In the past 7 months, it seems without even trying, I have managed to open up a safe space to many women around the world through my writing. I am surprised by the daily number of women who send me private messages seeking advice, or after taking my posts to heart, change something in their world for the better.
Even though words are a powerful tool to me, it is the first time I understand the true impact of my own words. It is truly overwhelming to have even a tiny impact on another person’s life.
During these conversations, one particular trend has stuck out exponentially, and that is the way women are battling with the perceptions of divorce. Having been divorced, I can relate to the feelings these women are going through and it is the main reason I am writing this post.
I believe that there is a truly dehumanising aspect to the perception of divorced women.
People tend to still see divorce as taboo, especially in Indian culture. It seems that the “D-word” is still spoken in hushed tones. I have been on the receiving end of comments that ranged from innocent curiosity to full-on pity, I have been avoided by family members, and I have been spoken about endlessly. (Note: people who believe that gossip doesn’t circle back should remember that words are boomerangs).
It has never bothered me because I blindly accepted it as part of the territory. (How twisted is that?) I was fully aware from the moment I chose to initiate divorce that, as an Indian woman, it was going to be something people raised as “add-on information” whenever my name was uttered.
This is all good and well for the thick-skinned, but through my many conversations, I’ve seen that women are struggling to accept other people’s perceptions. It eats them alive, and the divorce guilt becomes unbearable.
It has infuriated me. It feels so unfair to see people beat themselves up for simply choosing their happiness.
(Side bar: For those of you who don’t know what divorce guilt is, it’s a really complex emotion, but it boils down to feeling bad for being happy based on the societal norms associated with the pillar of marriage.)
It seems that women who initiate divorce are judged for feeling relief when they find the courage to separate, or when the proceedings are over. People expect us to be hiding in the shadows. “The forgotten women of former men”. As if we are “things”.
I remember the judgmental stares divorced women received while I worked in corporate. I remember the ugliest stories being spat like venom about them celebrating their new found freedom. There is zero empathy for the divorced woman. Are we are supposed to be sad, silent, pariahs?
I think it’s important to understand that there is a reason why these women feel free once the divorce is over. I mean, there are many reasons I feel free! Here are some:
- I am finally able to be myself wholeheartedly.
- I don’t feel silenced anymore.
- I am no longer trapped in something that made me so unhappy that I was depressed, anxious, and suicidal.
- I am in control of my life and my choices.
Divorce is a marathon, and it is exhausting. From the moment you decide that you are leaving your marriage until the day it is finally done, it feels like an anxiety-fuelled questioning process between what society expected from you and your own needs. Being selfish is not something we inherently know how to do. And with the increasing number of women in their 20s and 30s choosing to get divorced, we are ill-equipped with no reference points, especially in Indian culture. We don’t know many women who have gone through this and it feels incredibly lonely.
Over time, you realise that your community truly believed they knew what was going on behind closed doors. Apparently, the 3-hour family functions at which they met your partner was an accurate depiction of your situation, enough to make a judgment. Because no one has ever faked perfection in front of other people, right? That’s so not what Indian people do naturally? Come on, we are basically trained to fake perfection in company. It’s practically a vaccination we get at birth.
My immediate family and best friends were the only people who knew the battle I fought and were the only ones who supported me wholeheartedly. Everyone else conditionally accepted me, and that’s a fact. People chose to disregard my choices based on what they thought they knew of the marriage I had and the person I was with, instead of seeing me as an autonomous, intelligent human with mental capacity.
Let me clarify this once and for all: PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS.
Another fun fact: IT IS NOT YOUR BUSINESS.
Trust the woman’s choice. Stop dehumanising us.
I may be over the struggle, but on behalf of those who are still battling, here is some brutally honest advice:
The next time you think about judging a divorced woman for living her life, rather think about the trauma she had to fight through to make those hard choices. The men are not blameless. It takes two to tango, and she was under no obligation to stick through something that inherently affected her mental health.
The next time you think about judging a divorced woman for living her life, rather think about how she had to wake up every day with strength, actively choosing to put on a smile and keep going, despite the discomfort of people’s labels on her.
The next time you think about judging a divorced woman for living her life, rather think about how things are so much easier said than done – and she DID it.
She wanted more, so she went out and got it. She stopped feeling sorry for herself, she stopped complaining, and she stopped feeling dependent – she found strength and left.
Start believing women’s stories and start trusting our experiences. We deserve support, love, and kindness.
Most of all, let us live our happy, new chapters. We deserve it. More than you know.