Coming home to an empty house…nothing but the stretch of silence. Hours without the sound of another voice…nothing but the whirring of the fan or the deep grumble of the dishwasher…
Does that scenario make you anxious and itchy, ready to call the first friend you can think of?
Or does it sound like a little piece of heaven?
Your answer to that question just might give some indication of what kind of divorcee you will be should you ever find yourself divorced.
Last year I taught a class called Lifespan Development for the first time. I had taken the course in grad school, but my focus was a bit different back then. I was still in my twenties, had only been married a handful of years, had already buried one child, and was pregnant with another that might also be sick. My focus was on the early end of lifespan development, not the what comes after.
This time around, I had just turned forty and was also adjusting to the life of a freshly divorced/single person. My interest was piqued by that side of things. Particularly divorce.
Since I had to teach life and marriage after divorce as a part of the class, I decided I’d go ahead and do a little research. What I found was interesting.
Up to this point I had heard the newly divorced classified in two categories: the crazies (they went out a lot, partied seemingly endlessly, drank copious amounts, had casual sex, etc.) and the depressed (wept into their pillow every night and couldn’t get past what had happened). Being that I didn’t feel like I fit into either of those categories, my interest in the whole “what kind of divorcee I was” had quickly waned and I’d just gotten down to the business of moving on.
Until I found the the research of E. Mavis Hetherington. Her take on things seemed to be a bit more all inclusive.
Apparently, according to Ms. Hetherington’s research, we tend to fall into one of 6 pathways post divorce–not the two that everyone always talks about.
The first pathway is called the “enhancers” This group accounts for about 20 percent of divorced individuals and is mainly made up of females. These individuals become “more competent, well-adjusted, and self-fulfilled.” They tend to bounce back from stressful situations and can bring meaning from chaos.
Already I was liking the sound of this much better than my choice between crazy and pathetic.
The next pathway is labeled the “good enoughs” and this group counts for a large number of the divorced. These individuals have average coping skills, show some strengths and weaknesses. They tend to initially make choices that enhance themselves or expand their careers, but in the end, they end up defaulting to what they had left–a marriage that was fairly similar to their first one. They settle.
I definitely did not want that to be me. No going backwards. No defaulting to the original settings. Nope. Not for me.
The next group is called the “seekers” and it accounts for 40% of men and 38% of women. These individuals hit the pavement running. They want to find a new mate as soon as possible and quickly find themselves in a relationship or even a new marriage. A few, settle down, and drift into one of the before-mentioned pathways and begin to become more stable and competent after the initial “craziness.”
Definitely NOT me. No need to fill the gap. Certainly not going to rush to fill it. Slow and steady wins the race after all!
The “libertines” (the name alone tells me this is not where I want to be) as the name suggests, just want to go out and have fun. They embrace their newfound freedom with a lot of partying and a lot of casual sex. Individuals in this group tend to settle down at some point and then join one of the other groups, eventually becoming more stable.
The next group is called the “competent loners” and makes up only 10% of the overall group of divorced individuals. They are “well-adjusted, self-sufficient, and socially skilled” having good careers, a good social life and lots of hobbies. Should sound like I’m repeating the “enhancers.” The big difference is that this group has little interest in sharing their lives with anyone else…hmmm. More on that in a bit.
The last group is the defeated. As the name suggests, these individuals really struggle with depression and recovery. Moving on is a major issue. They become stuck.
As I reflected on these categories, I found it very interesting. I have several friends who got divorced at about the same time I did. We each seemed to naturally pick our own pathway. Many of my friends very quickly found themselves in a new relationship. One is already engaged, one just ended a year long relationship, a few, have gone on a couple of dates, but aren’t in any hurry.
We all deal with it differently.
When I first read this list, I initially saw myself as an enhancer…but then I got down to the description of the competent loner. Which one am I?
The truth is, I still don’t know.
I woke up this morning, alone in my bed, the silence of my house surrounding me, with a big grin on my face. I stretched luxuriously and thought about how much I like being alone. I LOVE being alone.
I love being accountable to no one. I love having whole days when it is entirely up to me what I want to do (though yes, often it ends up being, work, cleaning and the mundane, it’s still my choice). No need to compromise. No need to share. What do I feel like doing? It has been so very long since I was able to focus on that question.
I love the freedom of choosing to leave the dishes in the sink, of ignoring the growing pile of laundry and not feeling like I’m letting someone down (not that Aaron would have cared mind you, but a good wife doesn’t do those things–but now I’m not a wife so…).
I thought that I would feel terribly lonely for my children on the days that they aren’t with me, but guiltily I have to admit, I instead find myself luxuriating in the alone time: endless piles of books, playing the piano, art, writing…all the things I was too busy to get to spend much time doing before, now I can immerse myself in them.
For a woman who had lost herself to motherhood for many years, I have had the opportunity, the gift, of being able to find myself again.
Do I want to give that up? Do I want to go back to a life of compromise and considering someone else’s desires as much (or let’s be honest, more than) my own? Do I want to give up long stretches of silences and hours of solitude?
Sometimes I say yes, and sometimes I say no.
For the right man, it would be worth what I would be giving up, but for the wrong man, it most certainly would not be.
And do I trust myself to see the difference?
For today, I embrace my solitude and trust that in time, that will be an easy question to answer.
What about you? Where do you fall on the divorce pathways? Where do you think you would fall, if you’re not divorced?
We can learn a whole lot about who we are, and shed some light on who we want to be, by considering where we fall and where we wish we would fall.