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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?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Social Sandbox

Fair warning to those of you who think that once the ink dries on the paperwork and your attorney cashes that last check, your happy new life begins.  No, I'm not talking about the continued interactions and negotiations with the person you used to be married to.  Good ol' what was his name is not the problem.  It's your friends and neighbors.  So watch out.

Do not assume that when you re-enter the social scene in your small, small-minded town that people will be happy to meet the new you.  A few will compliment you on your courageous, triumphant return.  But the rest will resent and snub you.  Don't mistrust your intuition.  Sometimes your neighbors and sometimes even your friends will want to wipe that calm, confident smile off of your face.  And that is even more so in the greater social sandbox.  Do not assume that society in general is benign.  People love to give a good smack to people in your position when they can.  They will go out of their way to do so.  Do not be naive. 

Take the time last summer I helped pay for Purl's music camp, the one that his friends helped organize.  When I dropped Purl off the first day I ignored the stiff body language of the ladies at registration - it's just that it's a bit awkward, I told myself.  They don't really have any ill will toward me.  All I need to do is act normal and that will break the ice.  Oh look, I said, there's a parent get-together at your house in a few days?  I'd love to come.  Um, uh, alright, she said, give me your e-mail address and I'll send you directions.  Are you sure, I said.  Yeah, no problem, she replied.  Well that was easy, I thought as I walked away.  I'll get to know them, maybe we'll be friends.  It doesn't have to be strange, I told myself.  Silly, silly, foolish girl.  As you may have guessed, I never got a phone call or e-mail telling me how to get to the party.  And I didn't get a message the next day either.  I told myself not to read anything in to it.  It was just an oversight.  Nothing deliberate.  Nothing personal.  And so off I went to the camp concert on the last day.  I'm sure once she sees me she'll say 'oh my goodness, I'm so sorry I forgot.'  And indeed, there she was, just inside the door.  But I got nothing.  Not one glimmer of recognition.  Hello, I said.  Hi, she answered.  Imagine the flattest most bored affect you can.  That was her.  I never sent you that e-mail, she said.  Right, I replied.  I just remembered that this morning.  Oh, I said.  Long pause.  Longer.  And then most insincerely:  I apologize for that.  And then she told me it was my fault for not coming to any other events during the week and figuring it out for myself.

And yes, really, it was my fault.  I should have realized that there was self-interest at play here, not just social grace.  That is why you are being warned.  Getting caught off-guard hurts.  You want so much to join the other kids at the playground.  You've checked to make sure no one is sneaking up behind you with a bucket of water.  You think it's safe, that you're welcome to play.  You feel confident.  But you forget to check out the kid right in front of you, the one throwing sand right in your face and laughing.  The one getting everyone together and saying "let's not play with her, if you do I won't be your friend anymore."

When you are faced with a similar situation, take a moment to calculate which cards you can see, and which cards have not yet been shown.  Act accordingly.  There are people who have a stake in preserving their relationships with your ex.  There are others who need to preserve their distance from you.  Some might recognize a part of themselves in you that makes them uncomfortable.  Others believe that divorce is contagious and fear your fate.  Many fear a small town's guilt by association standard.  Most will simply be intimidated by your strength, knowing they probably could not survive what you have endured.  Ultimately, they envy your freedom, expensive as it was in so many ways.  It doesn't matter if the motivation is "There but for the grace of god go I," or if it's "I'll never let that happen to me," it still smarts.

I don't have super advice on how to handle something like this once it happens (a cream puff and sobbing loudly to sad music on the radio is often my tonic of choice).  But being able to recognize the situation before it gets too personal should help.

Yes, I am posting this on Christmas Day.  Mostly because I am having such an incredibly pleasant morning I can get my head around this post I drafted several weeks ago.

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