Seven things I wish I'd known before my divorce: my article for The Guardian

illustration-by-abigail-goh-courtesy-of-the-guardian

Last week The Guardian published an article I wrote about recovering from my divorce called Seven things I wish I'd known before my divorce: an optimistic guide to the future. (For those of you who missed it, here's my Offbeat Bride post from a few months ago where I was like "Oh yeah, I'm divorced now.) Anyway! Here's the start of the article:

Last November, my husband sat me down on the living room floor and told me he didn’t see a future for us. The abrupt end of my 18-year relationship left me feeling blindsided and disoriented, and my brain parsed the event as a trauma. I was in a surreal fight-or-flight mode for months, unable to sleep or eat normally, disoriented to the degree that I would walk into walls as I tried to cook for my son, or fall down the stairs for no reason.

On top of this personal shock, I also had to face my readers. In my work as a publisher of an online wedding magazine, I spent the winter of my divorce figuring out co-parenting while also co-producing wedding expos nationwide. I juggled meetings with child therapists and wedding vendors. It was rough.

But as I round out the first year since my divorce, things have calmed down. I look back and wish I could wrap my arms around that poor blindsided woman a year ago and whisper these truths into her ear…

You can read the full piece over here. As always, the comments over there may make you angry (I view them as market research for the book I'm working on, but still), so if you've got thoughts, I'd suggest posting 'em here.

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  1. This! All of this! Especially how you talk about going through grief…it does feel like walking around in sort of altered reality. Thank you for writing this.

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  2. I'm so sorry that you and yours have had to go through this difficult time. And I'm so very proud of you for continuing to find your way, for weathering the storm.

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  3. Thank you for writing this. I hope not to go through this, but knowing that it is possible – and that it's okay to acknowledge this is a death – is very comforting and freeing.

    I took a peek at the comments over there – I am so sorry that people act like that. I'm glad your timeline worked for you, and maybe it'll work for other people, too.

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  4. I can relate, even if my marriage was never written down on paper.

    Honest question: did you ever feel like "it was meant to be like this"? I keep hearing comments and stories about how "i thought it was the love of my life but LATER i found my true love".

    I know for sure my ex was my true love and that us being apart is not, and will never be, the right thing. whatever the future holds, it doesn't change that's what i feel now. That's all i know.

    And honestly- wrong things happen all the time, wether we want it or not.

    I'm not seeing it getting better – pain just becomes a constant presence that you learn to carry around with you. It is very tiring.

    I didn't get the chance to give new strength to relationships i cared for, because a lot of the people i trusted the most flat out abandoned me without explanation. I didn't get the chance to help them with their life like i would have wanted.

    I was also left to deal with my own by myself.

    Always been a big cryer, but i find no relief in crying. It's just one more thing that exhausts me.

    Sorry commenters are disrespectful over there.

    And thanks for sharing.

    • I don't believe in fate ("meant to be") or soulmates ("one true love"), but what I do believe is this: terrible things happen. Awful things that bring excruciating pain. It doesn't matter whether we think they should or shouldn't have happened — they happened. The end. IT HAPPENED. For me, all I can do is grieve forward and find a sense of meaning and purpose and value in the path that I've now been put on.

      Do I think the end of my marriage was "meant to be"? Nope. Do I think I'm making the best of it, learning a shit load, picking up the pieces of my life, and making a new life? Yep. Do I feel like this new life is "better"? Who can say. It doesn't matter. This new life is my new life. Do I feel like I'm doing the best I can to make it as awesome as possible, including confronting my own bullshit, making improvements in myself and the way I interact with people in my life, and finding a sense of meaning it in all? YES.

      So while I can't say whether my LIFE is better, I can say the pain has lessened. The loss still hangs heavy (when I'm home, I cry most days), but I'm not consumed by the pain. In fact weirdly, it feels useful. It's motivator, a creative muse, a reminder that I'm alive and FEELING things.

