief.  Common lamentations sent c/o 'O Lord,' 'Mother of God,' and especially the more profane 'J**** F****** C*****' are one in a million and will get you nowhere.

Next, don't shotgun your petition with the equally overused 'Jesus Mary and Joseph,' or 'Father Son and Holy Ghost.'  Access to these guys is backed up like cars without an EZ Pass on the tollway.  And do not bother St. Jude, patron saint of hopeless cases.  If you haven't noticed, he doesn't answer individual calls any more.  You have to place a personal ad in the newspaper, and hope that he scans your particular daily at the celestial Starbucks.  Caveat:  if you do go this route, make sure and proofread your ad the first day and immediately call the paper if there's been a typo.  You don't want someone else getting your miracle.

On the intercessionary B-list, you have a lot of decent choices.  There are saints for people in difficult marriages, widows (you should be so lucky) and people who are already divorced.  Select the one related as closely as possible to your difficulty, and think broadly (St. Rita is the patron saint of headaches. . . your former spouse certainly is one).  Craft your supplication so that it closely matches your saint's skills - don't disadvantage your minor league saint with an assignment beyond his range.  St. Damian is the patron saint of surgeons, so always select something surgical for him to do:  cut the fat out of a budget, or mend your broken heart.  For a more drastic gesture, like encouraging the ruthlessness of your divorce attorney, consider St. Adrian, patron saint of butchers.

Be wary of seeking the help of certain saints, like Lydwina of Schiedam, who earned their stripes by suffering (broke a rib) and then by suffering some more (got gangrene, became paralyzed, went blind, died 37 years later).  Not exactly the person you want in your corner.  Try asking Lydwina to pay some attention to the person you are divorcing.

Finally, don't let the stress of divorce turn your faith into a superstition.  As weeks pass without a settlement, even the most centered of gals can imagine that her divorce is on hold because she has not offered up the right number of prayers in the right order, and that if she can just light enough candles and avoid cracks in the sidewalk her attorney will call with great news.  If this sounds like you, cut back on the sacramental wine and get out in the fresh air.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Guy I Used to be Married To

So I'll be running my mouth off, telling some story, and I get to a part about something that happened before, the part where most people just say, "that's when Joe and I" or "and then Mark told me."  But some of my stories are from before I got divorced, so it's a little different.  So then I go, "and this guy I used to be married to. . . blah, blah, blah."  And before I can finish my story, everything stops and I have to explain the not-name, and why I use it.

Yes, it's odd to refer to someone by a not-name, like "The Artist formerly Known as Prince" or "He Who Must Not be Named."  Nevertheless, I refer to the guy I used to be married to as "The Guy I Used to Be Married To."

People laugh, and they are sometimes offended.  "He does have a name!"  they say, as if he needs defending from my cruel little joke.  "You can use his name, you know," they advise, as if I'm afraid to utter the words, like it recalls a memory too painful to resurrect by speaking of it.  Or they correct me -- "Your ex-husband, you mean" -- as if I wasn't aware there was a proper term.  And they look at me funny, and I can tell they're wondering if I'm in some kind of denial.

Look, I'm not afraid and I'm not in denial even though sure, it is sometimes painful.  But let's face it.  Names designate status.  Think about the difference between "Mr. President," "Barry," and "Daddy."  Got it?  Only certain people get to use names that signify a friendlier or more personal relationship with you.  And in these relationships, you are defined by what name people call you.  Ahh.  You're remembering that as a child, you knew you were in trouble whenever you heard "Mary Catherine Frances O'Malley!"  That's because the emotional distance between two people is measured on the line going from "Hey, Lady" to "Hello, Darling."  You see?  

So this guy I used to be married to used to have a lot of status in my life.  Now he doesn't.  Back when, he was called "Honey."  Now, he's not.  If Princess Di got "Her Royal Highness" taken away from her when she got divorced, then I think once a person stops being your "husband," he shouldn't be able to use that title anymore either.  Even if it does have an ex- in front of it.  Plus, even if I did have a little chip on my shoulder about the whole "ex-husband" thing, which maybe I do, it's because the guy I used to be married to wasn't really a very good husband, and I don't want anyone thinking that he performed the role well enough when we were married to get to keep using the title afterward.

Of course, when it makes sense I call him "Purl's dad," because sure, that's what he was when we were married, and still is now.  In an effort to be polite, I almost never use the not-name in front of her.  And sometimes if I am feeling generous, I will say "my former spouse," which I think is an accurate and fairly neutral, legal term.  But I think even that is misleading.  Notice the use of the word "my" -- as if he's still my something, or any something in my life.  I am pretty sensitive to this.  We got divorced so that we didn't have to be in each other's lives anymore, and I think continuing to refer to each other as "my ex" keeps pulling him back in.  That's not something I promised to do in the settlement agreement, so I think as long as I'm not using any derogatory terms I can name him whatever I want, and I can also not-name him anything I want.

I have been using the not-name for over a year now.  It feels normal, comfortable.  More and more, his actual name is becoming something I have to reach for.  His name, his face, his identity is disappearing into that big fog of memory where crushes and old boyfriends often end up.  Once upon a time, he was someone special to you and had a real name.  Now he's just some guy you dated, or slept with once, or used to be married to.

I highly recommend the not-name.  Once you get it under your skin, you will find yourself having conversations that go:  Remember that guy?  What guy?  You know.  That guy, remember?  No.  Who? You were soooo in love with him?  I was?  I can't believe you don't remember.  Didn't you marry him?  I did?  Yes!  Now what was his name?  [Long pause].  Ohh, wait -- THAT guy!  Oh my gosh, I did!  Shoot, what WAS his name?  I should know this, we were married for over ten years.  Give me a minute, it'll come to me.  Crap, now I'm going to be up all night trying to remember.  Maybe it's in my address book here somewhere. . .

Remember, getting divorced is something you do, not something you are.  Your goal in getting divorced should be to get 'er done so damn good that you forget you were ever married to begin with.  Good luck!