The day my divorce became final was anything but cause for celebration, except that I could finally let my attorney milk someone else for phone calls and ‘office supplies.’ There was relief that I could now get on with my social life and not risk having it used against me in a court of law. I was obviously thankful it all was finally behind me; once I had reached the tipping point in trying to keep my marriage together, once I had accepted that she was moving on with someone new, I set loose a hurricane of activity preparing to start my future. It was sixty days of complete chaos that left me exhausted and frazzled.
But mostly I was sad, the day was a funeral of sorts. Something had died and was now laid to rest. Dreams and hopes given birth years before were lowered into the grave. That day was and will remain, a testimony to two people’s failure, of promises that would never be kept.
There were many emotions that afternoon, but none worthy of pictures.
There has been a rise in what’s called, ‘The Divorce Selfie.’ A phenomenon explained by a newly divorced couple taking one last selfie joyously posing for the official ending of their marriage. It’s often the happily divorced couple in front of the courthouse or even holding separate ends of signed divorce decree as if it was a charity donation. Included is typically a rehearsed and awkward quip, “We smile not because it’s over, but because it happened’ or ‘I think this is what unconditional love looks like’ or ‘After 16 years we finally gave each other the perfect anniversary gift.’
It’s become a way of memorializing the moment and proving how they are beyond the petty discord of most divorce couples. While this is another fad and is more proof to the lengths people go in their endeavor to be relevant but more in hopes of being viral; in reality, this trend is a tragic example of how insignificant the meaning of marriage for many has become.
Contrary to the current tide, the importance of marriage cannot be overstated. And while the cultural ‘elite’ seem ready to condemn matrimony at every turn as a patriarchal and oppressive ‘institution’. The reality is that they (many bashing matrimony appear quite eager to be subjected to it themselves) and countless prior generations have found marriage to be the foundation of every meaningful thing the good life is built upon, relational satisfaction, economic prosperity, human flourishing, emotional wellbeing, and abundant sex.
I think we all know this because while I’ve met many who ‘say’ they would never marry, do so again, and see no benefit, their actions routinely differ. Look at Hollywood, why are we so attracted to movies of embittered souls who finally find that ‘right one’? Why is it that even after our most painful breakups, we still find ourselves holding out hope that the next one will be different? Consider the expectations most hold for marriage, anything given that heavy a load must be a powerful thing. While we may unwisely hang the basis of our human happiness on our marriages, I think we ask so much of it because we see such meaning in it. The reward is great for the price of lifelong commitment. I’ve yet to meet anyone who knowingly puts an expiration date on their marriage certificate.
We don’t celebrate when other things of significance die early, so why would we for marriages?
We must, at least, applaud these former couples, if they’re sincere, for attempting the high road, even if that journey will probably be very short-lived, especially if children are involved. Just the fact that they can stand so close without killing one another is, if nothing else, a powerful demonstration of self-control.
But for the most part, like so much of social media, I view the thing as mostly for show, as a particular celebrity divorcee has recently demonstrated. Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘conscious uncoupling’ hasn’t been as ‘conscious’ as she had hoped when she made the phrase popular during her separation from Chris Martin. At the time, they wanted us to believe they were turning off their 13-year marriage like one does a light switch and through their fame, they would rise above the pitfalls that ensnare the commoners. But as she explained in a recent interview, her divorce, and all that includes, has been the ‘hardest thing ever.’
The reality is that I don’t see my feelings that day, or the fact that I couldn’t imagine celebrating the end of my marriage, as a sign of immaturity or selfishness. Instead, it was an accurate reflection to the severity of what had happened; a sign of my seriousness when I said and took those words, ‘I do.’ My grief confirmed my loss, my anger demonstrated her betrayal, and my fear signified that unknown ahead. None of which, we would all agree, deserves a picture or celebration.
These performatively crafted images don’t reflect the gravity of what has occurred, and more so, what is about to come. Because as almost anyone who has been through a divorce will admit, for things to ever get better they first must get worse. To actually heal, and not repeat similar mistakes, means journeying through emotional wastelands. Safely arriving at the other side demands we come to terms with ourselves and take responsibility for the parts we own – those are places no cameras are allowed.
I also can’t help but question how much these ‘progressive’ couples really understand the consequences of what they are celebrating, or are they just ignoring them for a few likes? I wonder if they will continue to be as ecstatic when that first holiday arrives and they are alone, or when their children talk about mom’s new boyfriend, or she is introduced to her kids’ stepmom? Will they be able to maintain this same congratulatory outlook while in the nitty gritty of co-parenting or when they struggle with the inevitable guilt that comes part and parcel?
The end of a marriage is anything but positive and trying to make it into something else not only diminishes its significance, it insults the countless others who have or are dealing with the fallout of their own failed marriages. Certainly, divorce can, and should, be handled with as much maturity and respect as possible under the circumstances. But divorce should not, it cannot, be celebrated. It doesn’t deserve a party, a t-shirt, a custom coffee mug, a girl’s weekend in Cancun, or a selfie. Nothing that begins with such hope and enthusiasm is to be applauded when it ends.
To treat divorce as one might a birthday or promotion is to discount what it truly is – the death of something that was to have been beautiful and lasting. And like anything that dies prematurely, the right response to divorce isn’t celebration but sadness, it isn’t pictures but pain.