The first rule of Divorce Club is, you don’t talk about Divorce Club

By Mir
May 6, 2005

“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.”
–Groucho Marx

When I miscarried (many years ago), I discovered the secret sisterhood of women who mourn for lost children. It seemed as though everyone had a story to share, and I was drawn close by those who understood. It was not a club to which I ever would’ve chosen to belong. But there was comfort in knowing I was not alone. It’s a queer sisterhood, with bonds that transcend the progression and rituals of “normal” relationships. I have had occasion, over the years, to open my arms to others who are where I was, back then; and the feeling that it engenders in me more than anything, to do this, is strength.

At first, when I found myself on the long road of divorce (anyone who tells you it’s not a long road is lying), I thought I’d stumbled upon a similar clandestine club. Slowly, women came out of the woodwork to bolster me. When I was down in the pit, support often came from unlikely sources. Oh, I thought. I remember this. I know how this works. Thank goodness. Only this club is different.

Where I once drew strength from a membership I never asked for, I now find myself sometimes feeling like it’s time to “pay my dues” to an association that just keeps forwarding my bill no matter how many times I move.

The source of the distinction, I suspect, is that divorce is a choice. Maybe it’s yours, maybe it’s his, but SOMEBODY did something DELIBERATE at SOME point.

There is shame in being divorced. Don’t misunderstand me; there shouldn’t be. I don’t believe there should be. But there is. In our society, I don’t care who you are or how magnificently you’ve handled things, divorce brings with it a scent of shame that lingers.

The sisterhood is trickier. It’s there; yes. But it’s more complicated. No one blames you when you miscarry. No one wonders what led up to it. No one starts suggesting, Well, have you thought about maybe trying bedrest instead of having the baby die? Or possibly, before the heartbeat stops, maybe you could try talking to someone to see if that’s really the only option?

Maybe you chose divorce, maybe it was chosen for you. But choice was involved. Which means morals and justification and all manner of evaluation is on the table. For the most part, I’ve weathered the scrutiny of others well. I have appreciated the care that was extended to me by “others of my kind” and counted myself fortunate to have found the solidarity I did.

I have a small group of fellow divorced moms upon whom I rely to get me through the tough times. I hope I provide the same oasis for them. But it’s more subtle than it perhaps sounds. By and large, we are careful with one another. We are all trying our best to blend in and not draw attention to our “membership” amongst the general population.

It’s been two years, for me, and to be honest the times between my angstful considerations of My Place In Society As a Divorced Mother are stretching out, becoming fewer and further between. I’m learning to live in my new skin. I have vascillated between indignation over anyone denying what they are and trying to keep a low profile, myself, and everything inbetween.

This week I suffered what I can only describe as an unexpected accosting from a new member of this club that doesn’t accept resignations. I would love to say that she came to me, hurting the way that I hurt, years ago, and I gathered her under my wing and helped. I wish I could say that.

The truth is so much more complicated, and I can only verbalize pieces of it. She came to me, hurting the way that I hurt, years ago.

And I wished she would go away.

I don’t know her well, and the more she talked, the more palpable my discomfort became (but apparently only to me). For her, the floodgates had opened. The words tumbled out with such RELIEF that she had found someone who would GET IT. I would UNDERSTAND, she was sure. I would support and perhaps absolve her.

In the meantime, part of me–the part that hurts for her, the scar that aches with any reminder–wanted to help. But a much larger part of me stood in indignant disbelief.

Lady, I barely know you. Why are you telling me all of this?

Please stop comparing my situation to yours. You don’t know my story, and I don’t particularly want to know yours. But what I do know tells me that your situation is like mine in the same way that the Motel 6 is like Auschwitz.

Please stop trying to get me to say that your choice is justifiable. I have no idea; I’m not you. Nor should you care what I think. This is between you, God, and your husband. If you’re asking ME for a blessing, I’ve got one for you: Get therapy. I am not therapy. I am just a person trying to live my life and, by the way, not wearing a jacket on a chilly night and really hoping to get into my car before I freeze to death. Shut up and let me go home.

So I stayed, shivering in the cold, and let her go on. I couldn’t cut her off. But neither did I feel anything akin to empathy, except in the most ephemeral way. I tried to say the things I thought might be appropriate. I was stunned to realize how hard it was for me to figure out what those things might be.

It comes down to this: I evaluated what I know about her situation, and in my all-knowing perfection *coughcough*, judged her to be undeserving of my empathy. And that horrifies me, even as I remain convinced that the moment I “accept” her, it somehow jeopardizes the validity of my situation.

I’m not particularly proud of this.

I know a leech when I find one on my leg. I need to figure this out before our next encounter… because she’ll doubtless reattach at the first opportunity. I need to know what makes the most sense for my peace of mind before that happens.

