Divorce Envy

Sometimes I am jealous of divorced women. Oh, not for the reason you might think; not because they’ve had at least one husband and I’ve had none. I feel jealous of divorced women because they have more social capital than I do. They exist on a higher rung on society’s status ladder than I do because I am an eternally single woman with no kids — a spinster. By choice. There. I said it, I own it and life is good. I’ve built a pretty nice life for myself but people still look askance at me and my fellow spinsters from time to time. They don’t get it; they want to know what’s wrong with us, wondering why we aren’t married. People understand divorce and even single motherhood. Spinsterhood is puzzling, for some reason.

And, honestly, I’m puzzled about why they’re puzzled. According to the Pew Institute, almost 30 percent of U.S. adults have never been married — a record high. That’s a lot of people, so being forever single should seem more… well, normal, but I guess our culture is not quite there yet.
Some years ago when I was younger, I worked with a woman — Faye — who was a spinster, although that wasn’t how she referred to herself. She seemed to have quite an interesting life, with lots of romances and the jewelry to prove it. I wouldn’t have done it quite the way she did because she was always an important man’s mistress and that’s not my thing. But I admired Faye’s joie de vivre. She seemed unabashed in her single status and her lifestyle seemed to work for her.

Or at least I thought it did. One day, while I was listening to one of her many stories, she gave me a bit of advice that I found startling. She said, “Just find someone and marry him.” She told me that it didn’t really matter if I loved him or even stayed with him very long. Her reasoning? Divorced women are viewed more favorably than women who’ve never been married. In her immortal words, “It’s better to be a has-been than a never-was!”
This sentiment seemed absurd to me then but I also knew that many people agreed with it. Now that it’s 2012, I remember that story with a smile and as a sign of times past.

So imagine my surprise when I attended a dinner party not too long ago with some friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen in awhile. A number of them were shocked — shocked! — that I still (their word) wasn’t married. In fact, my un-wifed “plight” was the topic of conversation for what I considered to be much too long. “Why?” they wanted to know. “What’s wrong?”
The kicker was that this conversation was led by a woman who was going through her third divorce. How does one fail at marriage three times by the age 45? It seemed that I was the only one who thought that was odd. All present congratulated her for knowing how to get a man… even if she couldn’t keep one. And collectively, they couldn’t accept that I had chosen to be happily single.
And then I remembered Faye’s “has-been vs. never-was” line and it all made sense. It was 25 years later but this sentiment, apparently, still rings true.

Even now, in our very modern society, a wife is held in high esteem, a divorcee gets credit for trying and people just feel sorry for the always-single woman who’s never gotten a man to say “I do.”
A divorced relative once asked me to be sure to include her ex-husband’s name in her obituary when the time comes. Although she’s been divorced longer than she was married, she doesn’t want to die without everyone knowing that she had once been someone’s wife — that she was desired — that she is normal enough to know how to follow societal expectations. She believed that an attempt at marriage is much more acceptable than saying “the heck with it”, like I did.

A male friend of mine only dates divorced women. According to him, “A 40-year-old woman who has never been married is scary.” And I’ve seen the flash of “oh no” in the eyes of guys I’m flirting with when they learn I’ve never been married, not even once. Every now and then, just for fun, I’ll say I’m a two-time divorcée. The response is almost always friendlier than when I tell the truth.

I’ve had a few “opportunities” to get married, but I chose not to do so. I know myself; I wouldn’t have been good at it. I love having a boyfriend and I also love it when he goes home. Life, the way I’ve chosen to live it, has been good to me. But, still, there are all those other folks who just don’t buy it. “Happily single” sounds like an oxymoron to them.

So that’s why I sometimes have divorce envy. I want to stop explaining myself, I want to stop reassuring people that “I’m fine… really”. I want to be accepted as normal, just like my divorced sisters. Is that too much to ask?

P.S.  This article originally ran in Huffington Post. If you’ve got a few minutes, take a look at the Comments over there.  It started a really lively discussion. 
NOTE: The Spinsterlicious Life: 20 Life Lessons for Living Happily Single and Childfree— has been published and is available here and  hereand on Amazon.

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15 Responses to Divorce Envy

  1. Pingback: blessings | thebitterbabe

  2. Thought-provoking and insightful piece Eleanor. Good on you for owning your choices and celebrating them — I admire you for it! I was married once about 25 years ago (I'm now 50) for a brief time — the marriage was a mistake to begin with — but I don't often tell people about it because I am more proud of my single status. Looking forward to connecting!


