Does this happen to you, too? People talk to me about their divorces all the time. I don’t just mean my clients. I mean the lady next to me waiting for our dry cleaning, my eye doctor, a mom whose son plays baseball with my son, the cop directing traffic at the corner, the woman getting her hair cut in the next chair over from me. I mean all the time.
Sometimes I think it is because of what I do for a living. You know, the fact that I’m a lawyer. But the lady at the dry cleaner does not know that. I do not wear a divorce lawyer name tag or uniform. (Although that does remind me of this joke: what’s black and brown and looks good on a lady lawyer? A doberman.)
I think the level of detail might increase once they find out I am an attorney. Maybe it is because they assume I will be more interested. Or maybe I just start asking more questions because I am, in fact, interested in people and their relationships, and – let’s face it – their divorces. I am always looking for the good divorce story; for the people who can teach me something about how they handled a difficult or challenging situation and made it better; so I can pass the wisdom along to my clients.
I am recently starting to see a pattern develop in the realm of who says what about their own divorce. I think that part of the reason why divorce gets such a bad reputation is because the people with the most to say about it are the people who narrowly survived a hideous episode and are still traumatized by it. The people with calm, healthy divorces have very little that they need to say. I think it makes sense, in a way.
Here are two recent contrasting examples. A lady at a little league game and I are watching our sons play ball. She asks, “did you see Tuesday’s game?” I answer, “No. I was working. I heard we won. Did you see it?”
She says, “No. I wanted to come and promised my son I would be here. But his father decided that he was coming instead, and I am not showing up here and running into him ever again. Last time he brought his new wife. I don’t even understand why she wants to come, this is not her son. This is my son. So, now, I have to go back to court for contempt because I wouldn’t let him go home with them at the end of that game, and then he said fine, I just won’t pay you until I can see the kids and I said, you have to pay me, so I called my lawyer, and my lawyer said that he has to pay me no matter what. Now he has to pay me back alimony and if the judge says it is contempt then he has to pay for my lawyer’s fees, too. So how am I supposed to risk going to one of his games and then she might show up and then all of us are in contempt again and paying each others’ lawyers. So I told him he can’t come to two games in the same week, no matter what. He came Tuesday and I’m here today and so help me, he better not have the nerve to show up. Do you know what the score was?”
I could have mentioned what I do for work; but I decided to let it go. It seems to me she already has way more attorney involvement in her life than anyone should, why add my name to her mix?
Then, there are the people like my my eye doctor. He has met my kids, and says something that indicates he has kids, too. We chat about that for a few minutes, and I ask where they live, or something. “With their mom,” he says, and goes back to his business. That is clearly all he plans to say on the topic. And, if I were a normal person with no divorce fixation I might have left it at that. But, of course, here I am in my Doberman coat, asking for the gory details. “How long ago were you divorced? How old were the kids? How often do you see them?” Etc.
And, just as you may have surmised, his was a clean and amicable divorce. They are still friendly with each other, 8 years post dissolution. In fact, he and his ex had dinner together with the kids two weeks ago when the dad brought the kids back from a summer vacation. Nothing was angry or nasty then, or since. So, in his mind, there wasn’t much to say about it. A short and unfortunate incident that happened almost a decade ago. Nothing more, nothing less.
But, not to me. To me, that is the crux of it – the people who were not crippled by their divorces stand happily and quietly off to the side as the parade of mangled zombies proclaim the hideous aftermath of their terrible divorces. I am not suggesting that the people whose lives were irreparably damaged by unhealthy marriages and diseased divorces need to be quiet about it. Not at all. I know they need to process what has happened to them and they have every right to do so. My qualm, if I have one at all, is with the secretive success stories.
There are men and women who live in our midst – use our hairdresser and dry cleaners and ball parks with us – who know that they got out of their marriages in calm and humane ways and have lived to tell the tale. I say, let them tell those tales. The stories of divorce which end with “happily ever after” need to take their places in the parade, as well.
WHAT WE LOVE: Guilty secret: I actually love lawyer jokes and challenge any one to tell me one I have not already heard.