And somehow, I don’t think that just telling her that she broke the rules is gonna cut it.


  1. Betsy

    Oh, maaan…been there, hated that.

    Especially when you end up talking to someone who’s convinced that her situation is much worse than yours could possibly be. Wants to suck up all the available air going on and on and on about her situation, and turns it into a competitive event, to boot. (“Did your ex ever…well, mine did, times two!)

    It was the presumptive forced enrollment in her support group that frosted me – the whole ‘we should all stick together’ aspect of it all. I didn’t empathize, and didn’t want to be enrolled.

    My response? Much like yours, coupled with intense relief that I’d stuck to my guns and kept the details of my situation private (save to a few trusted friends)so she couldn’t draw further parallels that would have tied us closer together, in her mind, that is. And yes – I judged. I distanced myself. And I stopped picking up the phone when she called, and failed to return phone messages. Did the ‘oh, I’m in a huge hurry..’ if I’d run into her somewhere. And basically, froze her out.

    Coward’s way out? Yep, absolutely. Smart self-preservation on my part? Yep, that too. Would I do it again the same way? In a heartbeat.

  2. Carol

    I’ve been divorced (now remarried) for about 7 years. I know not of this exclusive club of which you speak. I don’t understand what rules this woman broke but I do hope that you can at least find a bit of commiseration with her. You needn’t empathize with her necessarily. Maybe just a bit of commiseration? You never know, YOU may be the only lifeline that she has.

    And FWIW, I only felt the stigma of divorce for a short while. After that I realized that no one, NO ONE could possibly understand what my marriage was like and getting out of it was the absolute only sane and intelligent thing to do.


  3. Suzanne

    tough thing to admit huh? Carol’s right though…you might be her only lifeline at the moment. I’m not sure why she picked you to dump on, if you don’t know her? but there’s a reason for everything. Maybe it is you who is the student in this scenario, and are supposed to learn something from her? Lessons arise in many forms don’t they.

  4. Karry

    I’m a leech magnet myself. All good listeners are. Let her leech for a day or so then begin the wean. Not foisting, but weaning. IF you want tips on “the wean” mail me. Good luck to you!

  5. Betsy

    You know, I thought about staying quiet – but anyone who knows me knows that’s really hard for me to do!

    Here’s the thing – sometimes, commiseration isn’t possible, or advisable. Just because you may both be a) women, and b) divorced (or getting divorced) doesn’t at all mean you have to automatically fall in behind each other to offer support and commiseration.

    I had another divorced parent who wanted to rant and rave at me constantly about her ex, with whom she shared custody. The only thing? I knew the ex. Knew that he was doing his best (although he was fairly combative as well) to bend over backwards to acceed to her many wacky demands, while being there for his children.

    In the meantime? She planted things in her kids’ heads about their father. Undermined his authority every step of the way. Was combative with professionals who tried to gently suggest different tactics (including her kids’ teachers.) And took *me* to task on the sidelines of a soccer game, no less, because I dared offer him some assistance once during a medical emergency when he had both kids with him, rather than refuse assistance and call *her* instead to come riding in.

    I did my level best to stay out of it (as did everyone else around), figuring we didn’t know the whole story. Until she took me on, that is. And when she had her attorney file yet another motion to amend custody arrangements, well – I filed written testimony on behalf of the father & maintaining the status quo.

    So – nope, don’t ask me to give everyone in the club carte blanche. And the ‘lesson’ to be learned here in Mir’s case, I’m betting? Stay clear of emotional vampires!

  6. alice

    Ugh, Mir – that sucks.

    Total ditto to Karry’s point that it’s weaning someone away – you aren’t obligated to provide her with this support. Boundaries are hell to set up sometimes, but just because you *can* stand to listen to her doesn’t mean that you *need* to listen to her.

    I also wanted to add an Amen to “the moment I “accept” her, it somehow jeopardizes the validity of my situation,” since it’s a sad truth I keep on trying to deny. Any time there’s a situation I feel defensive about, I get this urge to distance myself from people in similar straits who aren’t putting up as ‘good’ of a defense as I am. Thanks for putting it so concisely – maybe it’ll be easier for me to recognize next time it happens.

  7. Mindy

    ~sighs~ I too am a card carrying member. I hate it. A club you never asked to belong to and are almost ashamed to admit it. I was once that woman. I am sure that she was mortified that those words were pouring out of her mouth. Her heart only knew that she did find someone…anyone that would understand and the words flowed. I am sure that she wished that she could shut up but, you know that some of us just cannot do that. I understand your feelings. Maybe have the name of a good counselor handy next time she comes around? Maybe explain to her that you are trying yourself to move on and this hurts you but you know that **** is very good at counseling and that she should make an appointment? Maybe you can remember how it was when you had a safety net? Maybe she doesn’t? ~sighs~ And yet, I totally understand.

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