A married woman becomes a single woman for one of two reasons: death or divorce. The former is an honourable state, the latter is not.
When a woman loses her husband to death the neighbours all rally round and provide meals and any help they can give with regard to household repairs or cleaning or anything that is needed. They are willing to provide comfort and a shoulder to cry on. They are available for the widow and they include her in their activities, feeling sorry for her that she is now so alone.
However, things are quite different when a marriage ends due to infidelity or marital breakdown. That immediately plunges a woman into a new category. She is transformed, instantaneously it seems,from a married woman to a divorcee. Becoming one of many, part of a group of used and discarded women, seen as suspect by all those who are still safely ensconced in the womb of their marriage.
People tend to withdraw from her. Invitations to get togethers cease. It appears that women think their husbands might be attracted to the idea of an “available woman” and so the women who used to be friends withdraw and leave her alone with her tears and her fears. There are no meals prepared and no offers of help. Husbands are kept at home just in case, for such is the image portrayed of a divorcee. The husbands might not be safe. She might cause the destruction of other marriages.
We read jokes all the time about the lonely divorcee who invites the mailman, the milkman, or the Maytag repairman into her home with the intent of seducing him. (A joke made up, I am sure, by a man who has never known the humiliation and pain of being a divorcee.) Perhaps she even seduces them one right after the other, for such is the life of the “gay divorcee”, isn’t it? Freed from the bonds of marriage, with unmet needs and desires, divorcees are wanting to fill the void; or at least that is the popular image. And so in place of invitations to parties or neighbourhood barbeques which were formerly were issued to the couple and their family, there is an empty mailbox, and the phone stays quiet. She checks it every now and then to make sure it is still working.
The divorcee begins to feel as though she no longer exists; as if, because she is no longer half of a relationship, she ceases to be a part of the neighbourhood. Women who used to call her friend no longer call. Her children are not invited to play with the neighbours’ children. Perhaps the women feel they would be contaminated by the disease of divorce, as if it were a virus that could be caught, or maybe they just don’t know how to talk to a newly divorced woman. A divorced man, on the other hand, is often seen as more eligible and is a welcome addition to many parties. His social life may increase, and because he usually does not have the children, his disposable income is often enough to keep him comfortably.
However, life goes on. The bills still have to be paid, the kids still have to be fed and they have to be clothed. Family chores that were done by two are now done by one. If the children are old enough, they can chip in and help with the household duties such as dishes and meal preparation and housecleaning. Because of the reduction in income, the divorcee is often forced to seek employment and then she has two jobs; one inside and one outside the home.
Sometimes the inside life doesn’t change much. For those who had husbands who simply went to work and came home at night expecting to be waited on, their workload is reduced by one person, so this can be a blessing. But the availability of a backup when she is really tired and the kids are really obnoxious is a problem. She has to deal with all the problems, tired or not.
Because she has been ostracized by her neighbours she seeks out other divorcees for companionship, often building relationships and forming deep bonds that last for years as they share the day to day problems and achievements. They get together with their kids and pool their resources for family dinners. They support each other in job searches, in the handling of problems, in the fights with their exes. They listen to each other and care for each other’s children.
Sometimes, because of the great reduction in income, divorcees are forced to apply for an allowance from the provincial government. This is known as welfare or Mother’s Allowance. There they are told that they have no right to have a phone or a car, or any of the things they consider necessities but the government considers luxuries, such as a heating bill over the allotted amount. Widows, on the other hand, usually receive a pension from their husband’s estate which they can spend however they want, with no rules. The divorcees are told to sell the car and get rid of the phone, even if they are out in the country. If they have a house, they might have to give it up and move the children to a new area. Sometimes, in order to survive, they may use credit cards to buy the things they feel they need for their kids for school and other activities. They may not be able to send their kids on school trips or buy the clothes that the kids need to fit in and so their kids may be ridiculed because of the way they dress. When the kids come home crying, they often feel guilty and wonder if they couldn’t have worked things out better with their ex-husbands. They cry but try to hide the tears from their children, not wanting to upset them.
When the divorcee ventures into the realms of the full-time employee instead of part-time, she must find a babysitter for her kids, arrange everyone’s schedule and settle into her new lifestyle. She tries to find a boss who is willing to let her attend the various special events at her children’s school and cries silently to herself when she is unable to attend a day graduation due to work, or when she is unable to see her children receive sports awards, but she knows that she is doing the best she can. She attends what she can in the evenings and on weekends and hopes it is enough.
As the divorcee settles into life on her own, she may begin to find advantages such as being able to go where she wants, when she wants and with whom she wants. She has only to consider herself, and her kids, if she has any. Eventually the heartaches will ease a little and the divorcee will reach out to others a little more, perhaps even being willing to take the risk of dating another man.
Her circumstances may not have changed a lot. She still struggles to pay bills, to provide for her kids, yet she finds her life is full. Not the rumoured life of the gay divorcee, replete with men or with parties and wild living, but one of love for her kids, and perhaps of studying for a degree while working in a fulfilling career where helping others. She has weathered the storms of life and feels that she has come out on top. Her children move on to their own homes and to employment. Perhaps her eldest has his dream job, that of webmaster and service technician. Another may become the youngest Inventory Control Manager and the only female one in Eastern Ontario for a large soft drink company. Another, with a child of her own, may work part-time and plan to return to school to take an Esthetics course. Her children could be very involved in hockey, perhaps playing at the AA level or Junior A level which requires a lot of travelling and sacrifice of personal time. But to her it is all worth it to watch her child score the winning goal and to see the smile on his face as he turns from the net. Her heart swells with pride as his teammates congratulate him and the parents lean over to say how well he played.
Yes, life continues after divorce, the pain and heartache suffered in the beginning eventually fade somewhat and the divorcee finds the strength to survive and, more than that, to move on to whatever the future has in store.