When I would hear divorced people say, "Thankfully, we didn't have kids," I always assumed it was because dragging children through divorce is so painful for them. That's true—I know both from my own experience and from living with my boys during this process. It up-ends their world and makes them question everything they've ever known about comfort and security and trust, no matter how amicable their parents' split may be. It does the same for the adults, but hopefully their parents have age-appropriate coping skills with which to handle it. Kids are, after all, children.
But I'm realizing more and more that the underlying sentiment is, "Thank God there's nothing left to tie me to that person for the rest of my life!"
As I've talked about before, people go into marriage with the belief that they will be together for the rest of their lives, if not longer. Those vows are intended to be forever. Somehow the sheer force of your love will let the two of you withstand the <insert booming voice here> Test of Time; it will be the kind of love that haunts the ages with its beauty.
Marriage isn't about love any more than divorce is. People who divorce still love each other all the time. Somehow, though, they can simultaneously hate each other. That's when the process of divorce gets ugly.
It's easy to get caught up in the emotion of it all, of trying to be the first one to move on or be healed. You want to prove to them and to the world and to yourself that you've overcome this terrible challenge and done better than they have. It's especially tempting to want them to see that you're winning. It's far too easy to try to prove to them that they're the one who is losing.
Every detail of your collective life is suddenly scrutinized, if for no other reason than you have to legally split your shit. You have your stuff and I have mine, but what's ours has to be divided. Okay, I'll give up this in exchange for that, but no fucking way are you walking out of here with those.
There's an emotional heaviness about every little thing. Those candlesticks that sat in your spouse's office, that he/she loved so much and wants to take with him/her? They were given to the two of you by your great-aunt who told you on her deathbed how you're her very favorite niece/nephew ever. You can still remember how the gift looked wrapped in silver and white paper after your wedding, exactly what you wrote to her in the thank you card. Well, fuck that!
Don't even get me started on splitting up a CD or DVD or book collection.
It's easy to let the emotion of it all jade your choices. And technology makes it impossibly easy to surreptitiously track your ex's movements. What money are they moving in the bank account? What are they saying about me on Facebook? Who's that in their picture on Instagram?
When the emotions haven't been handled and weighed and packed away healthily, it takes just a moment to let a twinge of jealousy or hurt turn into something much louder and darker. Suddenly the memories of love mingle with the uprush of hate, and you're attacking the person you once professed to love more than anyone else in the world, the one you promised to cherish and protect forever.
Eventually, though, you have to learn to bite your tongue and disengage from it. You can't live when you're sweltering under the spotlight of the past. Staying focused on what happened and what is still happening and what might happen because of your ex only keeps you trapped on that stage, where everyone watches through pinholes as you parade through a caricature of past, present, and future. You're just a parody of yourself, on display for anyone who wants to shake their head and click their tongue at your choices. (The peanut gallery and their comments could take up an entire post of their own!)
You have to get past the emotion and get down to the numbers. Judges and courts don't care how you feel about your ex. They don't care that sometimes you want to kiss them one more time, even if it means you're likely to throttle them when you're done. They don't care that your ex moved on with a skank or that you've lost twenty pounds and gotten a new haircut. And they don't care that you don't like how your ex chooses to live their life without you.
If you're still caught up in those things, they'll probably advise you to stay in therapy a while longer.
In the end, it all comes down to breaking apart the inanimate minutiae of your lives. You have to get your shit away from my shit. I have to take care of myself and list new emergency contacts. And how I do that is none of your concern.
Eventually, though, the emotions begin to take on less immediacy. It's not that you don't feel the hurt or the anger or even the love anymore—it's that you have to conjure the emotions through memory. That person's actions can still make you mad as hell, or even still sometimes break your heart, but the person... they aren't at all who they used to be to you. They become a footnote to your life, like a neatly-stacked pile of expensive luggage that you store away in the basement until it's needed.
But every time you haul that suitcase up the stairs, you'll note to yourself that it's something you got in your divorce.