  3. Honestly, I can't even imagine how you live without love. How I understand you DON'T WANT to be married at all. Clear. Not all women were born to bring up children. Not all want to be a housewife. But have you ever loved?..

  4. C says:

    To Regina:

    You may have given in to conformity to a degree but you are still being a trendsetter in the world of marriage. Kudos to your happiness…and I'm with Regina…where do men like your husband exist?

  5. There are people who are more comfortable in living life out of a relationship because of the freedom that it allows.

  6. Tricia says:

    Your situation sounds awesome! What pumpkin patch did you find this guy in? Can he be cloned?
    Guys like that have never existed for me… they shun the separate bedroom idea (meanwhile snore like a buzz saw), are upset because you are not having kids, etc.
    I guess guys like your husband do exist out there… I just wonder where?

  7. I married at age 41, partly because I wanted to lose my never married status. I'm NOT PROUD of this, but societal pressure and low self esteem can lead even the most feminist of us to conformity. I spent years painfully torm between my belief that marriage was a bad idea for me and my belief that I was less than women who'd been married (at least once). At 41, I was a very relieved newlywed.

    Four years later I'm actually happy with this guy. We have separate bedrooms and opposite work schedules and I spend most of my free time without him. We don't want kids. We rarely eat together, so it doesn't matter that I eat healthy and he likes stuff I wouldn't touch. I believe this is called having your cake and eating it, too.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Bob: you are few and far between! I was married 17 years, been single for 20 and people think I'm weird. My boyfriend of 12 years loves that I'm strong and independent, and we make a great team. Between us, we have 6 grown kids and 9 grandchildren and we make it work. Bottom line: most people who think it's weird…. really they're JEALOUS. Many women my age are debt free because after our divorces we worked two (or more) jobs to make sure the bills were paid and paid on time. No alimony back then and a deadbeat dad who wouln't pay child supoport = more lawyer bills for me. Yup, in my opinion, if men look really deep, beyond that “i want a woman i can “take care of”…..what they want is a woman who takes care of herself. I've met MANY married men who thing I'm great. Ha, but then they go home to the wives they just complained about. A couple weeks ago I walked up on a conversation with co-workers who were discussing another co-workers husbands drinking problem. They couldn't understand why she stays and puts up with it. The conversation stopped DEAD, when I said…”Because putting up with all THAT, is EASIER than leaving!” Enough said.

  9. C says:

    Don't know you Bob W but you're a cool dude in my book! Nice to know there are men who don't see a woman as being “less than” because she has never been a “Mrs.” I just can't believe that people who have been married multiple times can be viewed as better partner choices than people who have never been married. We're not diseased – we're simply people who have never entered a formal union. A person can say “I've never done drugs” and society applauds. A person says “I've never been married” and crickets chirp? Rather than dispensing funny looks at folks who have not been married it's classier to simply ask “once upon a time did you see your life as is it now?” Many of us can say no – we can't always control our fate. Just because we think we'll be married with kids by 35 doesn't mean it will happen. How many thought their marriage would never end in shambles but it did? I would never marry just to be viewed as “normal” by strangers – or friends for that matter. And I would never stand by and be judged by a person who has been married multiple times. In my opinion this tells me I'm dealing with a person who has a fear of being alone and needs others to feel validated. Married folks – stop thinking less of singles. Why would you presume that anyone's life should pattern your own because YOU feel it's the way everyone should live?

  10. eleanore says:

    @Bob W: How sweet (and a little romantic) of you. I hardly know what to say…

  11. Tricia says:

    I hear you on this one. I read a really funny book called, 'How to find a man after 40'. It was written by a woman from the UK. In it, she even SAYS, that as a never been married woman (or in my case… read on), men will shy away from you. Why? Because in their mind, you are not domestic tried and true.. WTF? Yet, time after time again, they choose these women with all these kids, and crazy ex's and more baggage then the garbage cans can hold.. it is almost like they want a woman they can take care of, and then later, when they are sick of it,they can go to the bar and bitch and gripe about their women, and fantasize about the woman that got away (um… that would be women like us).
    I had a guy break up with me 2 years ago, because as he said, 'I need a softer woman' (ie. one that he could control). Then, as if that was not enough, he emailed one of my best friends- a single mom, and told her that all along, she was the one he wanted.. not me… because I apparentely, am 'too strong'.. Seriously.. and then they complain that they do not have a woman who can take care of herself, and is not independent.