      Ug, I could go on and on, but I guess what I'm saying is that not that your life becomes magically fixed, but just that the wounds heal and the pain isn't as excruciating. Whether that's because you adapt to the awfulness or whether your life actually improves in some way, who knows. But the excruciating pain does ease, somehow.

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      • Thank you for your answer. I am still trying to find meaning and purpose in this all. The possibility that there might not be any is just as scary as the pain itself.

      • During the "This is all my fault, if I had done xyz, things would have been better and we'd be together" stage of my divorce, my best friend said something that helped more than anything- "But you didn't." She went on to explain that no amount of beating myself up could help because things already happened and it was about moving forward, not wasting time with regret.

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  5. I'm so sorry Ariel. Thank you for sharing this with us (and the rest of the internet filled with asshole commenters, feel free to ignore those fuckers).

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  6. Oh man, Ariel, I could have written this (minus the child/care aspect since I don't have kids)! You did such a great job of putting so many post-divorce feels into words.

    I was only married for about 5 years and in the end we mutually decided to end it but then I started doubting that decision big time, and he had no doubts at all – which was initially really painful. I had that mind-fog-emotional-wreck thing for about 3 weeks and then a switch just flipped – I think I just decided I was done and that made all the difference. That tends to be my m.o. – I am loyal and dedicated to a fault, but once I do finally decide I'm done I'm just done – I don't look back after that point.

    I started dating someone else pretty quickly and my ex then accused me of moving on too fast, which was a strange turn of events. I was lucky to fall in love with someone new, but I often wish it had been a little later – I ended up having to process and grieve the loss of my marriage WHILE beginning a relationship with my current partner – it wasn't easy on either of us, but we're still going strong now and I am so grateful I have him in my life.

    Anyway, I think self-care and staying busy has helped me a lot – I think it's okay to "distract" yourself and it's also okay to melt into a puddle for awhile.

    It's also really helpful to talk to other divorced people – there's such a stigma around divorce and, for me at least, a sense of failure or quitting – it's therapeutic to normalize the whole thing by talking to others who've been through it, especially when you love and admire those people (because it helps you remember you are still lovable and admirable, too and that you are not your divorce).

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  7. Dear Ariel, It's so weird, I was literally thinking today, "I wonder what Ariel's doing these days; I bet it's something great. I should go and check out the Offbeat Empire online and see what she's up to." I am a long-time fan from Australia who happened to make it to your Offbeat party in Seattle in 2011 but was too shy/sober to say hello in person. I wish I had now! My point, I was right about you being up to something great. Congratulations on navigating your divorce with such courage and grace. What a remarkable woman you are. Love, Cass

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  8. This night turn into an essay but I have 2 main thoughts. First I got divorced a few years back, and I agree with the sentiment that it's like a death – my ex and I are still great friends but we mourned for what we had and the end of it was still horrible, no matter how good the outcome has been.

    The second … um it's going to be unpopular! I've been following this blog/site, offbeat mama (as was) and offbeat home for years. I know that you need your privacy Arial but at the same time it feels like … well a cheat. Nothing, an announcement after the fact and then a full article on a difference site? When I had my divorce a couple of the old articles helped but I was still left searching.

    You've made your name (money? Probably not a huge amount but still…) putting forward a lot of you and whilst I wouldn't have expected a blow by blow I would have expected more. Or possibly less!

    I'm glad you're doing well but I think your site (all the offbeat ones) have really fallen under your leadership and what you think your direction is and how much you should share. The fact offbeat mama was started when you were pregnant and stopped after says a lot, and you overlooked a lot of women.

    I don't want to be mean but I am so sad that a site I loved I can't even be bothered to check anymore.

    1 agrees
    • Hey, Anna. Sorry to hear you're disappointed, but I totally get it. In my announcement post, I mentioned that I'm working on a book right now, and so most of my writing is focused on that. That also means I'm choosing to write for larger publications to get myself out to a broader readership than just my own little Empire.

