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Owing the world an explanation

February 20, 2009

I was interviewed this week by a major women’s magazine for a potential article about my upcoming book, Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey.  The editor was plumbing for the usual details about my own life and of course my divorce — how my former husband and I met, how long the marriage had lasted, etc.  Then she asked me a question I well remembered from the early days after our initial separation:

“Who wanted the divorce?  Was it you, was it him, or was it mutual?”

It continues to amaze me that people find it appropriate to ask this incredibly intrusive question. They actually seem to feel entitled to the details about which was the offending party and which was the offended upon.  In my case, since I lived in New York, a divorce fault state, they would even ask which of us was suing whom for the divorce.

At the risk of having the magazine pass on the story,  I told the editor, as graciously as I could, that this was a question I never answer.  Here are my reasons:

1. It’s just not that simple.  The end of a marriage is a complex undertaking that involves two parties, never just one.  There is history involved, old patterns, or new challenges that the couple never could have anticipated. Perhaps they grew at different paces.  Or perhaps the time had simply come.  How can you summarize such a complicated tangle in a simple sentence or two?

2. It attempts to assign blame – and I truly believe blame is a concept that should be banned from any marriage or divorce discussion.  Who’s to say who failed whom?

 3. It’s nobody’s business.  Aside from my therapist, my sister, and my very closest of friends, I purposesly refused to share the details of my divorce with the world. For one thing, it would have intruded on my former husband’s privacy.  It certainly would have intruded on mine, and on my children’s as well.

I am so glad I went through those dark days with the absolute assurance that I did NOT owe the world an explanation for my divorce.   “Oh, it’s far too complicated to go into,” I would reply to the offending question, and then change the subject. 

Today,  with my divorce far behind me, and fully engaged in a joyful life that followed, I still often find the opportunity to remind myself that no one is entitled to an explanation for anything I do — from why I always measure my salad dressing, to why I’m divorced — unless I consciously choose to share it.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2009 9:39 am

    What permission this gives us, Jessica! Not only for those who’ve gone through the agonies of divorce, but for ANY personal issues that #3 addresses so well. I remember at the end of my second pregnancy, when I was quite overdue, people (even people I hardly knew!) would question exactly WHEN it was we conceived this baby. I love that you came up with a practiced response that deflected their nosiness and prurient curiosity.

  2. Ahsir Tanarg permalink
    February 21, 2009 1:11 pm

    People have no qualms about asking the most hurtful and private questions. After my late husband died (at 76) so many people asked me, “How old was he?” as if, if he died young, it was OK to be sad, but if he were an older person, well, that’s how it is. I finally came up with an answer that shut them up: “About your age.”

  3. Ahsir Tanarg permalink
    February 21, 2009 1:15 pm

    One Valentine’s Day, shortly after my husband had died, I had a Widows Brunch. Heart-shaped cookies, candies, etc. Mimosas, of course. Each woman had to tell a happy moment she remembered about her marriage. Surprisingly, one woman said she couldn’t remember a happy moment.

    A widow is one thing; being divorced is another. After my divorce from my first husband, I remember how I loved shopping for myself, and never had to discuss the whys or the price. That was wonderful, indeed.

  4. Karyn Seroussi permalink
    February 21, 2009 2:09 pm

    Thanks for reminding me that it’s okay to draw the line when a question makes me uncomfortable. That’s so easy to forget. I’m off to practice now – I’ll call the nosiest person I know and see how I do 😉

  5. February 22, 2009 9:46 am

    How wise you are, Jessica. I always say, “It takes two to tangle.”

  6. February 22, 2009 1:54 pm

    Jessica: I’m just catching up on your blog. I had looked at it a few months ago, but now I see that you have added a lot of entries.

    You’ve made me think about the “who wanted out” question. I typically answer that question, and I should probably reconsider my wisdom in providing a response.

    Of course, my own memoir deals in very frank terms with my experiences after divorce, and the tone ranges from funny to poignant. Certainly readers of my book will discover the answer to that question rather quickly.

    I’m enjoying reading about your insights! Thank you for sharing your experiences, here and in the book. I look forward to reading it.

  7. April 30, 2009 10:26 pm

    Keep working ,great job!

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