    Honestly Eleanore re: the never been married thing… I was briefly married (for one year), and have now been divorced for 7 years+. I choose to have mine ANULLED because I was frauded (he was cheating and living a double life the whole time… even before we got married come to find out). In my situation, I wish I did not have to say I had been married.. imagine how hard and complicated it is to explain to people why you are ANULLED, when you are NOT Catholic.. I even had a guy ask me, 'what did you do to make him do that?'. That, coming from a never been married guy.. I dont know what is worse.. the never been married guys, or the divorced.. the never been marrieds generally want kids, and when you dont (or cant/shouldnt in my case), they ditch you like yesterdays news).. the divorced are bitter, and do nothing but bitch about their ex's.
    I, did not come out ahead financially in mine.. my wedding (elopement) cost $ 750.00. My anullment, when all was said and done, was $25,000… no thanks. Never doing that again.

    The reality is, we are the minority and this country has not completely accepted it yet. They want to pair you off.. many, because they want you to live your life the way they are. I even had a friend of mine tell me, when I was getting rid of a guy with 3 kids and way too much baggage for me to handle, that they were sad, because now we would not have anything in common…
    Being single and happy is just a decision we have to make, and the more we stick together on this issue and convey the message to society, hopefully the more it will be embraced, and eventually accepted.

    Thanks so much for your blog, and book.. it truly has changed my almost 40 year old life 🙂

  12. Anonymous says:

    Love your blog, Eleanore. 🙂 I'm from the South and returned about 13 years ago after living in DC and NYC. It's a whole 'nother social ballgame here! 🙂 Been toying with the idea of starting a blog about my dating adventures and three engagements…You are inspirational! – Callie

  13. Bob W says:

    Eleanore, I do truly think if I ever got married again, it would have to be someone like you.
    your amazing outlook on life, good and bad, the way you approach a problen and solve it. Really, what more could a man want than a woman like you. I know I'd be happy, even for a little while and when you moved on, I'd cry and smile knowing I have had the best of the best and would cherish those days forever.

  14. Janine says:

    I, too, have divorce envy, due to the frequently obscene payouts they get once it's done and dusted! It's true – you have to admit, financially they come out laughing most of the time. Those of us struggling can only envy that.

    It is a perplexing thing, that the three-time divorcee is congratulated. I think it's the whole notion of popularity – men in general tend to aim for the most in-demand female in the school, at the party, in the office, on the internet dating site. It's something that never seems to change as they age. I used to get so tired of dates whining about single mums and women with “baggage” that I would proudly tell them I was never married and unemcumbered, until I realised it was turning any serious prospects off. Meanwhile I'd see women with the most complicated lives win hearts time and time again. Thank God I no longer date. Can't please the pricks no matter what.

    Many times – particularly as I'm hurtling towards 50 – I lament the fact that I was cherished and adored for such a brief period in my life (the rest biding their time), and may never be again, but then I think hard back to that time and the reasons why I left him. I knew I couldn't have sustained that relationship – and probably ANY relationship.

    So when all this gets me down, I look at the downside of all those divorces – going through divorce is like going through death, so they say. I see these sad, broken souls who never get over their spouse leaving them – consumed for years by bitterness and angst, engaged in diobolical family court battles. There's one I know who leaves multiple daily cries for help and vicious threats to his ex on Facebook. SEVEN YEARS ON. And they call US tragic?

    All those guys I met who were emotionally unavailable cos they still had it bad for their ex. Surely the same applies to women, although women do tend to leave men a lot more often. Why? Well for the reason you alluded to – women tend to marry regardless of whether or not they truly love the guy, just for the sake of being married. You can only keep that charade up for so long before going bonkers – just ask me. At least I stopped short of getting a ring on my finger, and you know what? I really, really respect myself for that.

    So, when confronted with this kind of lunacy, I suggest you counter with these very arguments. Yes, we may get lonely maybe once a month, briefly, but I'd much prefer that to some prolonged living hell arising from a messy divorce. And let's face it – we all know it isn't always “amicable”. It was genuinely traumatic, and they also have to deal with a loss of status. You should see all the guys in my apartment tower downsizing from their mansions to a one-bedroom “bachelor pad”. How crushed, how small, they feel. For me, I'm delighted with my flat and couldn't be happier with the size of it. Life goes on merrily, even if I don't have that special someone to holler at.

    So I've decided not to have divorce envy. I'll just think of all those embarrassing divorcees, like Kim Kardashian, enjoy the peace and quiet, and count my blessings.

  15. “I love having a boyfriend and I also love it when he goes home.”

    I couldn't agree more. I lived with a guy for about 3 months, and I was so glad when he moved out, I actually did a happy dance.

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