      That said, my publishing strategies aren't going to change your opinion of whether the Offbeat Empire feels like a fit with what you're interested in. If you can't be bothered, you can't be bothered… I'm sorry to hear it, but appreciate you taking the time to share your feedback. I hear you, for sure.

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    • It can be tempting on the internet to think of our favorite bloggers / content producers as friends — after all, we read what they have to say on a regular basis, we get little peeks into their lives, we might even respond or have a little dialogue with them in comments.

      But ultimately, they aren't our friends and it's really unfair (I think) to expect the same kind of personal openness we'd have with friends from people we don't have that kind of personal relationship with. As you point out, this is a professional site, and its creator has no obligation to open up any more of her personal life here than she sees fit.

      Also, people's personal boundaries about how much they share on the internet are allowed to change over time — I know mine have.

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    • I think it says a lot about the integrity of this site and of Ariel that you felt able to open up and write this and also that Ariel responded so gracefully. X

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    • "I am so sad that a site I loved I can't even be bothered to check anymore."

      … internet divorce is another type of divorce, too. My husband and I were talking about this the other day, as he's been revisiting old internet haunts and realizing that they aren't the same anymore, or maybe they are, but he feels differently about them. Places I used to hang out online aren't a good fit for who I am today. You're going to find that both you and your most visited/loved sites change over time, particularly so for the breed of user who has been online for more than 10 years.

      Sometimes changes happen on their own organically, sometimes it's business decisions (like here), other times it's just you. This site has always been built on guest posts and encouraging people to share what they want to / feel comfortable sharing, and that hasn't changed.

      In a world where the internet makes up such a large part of our identities, it's easy to think of our online faves as a part of us, when really they're like our partners. They're relationships where we can always choose to stay to go — and it's okay to mourn the loss of that part of your life, even if you feel like it's irrational because it's "just the internet". <3

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      • This is a great point, and something I've thought a lot about as a publisher. Especially with Offbeat Bride, people have very different reactions to the site depending on where they're at in their planning process… which is totally understandable and fine, but it's always interesting to see how the accusation is usually that the site's changed, when most often it's that the reader's needs and perspective has changed.

        THAT SAID! Of course the sites also DO change — sometimes a lot. Editors come and go, business strategies shift, revenue models change. But it's also interesting to recognize what we as readers want and expect from sites changes, too.

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    • Anna, I just wanted to follow up a few months later that if you're looking for more confessional writing from me, this post might be up your alley: http://offbeathome.com/scrubbing

      That post is pretty representative of the style of writing I'm doing in the book I'm working on right now. Moral of the story? If you want confessional divorce posts, you'll have to wait for the book. 😉

  9. Thanks for sharing this! So happy to see that you are embracing the making of your new life! The circumstances of my divorce were so different, yet I found myself saying "exactly!" to every point.

    I also found that "embrace new kinds of relationships" was a key part of my healing. Or maybe it was the other way around- the end of my marriage made that possible, as I reassessed priorities and decided to let go of ALL relationships that were not healthy or supportive, and to nurture those that were/are . So little time, so many wonderful people to love, so I didn't want to waste time and energy on being angry at my ex. I'm in a healthier marriage today partly because I've gone through that process, I think.

    And congratulations on managing this and your public life in such a thoughtful, careful way… I can't believe people would demand more in-the-moment openness about this, especially when a child and coparenting and such intense trauma are involved!

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    • Oh, and i bought several pairs of shoes in the first weeks after the breakup. So there's that. No sequined dresses though ☺

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  10. It is nice to read something by someone for whom it was very sudden and one sided, but who has also moved on. A lot of stuff I have read was of the 'we tried really hard and it was for the best/ a relief when it came' variety but for me it was devastating shock with no opportunity to try.

