5 years ago I went through something that I never thought I would experience: Divorce.
My ex-husband and I had what I would describe as a marriage that was quite comfortable and rich in friendship, but was devoid of any real passion. Despite our problems, and the vital things that our marriage lacked, I was completely blind-sided when he told me on Friday afternoon during an argument that felt no different, and no more severe than any of the other arguments that we'd had before in our married life, "I want a divorce."
When he said it the entire world seemed to stop spinning, like a car crash. Everything slowed down, and suddenly the only two things in the room were he & I, talking and moving in slow motion. He was sitting on our leather section sofa, head in his hands. I was standing at the kitchen counter in our open-concept living/kitchen, knees buckling. He said it like he really meant it. Like it had been on the tip of his tongue for months. I'll never forget that moment: the feeling of the bottom falling out of my entire life.
In that initial moment things slowed down, but in the moments, days, weeks, and months that followed things went dreadfully fast. Faster than I thought possible. I remember feeling dismayed at how easily the tapestry of our married life that we'd woven together, could all be unraveled. A few years together to build, 4 words to destroy. I remember feeling dismayed when he said he didn't want to pursue counselling because he "didn't want to be married to me anymore!". I remember feeling dismayed when I found out about the other woman. Feeling dismayed when I found out that a few of our mutual friends knew about her, & about his dissatisfaction in our marriage long before I did.
Not wanting our friends and family to find out on Facebook when I inevitably changed my status from "married" to nothing at all, I decided to reach out directly to those nearest and dearest to me. I wrote Facebook messages, emails, and made phone calls. My written messages didn't go into specifics but said that we would be splitting up, and it was very sad & difficult, but we would survive.
What followed was a general response that shocked, and deeply, profoundly wounded me. The response was:: Nothing. Radio silence. Nothing at all. Of the 20-or-so messages and emails that I wrote, I received maybe 5-7 responses. The vast majority of people opted instead to say nothing.
I have spent 5 years trying to figure out why someone would NOT respond when they received a message like that from someone near to them, and I still can't fully understand. I don't think I ever will. Maybe they were all just horrible people, and never truly my friends at all..? Or maybe they all just didn't know what to say. Maybe they racked their brains for an appropriate response to news like that, came up with words that all felt insufficient, ingenuine, or trite, and so they ignored the message altogether. They chose instead to say nothing, and go on with their lives.
You must do a lot of painful things when you go through the divorce process-- finding out that you never really knew your spouse at all, breaking the news to your loved ones, the divvying of assets, packing/moving house, self-doubt, trust issues, being fucking broke all of a sudden, not knowing if you'll ever find love again, the the anger, the betrayal... Divorce is all around an extremely shitty, inconvenient experience, and I don't recommend it. But I'll tell you the worst part about divorce... It's something I never anticipated:
You go from having you entire life planned out. You think things are going to move in a certain trajectory. You have a 5 year plan, a 10 year plan, even a rough 25 year plan. You have inlaws that love you, and a social circle, and some financial reliability. . . . and then you have NOTHING. It's bad enough that the person you loved most in the world (your spouse) is no longer emotionally accessible to you, but there is all this other collateral damage as well. Collateral damage that you never would have expected. Friends who avoid you because your divorce is just such a bummer, in-laws who (naturally) will remain faithful to their adult child rather than to you, people who judge you. You become a bit of a leper. Your network shrinks in size by HUGE amounts.
I found losing my spouse to be hard. But losing my entire network was crushing.
It was then that I decided that whenever my friends & acquaintances were to go through something painful in their lives, I would say something. Particularly if I found it difficult to think of what to say-- those were the times when something needed to be said the most. No matter how hard, how squidgy, or how useless my words felt, I would say something. Because what I learned is that it's not what people say, it's simply that people say anything to you at all.
When the people in your life are going through something difficult, like illness, death, divorce, financial worries, etc... they do not expect you to offer them the most profound, poetic, words of encouragement that they have ever read. They don't expect you to take their pain away. They just want to know that they aren't walking through life alone. They want to be acknowledged & validated, and told that you care. It's really that simple. So, say something. Say anything.