Why I Celebrated The End Of My Marriage Instead Of Mourning My Divorce
Three hundred days after we said “I do,” it was over. The interest fizzled out, and the love went stale before a calendar year had passed. If I'm truly being honest with myself, the end was clear 45 days after we said our vows.
But I had to wait an excruciating 255 more days until our lease was up. Anyway, 300 just also sounds more noble: It sounds like we tried.
The hardest part wasn't packing my bags, moving on or buying a last-minute international flight to the United States. I hadn't seen my family in two years, so the high cost didn't even register in my brain.
The hardest part wasn't separating our underwear drawer or giving away all the things I couldn't fit in my carry on. I did all of that with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. The hardest part was telling my friends and acquaintances.
Why? Because we are conditioned to blindly mourn over failed relationships.
If you quit a job in less than three months, no one laments the demise of your employment. "You'll land another," they reassure you. "You were too talented for that job anyway," they say. "Jobs come and go. Come drink at the bar, and I'll help you find another."
When you cancel your Netflix subscription, no one cries on your behalf. No one asks if you'll miss crying and binge-watching an entire series on Netflix while inhaling copious amounts of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. If someone does, it's only because he or she was mooching a free login from your paid account.
But tell people you gave up on your marriage, and jaws automatically drop. Pearls are clutched, and knee-jerk, sympathetic responses pour in left and right. “Oh no, you poor thing. I'm so sorry it didn't work out,” they will say automatically, while feigning shock and mock sadness.
Why are you sorry? I'm not. I felt like I'd won the lottery.
When I flew home and announced the breakup, my mom was standing in the kitchen with a handful of old mail that needed to be sorted through. “Mom, I'm getting a divorce,” I told her matter-of-factly, careful to hide my excitement so that I wouldn't influence her reaction.
Her eyes flew open for one second. She jerked her head over to make eye contact with me. She scanned my face, and saw what only a mother could see. Her arm abruptly flung the mail into the air. “Put on some music. It's time to celebrate," she said.
This resulted an impromptu, 90-minute dance session. My sister joined in on the party, and my mom explained, “Jelisa is free. She's divorcing that dead weight,” while moon-walking across the hardwood floor.
“It's about time!” my older sister yelled over the music. We all grinned from ear to ear, while swinging our shoulders back and forth to a tune. We came in close, high-fived each other and went back to doing the electric boogie.
During the session, my little brother walked into the room. He's used to seeing my mom and sister dancing like fools, but not me. Normally, during their random dance breaks, I'm reading a book on the couch or answering emails on my phone.
“Why are you so excited?” he asked. “I'm getting a divorce,” I exclaimed while I kicked my legs up and spun in unison with my mom and sister. His eyebrows instantly shot up in confusion, but went back down with a laugh. “Well, you seem happy. That's good."
Why couldn't everyone else react this way? My mother and sister had front row seats to my marriage woes. They were there for me when I called and told them how I felt dead inside. They listened empathetically over long Skype sessions.
There were many times when I didn't have to tell my mom anything. She claimed that she “felt” me suffering from 3,000 miles away.
I said "yes" to a question that should not have even been considered. I was a caged bird, weeping quietly as my wings fell off. I was a wild horse, losing my unbridled spirit by the day. I was an exuberant puppy ready to roam the fields, only to be tied up by my owner for being too playful.
Marriage just wasn't right for me. For weeks, I avoided my stuffed Facebook inbox that was overflowing with messages, questioning why my husband was absent in pictures. “Hey, hope everything is alright. I haven't seen your husband in any of your pictures in six days."
Some women wrote me lengthy comments about how the one marriage picture that I reluctantly uploaded gave them hope and inspiration. Huh? What about the pictures of me swimming in the Dead Sea, the video diary of me riding a motorcycle from Germany to Finland or the photos of me cliff-diving or exploring underwater caves alone ? None of those pictures gave you hope?
As a divorce present to myself, I planned an overdue solo adventure that started in California and ended up in the tropical Canary Islands. I was an avid world traveler before I met him, but I felt the intense pressure to slow down and stop exploring from him and his family. Apparently, it was time to begin exploring the kitchen pantry, pots and pans and Call Of Duty battles.
My husband was a parasite who kept me on the couch, eating Ben & Jerry's and watching Netflix. Now, I was free to travel again, so I had some explaining to do to the weeping widows in my inbox. I did it the only way I knew how.
I was given virtual high fives and positive responses about the picture, and the fake pity ones flooded my inbox. Many people said they were sorry things didn't work out, or that they felt bad for me.
I told them, one by one, "Don't be sad, be happy." Lamenting a divorce is the pinnacle of generic societal responses. It's like saying “bless you” when someone sneezes. It's automatic. You don't think twice about it, and you may not even mean it.
Well, not me. I don't bless people every time they sneeze; I hand them a napkin. Nor do I pretend to be sad when someone breaks up. Automatically responding with sadness is making a huge assumption. You assume you know how that person is feeling.
Unless you are gifted with ESP, you have no idea how someone feels until you ask him or her. When a close friend or loved one tells me about a breakup, I ask three questions. Then, I start to celebrate with that person.
Are you happier now than you were before? Do you feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders? Are you excited about the future?
If he or she says yes to the questions, I crank up the music and begin the celebrations. If he or she says no to the questions, I mourn the relationship for five or six minutes. But I reassure that person that life is beautiful, and that it has its way of working itself out.
By the seventh minute, I ask that person if he or she wants to celebrate a new chapter beginning in life. If he or she says yes, we dance. If he or she says no, I dance for him or her.
I will celebrate your future for you. I will celebrate your divorce with you.
Be sad with your other friends. But with me, it's celebration time.
So, the next time your friends break up, think about your response before the effortless “I'm so sorry” falls out of your lips. Ask them how they feel. They might feel free.