    I am, after 9 months slowly feeling better, and out of the shock stage, but the deep sadness that the relationship with the Father of my child ended, as well as incomprehension that he refused to try to work on anything together given we had an amazing 18 month old (now 2) continues. What I miss most and feel can't be replaced is sharing how wonderful she is with the only other person who loves her as much as me. I hope to get to a place where I can share it with him in a different way but right now it is still too painful to be around him.

    It is not just our relationship I am grieving for, but also my understanding of the past few years which his parting comments threatened to undermine, and my expectation we would have another baby, which given my age I feel I have to let go of now (and then if it did happen with someone else it would be a wonderful bonus).

    I do believe it will continue to get better, but I don't know if the sadness will ever go away completely, I actually worry about passing the year stage and still not feeling OK as friends get impatient (particularly with my missing someone they think proved himself so lacking in how he handled our break up and how much childcare he now does).

    But my biggest fear is not being happy enough around my daughter and it affecting her, and on missing out on this amazing time with her by being sad. But I no longer cry everyday, and I am starting to find pleasure in things, most importantly her, again…

    • So much love to you, and I wanted to respond personally to this:

      But my biggest fear is not being happy enough around my daughter and it affecting her, and on missing out on this amazing time with her by being sad.

      My son is older (he turned six a couple weeks after my separation), but I thought of it this way: I'm modeling for him what functional, loving grief looks like. I did my best to protect him from the worst of my physical ptsd symptoms and crisis emotions (panic attacks, puking, etc), but I didn't hide my tears or my sadness over his father moving out. It felt like it was actually a really important opportunity to show him that emotions shouldn't be hidden or repressed, that it's ok to be sad, that these are some ways people show sadness. I always made a point to be clear that nothing was his fault, and that I didn't need him to fix anything, but framing it as a way to model healthy emotion helped me feel more ok about being where I was at.

      8 agree
  11. I've been through a "divorce" six months ago. My fiancée left me and started dating someone new straight away (I do believe there was some cheating involved, but at this point, who the f*ck cares).

    Some well-meaning people have said to me that a better love will come, and I just politely say every time that I have already found true love with my friends and family. I am truly blessed to have all these wonderful people in my life (which I wouldn't have noticed had I continued that toxic relationship).

    I wish I'd read this article a few months ago. All your advice is wonderful. Oh, and regarding the "try new things" part, one of the first things I did was buying a pair of shoes. New path, new steps

    I'm sending all my love and best wishes for everyone who's going through such a hard moment, and I also want to encourage you all to learn to love yourselves, accept help, advice and support from your loved ones, and DO NOT CLING TO THE IDEA THAT "A BETTER LOVE WILL COME". It may, or it may not. But being single isn't that bad

    • "accept help, advice and support from your loved ones"

      This is KEY. Thanks to my divorce, I learned that I have more people than I knew who were willing to support me through some dark moments. Who knew I had friends who would come over and read to my and hold my hand while I sobbed?! It was amazing, and all I had to do is ASK. That's it! Accepting help and support was powerful for me in the healing process.

      1 agrees
      • Yes! That happened to me too! I can't count how many people have helped me in every way to go through this. Family, friends, acquaintances went out of their way just to say nice words, do nice stuff, and help me cope in general. Sometimes I didn't even need to ask. Sometimes I did, and the response was OVERWHELMING.

        One of my childhood friends almost adopted me so I wouldn't be alone and do bad stuff. She started calling me every day after work, inviting me over for dinner, coming to my place and helping me clean all the mess I wasn't able to handle by myself. When I started feeling better, she encouraged me to do creative stuff, get my shit together, finish my degree… 🙂

        While I was in that (awful) relationship, I was afraid to let my friend in and tell her all the bad stuff that was going on because I thought she didn't care that much about me. But oh God. She's just the best person ever, I couldn't ever be thankful enough for having her in my life. I'd go through a thousand divorces rather than losing her.

        That's why I say I have found true love. But of course, it implies showing your vulnerabilities and letting someone break down your walls. It can't be true if you're wearing a mask.

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